The Boston Celtics, after losing their two best players in free agency and theoretically losing all hopes for a title, are 8-1 through nine games. It is a miracle, but not really.
The 2019-20 Celtics are going to be a special team, just maybe not in the way you think. This team could lay the foundation for the franchise for years to come. This is the year that Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the stockpile of rookies they just drafted use the fountain of knowledge that UConn alumni Kemba Walker has to offer to set this team up for the future.
It started with Team USA, who was admittedly a dud after finishing seventh in the FIBA World Cup and is now on full display in the NBA regular season. This team actually works together and has fun playing with one another. You can see it by watching the countless alley-oops to Robert Williams, Carsen Edwards’ dancing in the pre-game warm-ups and Jaylen Brown video-bombing Javonte Green’s post-game interviews on NBC Sports Boston.
This team has fun and they play as a team, which is not something we got to say in years past. Walker has done wonders for this locker room in just a few short months as a Celtic. He is going to get his buckets whenever he wants but he is more than willing to share it at the end of a game, which Kyrie Irving was certainly not.
Both Brown and Tatum have taken a step further this year, especially Brown who has added real handles to his game instead of being purely a drive and dunk kind of guy.
All of Brown’s percentages and counting stats are higher than his career averages right now, except his 3-point percentage, an incredible plus for the Celtics moving forward. After signing his four-year, $115 million extension this off-season, Brown has something to prove this year and he is off to a fantastic start.
Tatum has not been perfect this year, especially after Monday’s 1-for-18 shooting performance against the Dallas Mavericks, but he is affecting the game on the defensive side of the ball even when he’s not shooting well. He has a positive plus-minus of 53 on the year so far, which means he’s on pace to finish with a season plus-minus of just under 483.
He is also taking way less long 2-point attempts this season, with just under 10% of his total field goal attempts coming between 16 feet to the 3-point line, whereas he took nearly 17% of his shots from there last season.
Then there’s the loss of Gordon Hayward, who will be out for approximately six weeks after surgery on a fractured finger from last week’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. It’s going to hurt the Celtics, since he had been playing extremely well thus far, but it won’t break them. In his absence we’ve seen Jaylen Brown step up with 30 points versus the Spurs and 25 against the Mavericks. It also means that they were able to call up Romeo Langford from the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics NBA G League affiliate.
Speaking of the rookies, Grant Williams has done well in his role so far. He is not putting up insane numbers or anything, but he is doing his job by not taking shots away from their main options and providing solid defense as the second-string power forward.
The other Williams, Robert Williams, has been incredible so far. His offensive and defensive ratings are both second in the NBA, with 140 and 93, respectively. He has not played a ton of minutes, but he has shown his worth on a center-starved Celtics team.
Of course, there is reason to worry about this team without the production of Gordon Hayward, but there are also a lot of positives to take from it. It will give the younger guys a chance to get minutes together and get work in the first unit when available. Those chances may give Brad Stevens the confidence in these young players so he keeps Danny Ainge from sending them away for a star that could mess with the flow of the roster.
Gordon Hayward’s injury could not have come at a better time, even though it’s very bittersweet. Give this young Celtics team a chance and they could really surprise you. Oh and don’t forget their 8-1.