2020 NBA Team Preview: Will The Celtics Take The Next Step?

The Boston Celtics have made the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the past four NBA seasons… but they haven’t been able to make the NBA Finals, losing twice to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and then losing this past season to Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. It’s all about taking that next step to the Finals, so that the Celtics can meet the Los Angeles Lakers for the world championship.

Offseason Changes

The Celtics signed Tristan Thompson to beef up their frontcourt, an added Jeff Teague as a serviceable backup point guard who can play 15 to 20 minutes a game and stabilize the offense. The Celtics drafted small forward Aaron Nesmith this past November. Nesmith is extremely strong and wiry and should be a high-level defender for Boston. The Celtics drafted Payton Pritchard, a point guard who will probably spend most of this season learning how to play the position under Teague and Kemba Walker. He won’t play a lot of minutes but will be the backup point guard for the future. Teague is likely a one-year addition to the roster.

The Celtics Will Succeed If…

They get better low-post play. The Celtics’ backcourt and wings are very good, but their low-post play was enough of a weakness for opponents to exploit. Enes Kanter simply wasn’t enough of an answer inside, and neither was Daniel Theis. Al Horford is now with the Philadelphia 76ers, and it’s hard to ignore how much of a difference he could have made versus the Heat in the 2020 East Finals had he still been on the Boston roster. The Celtics have to get better at protecting the rim; otherwise, Bam Adebayo and the Heat, plus Giannis and the Bucks, will have a better chance to win the East when the playoffs roll around.

The Celtics Will Fail If…

Their coach doesn’t get better. Let’s be clear: Brad Stevens has not been a bad coach in Boston… but “not bad” is not the same as “elite,” and Stevens has not been the elite coach Celtic fans hoped he would be. He has done a good job, but not a great job, and against Erik Spoelstra of Miami or Nick Nurse of Toronto, great coaching is needed to get this team over the hump. Stevens was outcoached by Spoelstra in the East Finals in the Orlando NBA bubble. Stevens can’t allow that to happen in this postseason if the Celtics are going to get over the hump and make the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Going a full decade without an NBA Finals is unacceptable in Boston. The drought needs to end, and Stevens has to take ownership of that.

Outlook

The Raptors’ loss of Marc Gasol is a big development. Toronto and Boston were dead-even in their East semifinal playoff series this past summer. Gasol leaving for the Lakers makes Boston the best team in its division. Given that the Milwaukee Bucks are still the favorite for the No. 1 seed in the East during the regular season, Boston is likely the No. 2 seed in the East, which puts the Celtics at the top of the division. As for the playoffs? Boston will be in the mix as one of the four teams with a real shot at the Finals. Stevens will need to push the right buttons, and the team’s low-post defense will need to improve. Right now, the jury is still out on how good this team will be.

Prediction: 1st in Atlantic Division

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