The Battle for the East: Are the Celtics closer to a title?
Written By Daniel Haynes
The last time we saw the Boston Celtics, they were bowing out 4-1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. In what was their last game of the season they lost by 33 points (135-102) and Lebron James and his Cavs stormed into the finals. The series was one sided, with Cleveland winning every game they did by double digits. It was a sad end but a dose of reality for a team that had managed to become the number one seed in the East going into the playoffs.
Fast forward to the off season, and the biggest acquisition for the Celtics was signing All- Star forward Gordon Hayward to a four year, $128 million max contract. In his final year in Utah the forward averaged 21.0 points on 47.1% shooting, while adding 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists in a considerably slow offense. This year, he’ll reunite with former Butler Coach Brad Stevens, and it is safe to say that the star will average higher numbers in the faster system under a coach he has known since his college days. However, the addition of Hayward does much more for the Celtics.
On the offensive end, the Celtics see their biggest boost. Last season, it was Isaiah Thomas who was responsible for a significant portion of scoring for the men in green. When he was off the floor the Celtics lacked a player who could truly create his own shot without dominating the ball. Hayward changes that, he is one of more natural scorers in the NBA and despite averaging over 20 points per game last season, he had one of the lowest usage rates at 27.6%, and in clutch situations, the primary scorer for the Jazz saw his usage rate increase a mere 0.4% to 28%. This would mean scoring for the Celtics while still having ball movement occurring since Hayward does not need the ball in his hands all the time to score. He could also play off the ball and when cutting to the basket he draws fouls 23% of the times he cuts. Hayward also excels in transition and this was an area the Celtics struggled in last season. It was tough for guards Thomas and Avery Bradley to leak out in transition since teams would try to pin them closer to the basket. Having an option in Hayward, who brings more size on the defensive end and can get to the basket in transition helps.
On the defensive end, Hayward is also expected to be an asset and especially since the team traded defensive specialist Bradley, Hayward will be expected to make up the slack. In return for Bradley the Celtics got Marcus Morris from Detroit, a 6’9 player who adds height, and some amount of depth to the lineup. Adding to the height and defensive options of the Celtics is center Aron Baynes who also came over from Detroit. Yes the Celtics have lost almost all of their front court with Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynk, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko, but they retain Al Horford and clear up cap space.
The Celtics have bettered their odds at contending this season, especially their new cast. It also doesn’t hurt that sophomore Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum are expected to add a valuable contribution. It also does not hurt one bit that Kyrie Irving no longer wants to play in Cleveland.