By: Rajan Nanavati
Before the 2018-2019 NBA season started, the over/under win total of 57.5 wins for the Boston Celtics seemed like the easiest money you could make at the sportsbook.
Missing who we presumed to be their two best players (or at least two of their “best” veterans) for much of last season, the Celtics still won 55 games, en route to advancing to within one game of the NBA Finals.
With the development of crazy-talented rookie Jayson Tatum, plus no major defections via free agency or trade, getting at least three additional wins to last year’s total by adding back Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to this roster was a foregone conclusion.
Yet, through approximately one month of the 2018-2019 season, if you project the current winning percentage owned by the Celtics right now, they’d be a 46 or 47-win team. That would’ve been the sixth-highest win total in the Eastern Conference last year.
How is it that a team that legitimately goes eight or nine deep in terms of quality NBA players, would be on pace for such a middling win total?
Metaphorically speaking, 1+1+1 in the NBA doesn’t always equal three. Put another way, sometimes the sum of the individual parts is greater than the whole.
Last year’s Celtics’ team came together because they knew who they were, and how they fit within coach Brad Stevens’ system. Irving was the alpha dog. Tatum was the #2 guy. Al Horford and Jaylen Brown were the do-all-the-dirty-work guys. Marcus Smart was the energy guy off the bench. Terry Rozier was the backup point guard.
But when Irving went down, things shifted. Tatum emerged as the team’s alpha dog. Brown stepped in as the #2 guy, and Rozier stepped into the starting point guard role. Horford took on more responsibility as the veteran presence on the floor.
Even though things are almost the same as what they were during the first half of last year, it still feels like the Celtics are a team wearing those “Hello My Name Is” stickers on the floor, figuring out how to play with one another.
From the bench, Stevens is still having to figure out who’s his crunch time five, what’s the best way to divvy up all the available minutes, and what’s his plan and pace for rotating players.
On the floor, they have to shift back to Irving being the main guy on the floor, leading to the domino effect of Tatum going back to the #2 guy and Brown being the glue guy. Perhaps more significantly, they’re also learning how to play with Hayward for the first time, even though it’s painfully evident that Hayward might physically be cleared to play, but he’s nothing close to the All-Star guy in Utah.
It only exacerbates the matter that you-know-who is no longer in the East, and Boston is the team that has the target on their back each evening.
All of that being said, we’re not even at Thanksgiving yet. Stevens is way too good of a coach, and this team is way too talented to keep up their just-over-.500 pace. As we see when “super teams” come together for the first time, there’s a gelling process that has to take place.
But in the case of Boston, all of this is surprising, given the preseason expectations we had for them.