After finishing No. 1 in the East and making it to the conference finals last season, Boston has only four returning players. The Celtics' seismic moves this offseason, which yielded Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, made the roster more star-studded. But they came at the expense of much of coach Brad Stevens's depth.
Gone are three-and-D players Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, as well as the often boom-or-bust big man Kelly Olynyk. Each contributed significantly to Boston's (brief) rise to the top. Bradley will be particularly missed; in addition to being one of the league's most tenacious defenders, he blossomed into the team's second-best scorer.
Stevens will need Terry Rozier, 23; Jaylen Brown, 20; and 19-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum to play substantial roles on a contending team. Brown and Tatum provide defense and positional flexibility—the 6'7" Brown even played some point guard in Summer League—while the athletic Rozier provides energy off the bench. How quickly Stevens can develop and trust his youngsters will determine the Celtics' ceiling this season.
COACH BRAD STEVENS
(5th season with Celtics)
2016--17 RECORD 53--29
(1st in Atlantic)
21 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG KYRIE IRVING [NEW ACQUISITION]
25.2 PPG; 5.8 APG; 47.3 FG%; 40.1 3FG%
SG MARCUS SMART
10.6 PPG; 4.6 APG; 35.9 FG%; 28.3 3FG%
16 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SF GORDON HAYWARD [NEW ACQUISITION]
21.9 PPG; 5.4 RPG; 3.5 APG; 47.1 FG%
PF MARCUS MORRIS [NEW ACQUISITION]
14.0 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 41.8 FG%; 33.1 3FG%
30 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C AL HORFORD
14.0 PPG; 6.8 RPG; 5.0 APG; 47.3 FG%
SG JAYLEN BROWN
6.6 PPG; 2.8 RPG; 45.4 FG%; 34.1 3FG%
SF JAYSON TATUM [ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS]
16.8 PPG; 7.3 RPG; 45.2 FG%; 34.2 3FG%
PG TERRY ROZIER
5.5 PPG; 1.8 APG; 36.7 FG%; 31.8 3FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
(R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP BOSTON
Just to see how the team jells and reacts is going to be interesting because they traded the majority of their identity: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder. Some of the personalities they've added aren't known for their leadership qualities.... They're expecting MARCUS SMART and JAYLEN BROWN to replace what they lost. That's gonna be tough. It looks like Smart is going to start at two guard to begin the season, and that's the protection component for KYRIE IRVING. [Smart] will just defend the more difficult matchup. TERRY ROZIER is so talented, he's going to start wanting to be out there in key moments to prove himself.... Brown has the talent to star on the defensive end; he can guard up a position, he can guard down. If they close games with him and GORDON HAYWARD and AL HORFORD together, that's a switch at every position.... JAYSON TATUM and Kyrie are isolation scorers; their value comes out more in the playoffs. Kyrie has the opportunity to shine and carry a heavy load, but he's not going somewhere devoid of talent, which would have been difficult. He just has to keep doing what he's been doing.... Hayward is now basically the point guard, while Kyrie is the two guard. Hayward's stats could have an uptick because they played so slow in Utah. He's an underrated guy because of all he can do: He can play the four, handle the ball, shoot, score, and he's one of the better passers at his position. He's not the guy who carries the franchise, but with their young core, you just need a group that has versatility. And that's what they have.
TELLING 4 STATISTIC
If Stevens can pull off an on-the-fly rebuild, they'll give the Cavs their stiffest challenge yet for the Eastern title.