The Boston Celtics finished the 2018-2019 season with a 49-33 record and lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the year after losing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a rather disappointing year that was filled with issues on the court and inside the locker room. With a new-look roster and a new star point guard, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered by the Celtics this upcoming season.
Here are four of those burning questions.
4. Can Gordon Hayward bounce back?
The Celtics lost two all-stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford this offseason but were only able to net one back through free agency with their signing of Kemba Walker. Boston is still capable of winning, but their ceiling definitely took a hit this offseason. They have to find a way internally to raise it.
The fast track to doing so would be a return to stardom from Gordon Hayward. Last season was a rough go around for Hayward, as he struggled to re-asset himself as one of the league’s best forwards after suffering a season-ending injury in the first game of the 2017-2018 season.
He just never found his groove on the court, finishing the season averaging just 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. He shot 46.6% from the field, but his 3-point percentage dropped down to 33.3%. For comparison, he is a 36.4% career 3-point shooter. Hayward’s last healthy season, in 2016-2017, he shot 39.8% from beyond the arc.
The Celtics need a resurgence from what was a tentative and ineffective Hayward. At his best, he was an all-star level forward, and if he can get back to that level, then the Celtics become a much scarier team to deal with for both the Eastern Conference and the entire league.
3. Will Kemba Walker fit better than Kyrie Irving?
The talent dropoff between Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker is not as large as you may think. Just by looking at their basic stats, you’ll notice just how similar their numbers are across the board.
To make a case for Walker, take into account his situation with the Charlotte Hornets compared to Irving’s with the Celtics. Walker was the number one option on a team that really didn’t have a second option on offense… sorry, Jeremy Lamb. That needs to be accounted for when looking at Walker’s lower shooting percentages compared to Irving.
Even if Irving is a better player, it is only by a small margin. But Walker surely won’t stir up drama at the rate that Irving did last season. There really isn’t any point in time where Walker caused any drama with the Hornets.
Irving had issues with the Cavaliers, too. So does Walker’s ability to not be a locker room problem make up for Irving’s minimal advantage in talent?
We’ll just have to find out.
2. How much will the Celtics lack of talent at center hurt them?
Losing Al Horford certainly hurt the Celtics. It hurt even more after he decided to join the Philadelphia 76ers. It hurt even more when they signed Enes Kanter to replace him. Boston also lost Aron Baynes this offseason as well, a valuable spot starter and a very good backup center.
Their options at center outside of Kanter are Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Vincent Poirier, and Tacko Fall. None are exactly stellar options. Even if Horford was the only center to go, Baynes would have been their best option at center.
The Celtics will likely start Kanter. And that’s a problem for a team with championship-contending aspirations. Yes, Kanter can finish inside and rebound the basketball productively, but outside of those two areas in which he is solid, he is a negative everywhere else. He does not stretch the floor in any capacity on offense. He took 34 3-pointers last season, but made a meager 10.
On defense, he is a complete mess, largely due to his lack of mobility. He cannot defend the pick-and-roll because he is not quick enough to switch onto the ball-handler, nor is he quick enough to recover back to the paint. He simply has to stay back in the paint, allowing too much space to the offense.
His lack of speed and athleticism is seen in one-on-one situations as well. Overall, Kanter would be a fine backup center option, but he should not be starting for a team like the Celtics.
Theis could be in line for the backup minutes, but, like Kanter, he is very limited as well. Robert Williams is an intriguing option, but he is still extremely young and does not have much experience.
Poirier and Fall are both unknowns as to what they can achieve in the NBA.
1. Is Jayson Tatum ready to take the next step?
Jayson Tatum appeared to be bound for superstardom after a strong rookie season. His game transferred extremely well from the college level to the NBA.
A smooth scorer, he averaged 19.9 points per game on a highly efficient 47.5% shooting from the field and 43.3% shooting from the 3-point line. He played a key role on a feisty Celtics team that went to the postseason without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
In his sophomore year, Tatum was good once again, but he largely remained the same player, with his efficiency from the floor dropping. Whether it was his lack of chemistry with Kyrie Irving, the logjam for minutes at the wing spots with Hayward back in the fold, or some other reason, Tatum did not take the highly anticipated step forward last year. That was a disappointment.
Now, it’s his time. Boston’s two best players from last season, Irving and Horford, are gone. He has to make a jump if Boston is going to compete for a title. Tatum’s potential is sky-high. He can become one of the best forwards in the league. He has great length, and diverse scoring profile, and a strong handle, a more common skill for the league’s elite wings.
After an offseason with Team USA, in which he was able to compete alongside and against some of the best players in the world, there is more season to expect a significant jump in Tatum’s play.
Tatum will be placed in a position to succeed next season, and it is up to him to capitalize on the opportunity as he enters his third season in the league.