Oh boy. Better put on a good, thick medieval helmet for this one…Boston Celtics fans are some of the most rabid and occasionally psycho fans on Twitter, and if I weren’t generally well-disposed toward them on account of having grown up in Boston during the Bird/McHale/Parish years I might very well think of them the way I think of Lakers fans…OK, let’s do this.
The Boston Celtics were the most underachieving squad in the NBA in 2018-19. They won just 49 games, and if the Indiana Pacers hadn’t generously self-immolated down the stretch, the postseason could very easily have seen Boston end up as the 5 seed and Indiana as Milwaukee’s sacrificial lamb in Round 2 instead.
Put simply, a team whose backups and rejects came within a LeBron James of the NBA Finals in 2018 looked shockingly ordinary, their clubhouse chemistry shattered to tiny bits by the petulance of Kyrie Irving.
But Irving is gone now, replaced by Kemba Walker, and hey, nothing has ever gone wrong for the Celtics with a guy named Walker wearing No. 8, right?
Gordon Hayward became the world’s most expensive sixth man, the Celtics’ efforts in international play netted Team USA their worst finish in a World Championship/Basketball World Cup in the history of that event, and Walker is still one of the worst clutch players of all time.
So will they hit their 49.5 over/under, in which Vegas expects them to bounce back after their dropoff in 2018-19? Let’s get right down to it.
2018-19 record: 49-33
2019-20 over/under: 49.5
I’m not sold on Walker. I think he’s overrated and not nearly as good as everyone seems to want to think he is.
Besides being absolutely atrocious in the clutch, there’s also the smaller issue of his having been the best player on a complete garbage team in Charlotte, a team that thanks to losing a lot of close games they shouldn’t have lost managed to finish 36-46 in consecutive years in 2016-17 and 2017-18 despite outscoring their opponents in aggregate in both seasons.
Hornets fans can blame guys like Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, and Frank Kaminsky all they want, but the buck stopped with Walker, and if he’s so good, he should’ve been able to drag a team to the playoffs in the gods-forsaken East, right?
He scored 25.6 points per game, sure, but counting stats and a buck won’t get you a donut at Dunks. He was also a horrific defender, and in five of his eight seasons in the league, he’s posted a defensive Box Plus/Minus between minus-1.7 and minus-1.9. The Celtics might be better off giving Marcus Smart more of the minutes at point guard.
To wit, last year he had a PER of 13.1 (a career-high!) and a VORP of 2.1. Since PER is, fundamentally, more similar to “total fantasy points” than to a credible advanced stat, that makes perfect sense considering Smart’s game.
The Celtics are counting on guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to make big leaps in Year 3 and Year 4, respectively, but Brown had zero VORP in 2018-19, making him in advanced-stat terms no better than a competent player brought up from the G-League.
As for Tatum, his advanced stats regressed hard in his sophomore season, his VORP dropping from 1.8 to 0.8 despite playing almost the exact same number of minutes (2,438 as a rookie and 2,455 last year.)
Some of that might’ve been because Hayward was healthy again, but it’s hard to make that case when Tatum still started every game he played and played the same minute load.
Some of it might’ve been his inability to share the floor with Irving, but a full point of VORP? Irving’s not THAT bad a teammate, and besides, Kyrie didn’t disappear until the playoffs in 2018.
Speaking of playoffs, Tatum’s playoff dropoff mirrored his regular-season dropoff almost exactly, as his regular-season WS/48 regressed from .139 to .097 while his playoff numbers in that same stat dropped from .116 to .080.
All that speaks to a guy who did not improve meaningfully and actually got worse after a great rookie season. This is not a good sign.
As for Hayward, he’s getting paid $32.7 million in a year after he posted the worst VORP (1.2) since his rookie year, a far cry from the 4.0 he put up his last year in Utah to secure the bag in Boston.
Hayward made just a third of his three-pointers, started just 18 of the 72 games in which he appeared, and in every way looked like a journeyman on a superstar salary.
In other words, what reason would anyone have besides unfounded optimism about Tatum’s ability to bounce back and putting the blinders on for Brown’s emergence as a completely ordinary, mediocre NBA statrter, to believe this Celtics team is genuinely going to be a contender?
And don’t say Walker. He’s never been anything but “best player on a bad team” for all but one year (2015-16, when the Hornets went 48-34 and took the 6 seed) of his eight-year career.
There is nothing, at all, about this Celtics team that excites me and makes me think “those guys will be good.” Their first-round draft pick, Romeo Langford, came out of Indiana University and most of what I know about him comes from Pacers fans hoping against hope that the hometown team didn’t draft him in June (I’ll talk more about Goga Bitadze later.)
Now, I don’t know much about college basketball, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a good sign or a ringing endorsement for the talents of a college player when fans of the NBA team in whose market his college plays don’t want the guy.
So this team is just a giant, steaming hot ball of meh, and it’s hard to see them winning even 49 games when that win total was, after all, made possible last year only by the collapse of a team they got to play twice down the stretch in the regular season.
They should’ve been 47-35 last year. Walker isn’t as good as Irving. Hayward looks washed after his injury. And that, to me, screams “team whose media is going to run the coach out of town this year.”
I’m predicting 40-45 wins, a disappointing playoff seeding or possibly missing the postseason entirely, and for Stevens to be shown the door after what at best will be a first-round surrender.
Are they good? It’s plausible, but I’m taking the under.
NEXT: Philadelphia 76ers.