NBA basketball will return July 30th for the first time since March 12th. However, things are going to look very different than before. Many players from different franchises have decided to opt out of the restart in Orlando as a safety precaution, whether it be to protect their families, or to not jeopardize any sort of big free agent money they may have come their way this offseason. One team that is locked and loaded is the Boston Celtics. With no current COVID-19 cases to report, plus no player opting out of the upcoming restart, are the Celtics a real championship contender?
Are The Boston Celtics a Real Championship Contender?
Players around the league are opting out at a high rate
Let’s first take a gander around the league. As stated before, players are opting out left and right, leaving most franchises extremely vulnerable. The Brooklyn Nets were already going to be without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but with the news of DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie, two of Brooklyn’s other premier players, coming down with COVID-19 cases, they will miss out on the NBA restart. The Nets were not championship contenders this year, but they are awfully vulnerable now that they are going to be without a large chunk of their stars.
Players across the league like Trevor Ariza, Thabo Sefolosha, Davis Bertans, Avery Bradley, and most recently, Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo and Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal have all decided to sit out of the NBA restart. How much will their absences impact their respective teams and will that pose an advantage for the fully-armed Celtics?
Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets was recently diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, yet as of June 24th, Jokic allegedly still has plans to join the team when the league resumes. Just how much will this recent diagnosis impact his performance, along with his team’s chances, as the Nuggets are one of the West’s top teams?
Health, unity, and grit will be most important for the Celtics
With all these question marks around the league, one team that has remained level-headed and without many internal issues is the Boston Celtics. By the time the league’s restart loops around, a healthy Celtics team consisting of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and company should be heavily considered among the league’s top championship contenders.
The aforementioned combination of guards and wings that Boston possesses are what makes the Celtics a real championship contender. When healthy, that bunch is capable of being among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.
A winner in college, Kemba Walker has his first shot at NBA championship success in Boston
Let’s start with Kemba Walker. He’s managed to avoid headlines during this long hiatus, which is probably for the best, considering what those headlines would likely be under the current climate.
At this point in his career, Walker is yet to experience a deep playoff run on a legit championship contender. He now has that opportunity in Boston. Walker was a proven winner in college, as he lead the UConn Huskies to a Final Four appearance, a Big East Conference Championship, and of course, a National Championship in his junior year. That winning culture went out the door for Walker when he was drafted by Charlotte back in 2011.
Now that he’s in Boston, and surrounded by a strong core of players that, if healthy, Walker is finally in a position where he is a part of a real championship-contending team.
Can Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown lead the new-look Celtics to a deep playoff run at such a young age?
Next, we have the young guns Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. At ages 22 and 23, respectively, Tatum and Brown are one of the best young duos in the league who already have more playoff experience than just about any other player their age. They’re both so young and yet have proved a whole lot in big playoff moments.
Now that the two have assumed larger roles this year with Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris no longer eating up all the touches, Tatum and Brown now have a shot to lead the Celtics playoff campaign and see just how far this young duo can take Boston on their own.
Ironically enough, last year’s roster was a much more of a real championship contender than this year, on paper at least, but the progression of Tatum and Brown into NBA stars has proved that a lot less could do a lot more.
The team’s biggest x-factor: Gordon Hayward
It’s no stretch to say that the Celtics playoff chances are heavily reliant on Gordon Hayward’s performance. As the 4th option behind Tatum, Walker, and Brown, Hayward’s role has been more of a facilitator on the floor and making sure the machine is running at all times. However, he is also good for a solid 17-20 points a night himself, in addition to his other contributions. The Celtics will need this Hayward to show up come playoff time.
However, Hayward is also expecting his fourth child in September, right in the heart of the playoffs. Hayward has openly stated that his decision will be easy if he needs to decide whether or not to leave the NBA bubble in Orlando to be at the birth of his fourth child. If this situation does in fact arise, then Boston may be without Hayward for a few games down the stretch.
Hayward is the team’s biggest x-factor. Fans can count on players like Tatum, Brown, and Walker to carry the load on their part, but Hayward’s play will ultimately tip the scales in either direction. If he is right, then he makes the Celtics a real championship contender. If not, then it could lead to a disappointing finish for Boston to an otherwise bizarre season.
Can the Celtics’ bench show up in the playoffs?
The regular season numbers do not favor the Celtics’ bench
Boston’s biggest issue this season has been its lack of bench depth. It has been what made NBA fans disregard the Celtics as a real championship contender. Outside of Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Brad Wanamaker, that next batch of players receive staggered minutes on a nightly basis. Rookie Grant Williams found his role early as a do-it-all small ball big man, but he doesn’t put up many numbers on the stat sheet, which is what Boston is going to need.
Boston ranks 29th in the league in bench scoring (27.2), 27th in bench three-point shooting (32%), and 25th in efficiency (38.2). Not great, especially on a bench where Marcus Smart is your leading scorer with a career-high 13.5 PPG. Boston was not active during the transaction window, and have no cases of the COVID-19 virus, so they will be fully loaded come gametime. This restart could prove to be beneficial for their weaker bench.
Having no fans in the stands will benefit this raw bunch
Big playoff atmospheres with thousands of fans screaming is a part of the game, and only a select few can handle (and thrive) off that pressure. However, players will not have to deal with that aspect of added pressure. With no fans in the stands, some of those players who maybe get a bit rattled by the moment can take a step back and better analyze the situation.
Players like Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye, Javonte Green, and Romeo Langford, will likely see a handful of minutes in the playing rotation. For them, in their roles, playing meaningful games with no audiences is a glorified practice scrimmage. That’s not to minimize the stakes at hand, but a big part of the game is mental. Crowd noise matters, pressure matters. Some players cannot handle that type of pressure.
The upcoming bubble will benefit this previously inconsistent bench unit and will ultimately strengthen the C’s attack. A few more players have to and will step up and fill that role.
The Celtics have kept a low profile during this long hiatus. Marcus Smart did come in contact with the virus (and recovered), Jayson Tatum got a questionable haircut, and Jaylen Brown started training like Rocky Balboa. Teams across the league are in far worse situations.
Boston is easily Milwaukee’s largest threat in the East. They’ve been among the few teams in the league to put up a real fight against the league’s top teams in the Bucks, Clippers, and Lakers. Now that the Celtics are fully healthy, which ironically was an issue for them all season, they are easily a championship contender with a roster capable of stacking up against any of the league’s best.
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