A lot of questions surrounded the Boston Celtics heading into the 2020-2021 NBA season. One question seems to be vindicated early on: This is Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s team.
During the free agency period, Forward Gordon Hayward shipped out of Boston and inked a deal with the Charlotte Hornets worth $120 million over 4 years.
The loss of Hayward left a big void in the Celtics starting lineup with his playmaking ability and his ability to play off the ball.
Hayward was somebody coach Brad Stevens looked at to pick up the slack when Tatum and Brown were off.
The Celtics didn’t completely end up empty handed as they were able to acquire a $28.5 million trade exception that the Celtics can use to trade for a player of their choosing. The likes of Buddy Hield and Aaron Gordon come to mind as potential candidates.
Bringing in Reinforcements
With the loss of Hayward, the Celtics picked up big man Tristan Thompson as a defensive anchor and veteran point guard Jeff Teague to provide a scoring punch and a spark of the bench.
The Celtics also acquired Point Guard Payton Pritchard out of Oregon and Shooting Guard Aaron Nesmith out of Vanderbilt in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Starting Off Right
The Celtics head into the season with a shortened offseason as a result of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in the Bubble over the summer. Along with that, star Point Guard Kemba Walker is nursing a knee injury that is slated to keep him out at least another week.
With all of this, the Celtics were slated to have a pretty bumping start to begin their season without Kemba Walker.
However, opening night against the Milwaukee Bucks showed that the Celtics would be just fine. Rolling out a bit of an unconventional starting lineup with Marcus Smart at the point, Brown at the 2, Tatum at the 3 and two big men Thompson and Daniel Theis at the 4 and 5.
Jaylen Brown poured in 33 points while Jayson Tatum had 30 points and the game winner off the glass over two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Having a win like this under their belt against one of the top if not the top contender to make it out of the East proved that the Celtics would still be very competitive in a much improved Eastern Conference.
Over the course of the first 10 games the Celtics would pick up quality wins over the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors as well. Teams battling for positioning in the Eastern Conference.
A question heading into the season would be where would the Celtics find a spark from players not named Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
That would be answered by the likes of Payton Pritchard, Robert Williams, Grant Williams and yes, Semi Ojeleye.
Pritchard early on would become a fan favorite with his tenacity and toughness that he brings. With a string of strong performances against the Pacers where he had 10 points and 5 assists and help lead the way for the Celtics to erase a 17 point deficit in the second half. 23 points and 8 assists in a win over the Raptors and most notably the game winner against the Miami Heat.
Robert Williams, although in limited time, has been a great rim protector and rim runner for the Celtics. Blocking shots on one end and dunking on the other end. Williams and Pritchard have also developed chemistry in the second group and provide a great pick n roll combination for the bench unit.
Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye provide defensive versality, both being able to defend multiple positions and improved three point shooting to provide spacing for Tatum and Brown to operate.
Stating the obvious, Tatum and Brown have been magnificent in this short stint, especially without Kemba Walker. Tatum is averaging 26.9 PPG on 47.4 FG% and 43.8% shooting from beyond the arc along with 7.1 RPG. While Brown is averaging 26.3 PPG on 53.9 FG% and 42.1% shooting from beyond the arc along with 6.2 RPG. Brown also dropped a career high 42 points on the Memphis Grizzlies to add to his strong start.
Brown’s ascension through the first 10 games has been impressive to see, especially in the mid-range game. Being able to create off the dribble, get to his spots and finish at the basket. Things that Brown struggled on coming into the league. With this, Brown is in line to be named an All Star for the first time in his career and has showed the ability to be a true complimentary star behind Jayson Tatum.
Two Big Lineup Trouble
One question that looms large is what do the Celtics do with their two big lineup.
Thompson has been effective on the defensive end and has been a great rebounder, especially on the offensive end. Something that the the Celtics desperately missed last season.
However, the Celtics seem to be far more effective on the floor with just one big out there. Having a Grant Williams or Semi Ojeleye out there to provide more shooting and spacing for Tatum and Brown may be more effective and keep the defense on edge.
A lineup with Tatum and Robert Williams have proven to be deadly for opponents in this small sample size.
Although the starting lineup isn’t as important as the closing lineup, it’s imperative for the Celtics to jump out to good starts.
Could Brad Stevens potentially move either Thesis or Thompson out and potentially slide in Grant Williams or Ojeleye? That’s something that has a lot of Celtics fans clamoring for.
With the return of Kemba Walker approaching, how does the Celtics lineup shake out? Does this move Smart back to the bench? Does this cut into Pritchard’s minuets? There’s lots of questions that remains with the Celtics lineup moving forward that Stevens has to figure out.
Let alone the fact that COVID protocols have already impacted the Celtics with Grant Williams, Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson and now Jayson Tatum all in quarantine and out.
Aside from that, the Celtics have a 7-3 record and have shown vast improvement since opening night.
As the season progresses and the Celtics finally have their whole team active, they can be a very dangerous team with all the tools to be a true contender in the Eastern Conference.