The Boston Celtics are in the enviable position of having both near-term and long-term championship prospects. Their near-term prospects rely on the health of their two biggest name players, Kemba Walker and Gordon Heyward.
Big Contracts, Nagging Injuries
Last season fell apart in the Eastern Conference Semifinals when a talented Milwaukee team met a Celtics team with a seemingly checked out Kyrie Irving. The Celtics won just one game before bowing out and letting Kyrie sign with the Nets so they could go and sign Kemba Walker. Walker has been much better for chemistry and played really well, scoring 21 points per game. But a nagging knee injury could have him missing some time among the Celtics eight seeding games and possibly beyond that.
Gordon Heyward struggled last season returning from that horrific ankle injury that he suffered in his first game as a Celtic in 2018. He’s been much better this year, pushing his three-point shooting up from 33% to 39% and scoring about 6 more points per game in just about 7 more minutes per game.
The Next Generation
While these two lead the team payroll, it’s the two young guns, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown that have emerged as the team’s best players and the reasons the Celtics’ long-term prospects look so good. Both have scored 20+ points per game for the first time in their careers and Tatum made his first All-Star Game. Tatum is the more dynamic scorer of the two while Brown is a little more effective on the defensive end.
One Big Concern
If Boston has a weakness, in addition to injury concerns, it’s size. They play small, starting Daniel Theis at center, at just 6’8”. Enes Kanter has plenty of playoff experience and could be an X-factor in bigger games. But when they face Toronto and/or Milwaukee in the playoffs, that’s the area where they will try to take advantage.
A Finals Run is Very Possible
The Celtics are the third seed in the Eastern Conference and there’s only a slim chance they would move from that spot in the eight seeding games. They’re three games behind the Raptors for 2nd place and two and a half games ahead of the Heat. With almost guaranteed wins against the Nets, Magic and Wizards, they would have to lose every other games, including their head to head matchup with the Heat to fall back to 4th place. With Damontas Sabonis leaving Orlando with a foot injury, the Pacers will fall back to 6th place and be an easy first-round opponent for the Celtics. They should face the Raptors in round two and they’re 2-1 against the defending champions. If Walker’s knee holds up, I can see the Celtics knocking off the Bucks and emerging from the Eastern Conference.
More of the Same
Next season, assuming Gordon Heyward opts into his contract, which he most certainly will do, then this whole group comes back and I’m guessing Tatum and Brown take another step forward to become the leaders of this team. The Celtics should continue to be at the top of the Eastern Conference and a championship contender with some ability to make some moves when Heyward comes off the books in 2021.