With a little more than a month to go before Opening Night against Brooklyn, the hype is building. Reloaded and ready to give the defending champion Cavaliers a run for their money, the Celtics are a team in 2016 that you do not want to sleep on.
Here's a few reasons why:
1. Al HorfordThe biggest free agent upgrade made by any team this offseason was the Boston Celtics signing Al Horford. I'm not counting Kevin Durant to the Warriors because Golden State was already the best team before he decided he wanted to join the Blue and Gold. The Warriors already have two of the best shooters the NBA has ever seen, and there isn't too much room for improvement after that. They've won more games in a single season than any other team without KD. Now, he might get them two, maybe three more wins this year? I'm getting beside the point, though. What's important is that the Celtics have an All-Star big man for the first time since the Big Ticket called the TD Garden home.Al Horford might be on the wrong side of 30, but don't let that fool you.The man can ball. For two-thirds of his nine-year career, he has averaged more than 15 points a game. Horford is an experienced and dynamic pick-and-roll player that will complement Isaiah Thomas's ball skills. I also guarantee he will surprise us with some high flying dunks and putbacks. Horford is an anchor for the defense, and he will make it hard for an offense to maneuver when paired with another one of the Celtic's bigs. He's an exciting addition to a young squad in Boston that has lacked a seasoned veteran to lead the big guys in the wake of KG's departure. Horford will take Sullinger's place in the starting five come October 26th with the hope that he can elevate this team to another level.Based on what he's done in Atlanta, Horford should only find it easier to flourish in Boston:
2. The Development of Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart
Two of my favorite Celtics to watch are the third year man out of Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart, and the former Maverick turned Celtic from Marquette, Jae Crowder. Both known for their outstanding defense and toughness, this is the year that their offense will need to start to be as productive as their defense. In the past, both players' jump shots have been questionable at best. At times last season, however, it seemed like when they needed a three the most, Crowder or Smart was most likely going to hit it.
However, with a wide open look and the game not on the line, it seemed as if Crowder and Smart would only chuck up bricks. It was confusing, to say the least, because we know the potential is there. Both Smart and Crowder could be first team all-defense this season. The only thing holding them from being All-Stars is a more consistent jump shot. Both men have proven they have what it takes to guard the best that the NBA has to offer. They consistently leave it all out on the floor, and the repercussions are evident. The Celtics defense ranked in the upper-half of the NBA this past season in opponents' points per game and was second in the NBA in steals per game. That statistic largely has to do with the heart of these two players. A large part of Boston's success in Brad Stevens' first three years as head coach has been due to his team's ability to dictate game speed with defense. With the sting of another first round playoff departure still fresh, Crowder and Smart are ready to start the 2016 season off with a vengeance.
3. Jaylen Brown
The rookie small forward out of the University of California will be a difference maker for the Celtics this year. What jumps out the most from his scouting report is his high basketball IQ. It's something that will make his transition into the NBA easier for him compared to other rookies. Brown also runs in transition very well-- something the Celtics love to do when they get rolling. Brown plays with a high motor and should be able to guard the two and three right away. All of these factors will immediately pay off as Brown should prove to be a valuable asset off the bench when Crowder needs a breather.
Some Celtics fans wanted to trade the pick we used on Brown for Jimmy Butler or another scorer as the deadline approached. In the end, I think the Celtics are better off with the selection they made rather than adding another guard to an already congested backcourt. The Celtics' depth at the wing was a bit of a question mark before we drafted Brown. Now, the second unit looks fast and aggressive, and should always be capable of picking up where the starters left off.
Brown's up-tempo style of play will only make the Celtics more fun to watch, and harder for defenses to keep up with.