Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this past offseason in Boston has been a series of surprises that have reshaped the face of the team. They shipped out fan favorite Isaiah Thomas and starter Jae Crowder, as well as opted to dismiss other popular faces that have been pertinently involved with the franchise in the post-Big 3 era. Kelly Olynyk? Gone to South Beach. Avery Bradley? Sent to Detroit in a riotously lopsided deal. Tyler Zeller? Now in…wait, where the hell did he go? Gerald Green? Playing for his approximate 27th team. Anyway, the Celtics have had a complete face lift, flipping over eight roster spots to welcome a slew of young talent. Fourth year player Marcus Smart will be the longest tenured player on the team alongside Terry Rozier with Al Horford essentially achieving grandfather status when compared to new kids dressing in green. One thing is certain: the Celtics have abandoned the core of the past three years, a mix of cast offs and veteran journey man, in favor of a youth movement led by some of the newest stars in NBA, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving in an attempt to achieve Banner 18. The C’s have gone young across the board but there are four young talents that the franchise and their fans are looking to not only have an impact now but stay long into the future as the new core of the Boston Celtics.
While Smart may be the longest tenured player on the C’s, as I mentioned earlier, he is still a kid at 23 years old with much of his career still in front of him. In his first few seasons on the floor we have seen Marcus go from a draft pick with question marks about his behavior and potential to a key cog in the C’s defensive machine. With Bradley now gone, the franchise hopes to hand Smart the keys to the D and have him to continue what he does best: chase opposing shooters around the floor like a pit bull, dig out loose balls, and generally intimidate whoever he is matched against. And while he’ll probably not start a ton of games, he should still see a plethora of minutes to help dictate the flow of the game. In the offseason, Smart has slimmed down a full twenty pounds to aid in some of the weaker points of his game. With less weight, Smart will have more stamina and be able to keep up with the speed of the guard position as well as increasing his ability to switch. While he has not been the most effective guy in terms of scoring, his PPG has improved every year since his rookie season but with the departure of a large portion of their 3 point shooting core, the C’s hope that Smart will be able to increase his threat as an outside shooter giving him more dimension to his game. Aside from the tangibly measured stats, look for Smart to assume more of a leader ship roll and help shape the new era of Celtics basketball. This should be the year that Smart transitions from effective bench help to a dedicated, trustworthy Sixth Man with the ability to affect the tempo of a game by inserting himself onto the floor giving the Celtics even more confirmation he will indeed be a valuable part of the franchise and culture for years to come.
From the first moment I saw Jaylen play on a pro basketball court, his potential was painstakingly obvious. While most assumed he was at least 2 or 3 seasons from being a starter, the C’s have doubled down on his skill set and seem to be poised to insert him into the starting lineup. And why not? On a team that struggled athletically last year, Brown was the one guy who did not have a problem in that area. Fast and strong with the ability to not only shoot but finish violently at the rim, Brown found himself a regular on the floor in key situations as last year progressed. Not only did the C’s trust him to make the right decisions in crunch time, Brown contributed big shots to swing games in the final minute and best of all, he didn’t seem shy about doing it, asserting a sense of young confidence and swag. Defensively, Brown showed he can hang with some of the NBA’s elite including guarding the King himself during last year’s ECF, which brought praise from James but it’s the offensive potential that makes him valuable to the overall long term future of the C’s. His rookie campaign had him scoring a modest 6.6 PPG but with a FG% of 45% and a 3PT% of 34%, the efficiency seems to be there. At 20 years old, Brown’s physical prowess will continue to develop by adding muscle. With a 6’7 frame, Brown could become the punishing inside threat the C’s have desperately needed over the past few years with the ability to shoot from the floor as well. While Brown has publically questioned what the culture of the C’s is now after gutting guys like IT and Bradley, I do believe Brown is in the long term plans for the Celtics.
With all the screaming and fanfare surrounding Markell Fultz and Lonzo Ball before last year’s draft, which in retrospect will be seen as hyperbole, it seems like everyone was sleeping on Jayson Tatum. Not Ainge or the Celtics though. Tatum has dazzled in summer league and preseason alike showing the range to score from anywhere on the floor. He has looked comfortable and mature, effortlessly establishing himself as a scoring option before playing a single minute of regular season basketball. Tatum is in a great situation for a top 3 pick surrounded by three All-stars and other quality experienced players who will shoulder most of the weight in his rookie season. Tatum will have the chance to wow without having to press or feel overwhelmed in his first year. It already seems the C’s have picked another quality player but the exciting part about Tatum is nobody has any clue what the ceiling on this young man will be. When comparisons to the great Paul Pierce seem to be falling from the experts mouths daily and after watching him nail that game winning step back in his first summer league game, it seems those comparisons are based in reality. Well that and Pierce himself said that Tatum has skills in his set that took #34 six or seven years to develop. Irving has called him a “bad dude” and Horford claimed he is the most NBA ready rookie he’s ever come across. While much is to be seen on how Tatum will perform once the regular season rolls out but at this point he seems to have made a case that he will be another valuable young player for the Celtics not only for this year but many more to come. Expect his impact to be invaluable early.
While Rozier is not the sexiest young player in terms of potential or skill, it is interesting he survived the purge that occurred in the offseason. Any avid C’s fan will tell you though: Rozier took some time to develop but you are seeing quality contributions from a bench player when they matter, showing Rozier’s ability to be a useful role player off the bench. In last year’s Game 3 against the Bulls in the first round, the C’s were desperate for a win and Rozier was a big part of what made that happen. With a desperate need for shooters from deep, Rozier will fill that role this year and possibly beyond. He improved his 3PT% from 22% to 32% as well as developed as a better passer throughout the course of last season. The C’s were a team once stacked with PG’s, so many in fact it bordered on comical. Rozier being the only man left to back up Kyrie at this point is a ringing endorsement of what he may be capable of at this point. At 23 years old, Rozier is still young and will continue to improve, helping solidify a recurring role off the bench.