It’s fun to imagine what could’ve been this season had Gordon Hayward’s ankle not tried to run away from the rest of his leg. It’s also a dangerous slope for Celtic’s fans because it gets everyone depressed that we’re not as good as we were destined to be. The fact of the matter is, the Celtics still played well. Extremely well, actually, given the circumstances. Irving was as advertised, Horford returned to an All-Star caliber player, Brown was just another LeBron curse away from being an All-Star himself, and Tatum acted like he’s been playing at the NBA level for at least five years. In Irving’s absences Rozier really earned his “Scary Terry” nickname, to the point that I would believe you if you told me this team was making it to the ECF. Still, making it out of the East seems out of reach, let alone winning the whole damn thing. However, with this year closing out, it is easily time to start speculating how good this team will be next year. And if you wanna hear my two cents (I’m assuming you do since you clicked on this blog), then I think they’re going to be the team to beat in the East.
When I started writing this blog, I literally spent like an hour trying to calculate what each player’s win shares was going to be this upcoming season. I took into account their minutes per game from last year, their win shares, their win shares per 48 minutes, all that crap. However, win shares is a tricky stat. I’m not really sure how it works. It’s not like points per game, where you can calculate what they’re expected to do if they just play four more minutes per game. That’s easy stuff. Win shares? Not so much. So I gave up. I have like two and half paragraphs explaining what Irving’s win shares would be if he had a nice 73 game season with 32 minutes per game, but I’m pretty sure that math is all wrong. What can I expect though, I go to Emerson.
So without any player-by-player calculations, what can the Celtics expect next season? Well the biggest difference could potentially be the point guard position. Or in Brad’s system, the ball handlers. With Smart as an RFA and Larkin a UFA, the Celtics could potentially have both back, or neither. Smart was being said to garner attention from other clubs, and if someone gives him an offer sheet of $15M+, Ainge does not have the flexibility to match it. Larkin doesn’t have that same effect, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s wearing white and green next year for the minimum again. So what would the Celtics be missing if Smart heads elsewhere? Well his 1.9 win shares from last year for starters, though a more accurate stat would be the year prior, where he played close to a full schedule and had 3+ win shares. Smart is especially helpful in the defensive win shares department, where he’s never dipped below 2.2 in his career. That’ll certainly be a large blow, however a fully healthy Irving and an improving Rozier leads me to believe that the C’s can make up for at least most of that production should Smart leave. Ideally though, he stays to anchor down the second unit.
For forwards, or as Brad would call them “wings,” this is where the Celtics see their biggest uptick. Brown’s jump from Year 1 to Year 2 was incredible. He was close to being an All-Star, and he started knocking down those corner threes more effectively. Tatum will also in all likelihood make a jump as well. Although, his playing time will be the most affected by the return of Hayward. However, given how Brad does not care much for normal lineups, we can probably expect him at the 4 a lot. Even if his minutes take a hit, his improvement could be enough to offset, or even overcome those changes. Speaking of Hayward, he appears ready to come back full force in the 18-19 season, and I cannot wait. His final season in Utah saw him with a 10.4 win share, the highest of his career. It would not surprise me to see him jump right into things given that he’s had a year to learn Brad’s system and become acclimated with the team, we’ll call it the Ben Simmons effect. Just to temper expectations though, if we take the average win share from his last three full seasons, it is still 9.3. So any way we slice it, the C’s roster is primarily staying put, while straight up adding 9-10 wins.
I’m also not concerned about the bigs. Horford is showing exactly why he was worth the max, and he is only entering his age-32 season, so don’t expect any decline due to age. Both Baynes and Monroe have expiring contracts, though I would expect them to at least resign Baynes due to his efficiency with the first unit. Additionally, Theis will be back to be a part of that second unit again. This group is mostly staying put, so I expect the same kind of production that these players had last year.
The biggest concern heading into next year is what will happen in Smart’s absence. Though compare that to what other teams have to worry about (like if a certain Bron Bron ditches his hometown, again) and I say we’re in good shape. I mentioned that overall production from the rest of our point guards can compensate for Smart the Ball Handler. As for Smart the Defensive Mastermind, that might be harder to make up for. However, with the likes of Semi Ojeleye whose sole purpose is to play defense, and Guerschon Yabusele who is the second coming of Draymond Green, the Celtic’s are not completely out of players who can guard multiple positions. Next man up mentality. However, if Smart stays, then there is absolutely nothing to worry about. This team won 55 games last year. Go ahead and directly slap on nine more thanks for Hayward, and a few more here and there for everyone just getting better, and this team can easily be a 60 win team for the first time since 2008-09. Considering the top Eastern Conference team hasn’t had 60 wins since the Hawks three years ago, that would put the Celtics right up there as favorites in the East. Side note: would it shock anyone if five Celtics made the All-Star game next year? Anyway, watch out NBA, the Gordon Hayward Revenge Tour starts this fall.