The final days of summer are upon us, which means basketball season is just around the corner. More importantly, it means that the Boston Celtics are gearing up to get back on the parquet floor where they’ll look to defend their Eastern Conference title.
To get you back into the swing of all things Celtics, we’re diving into some of the most noteworthy storylines heading into the 2022-23 campaign.
Starting Strong in Year 2 of Udoka Era
The 2021-22 season was a tale of two halves for the Boston Celtics. Through the first 41 games, they lacked consistency, they struggled to close out games, and they never won more than three matchups in a row, as they hovered around .500 in the win/loss column. But throughout the final 41 games, they were nearly unstoppable, posting the No. 1 offensive and defensive ratings in the NBA along with the best record in the East before embarking on a thrilling run to the Finals. The explanation for their frustrating first half could be described in two words: growing pains. Boston went through a typical adjustment period under its new coaching staff, but once it grasped rookie head coach Ime Udoka’s system, it was smooth sailing. Now that those growing pains are out of the way, there should be nothing holding the Celtics back from flying out of the gates this October and picking up where they left off this past spring.
Brogdon Bolstering the Offense
The Celtics didn’t have to make many tweaks to their roster after last year’s success, but one area of need was in the playmaking department. That’s where newcomer Malcolm Brogdon comes in. The seventh-year combo guard and former Rookie of the Year has established himself as one of the elite drivers in the league, finishing fourth last season in drives per game (18.7). What those drives accomplish are opportunities for himself and for his teammates, as shown in the 18.9 points and 6.3 assists per game that he averaged during his last three seasons with the Indiana Pacers. Such a talent should help to create even more scoring chances for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, as they’ll be able to feast on Brogdon’s drive-and-kicks. And when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, Brogdon, one of 10 all-time members of the NBA’s exclusive 50/40/90 club, is a knockdown shooter from anywhere on the court.
Derrick White Settling In
Boston could also receive a boost in the playmaking department from a player who’s already on the roster. As a midseason acquisition at last February’s trade deadline, Derrick White was thrown into the mix without a chance to grow fully accustomed to his new team. Having a full offseason and training camp should change that. White had been serving as one of San Antonio’s primary playmakers prior to the trade, posting averages of 14.4 points and 5.6 assists per game ahead of the deadline. Those numbers dropped slightly to 11.0 points and 3.5 assists per game after transitioning to a bench role with the C’s. Numbers aside, White’s presence as an extra facilitator played a major role in Boston’s midseason turnaround, as it posted an NBA-best 20-6 record after the deadline. Ime Udoka could attest to that, as he repeatedly stated how the veteran guard had the ability to bring out the best in his teammates. And that was all despite White admitting that it took a while for him to grow comfortable in a new environment. Now imagine what White’s impact could be after putting in a full offseason with the team.
Rob Williams Taking Defense to Next Level
Enough of the offensive storylines; let’s talk about defense. Specifically, let’s talk about Rob Williams’ defense, because if you couldn’t already tell, he is developing into a special talent on that end of the floor. Marcus Smart’s Defensive Player of the Year campaign may have gotten most of the attention on the defensive side of the ball, but Williams’ impact was just as important. Just to recap, the 24-year-old center led the league in defensive rating (102.4), was third in total blocks (134), fourth in loose balls recovered per game (1.1), and fifth in defensive win shares (3.9), which all helped him to earn a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team. Had he not missed more than a quarter of the season, he may have ended up on the First Team alongside Smart, which will surely become a possibility in the near future. Williams should see even more opportunities to shine this season for a couple of reasons: one is the departure of backup center Daniel Theis; two is the fact that 36-year-old Al Horford may require a bit more rest, especially after playing 92 games this past season including the Playoffs. If Williams can maintain his health this season, he’ll be a force with which opposing offenses won’t want to reckon.
Filling Gallinari’s Gap
The only discouraging storyline heading into the season is the health of newcomer Danilo Gallinari. Boston signed the 14-year veteran in mid-July with the hope of him providing a scoring boost off the bench. Unfortunately, he tore his left ACL in late-August while playing for his home country of Italy in a FIBA World Cup qualifier, which will sideline him for an indefinite period. It was a devastating blow for both the team and for Gallinari, who was looking forward to finally contributing to a championship contender. For now, that excitement will have to be put on hold, and in the meantime, the Celtics will have to find a way to fill Gallinari’s absence. The options are aplenty: the team could sign a free agent, it could discover a talent among its training camp invitees, or it could rely on other backups, such as second-year sharpshooting forward Sam Hauser, to step into that floor-spacing role.