The Boston Celtics are coming off a disappointing .500 season that saw them finish seventh seed in the Eastern Conference before falling to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Brad Stevens has gone from head coach to president of basketball operations and added new pieces to complete the system of newly hired head coach Ime Udoka, while taking out Kemba Walker. Their versatility and size have improved significantly from previous seasons, but there are still issues at Beantown.
A ton of responsibilities are going to be given to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown at both ends of the pitch. In addition, they will have to galvanize their actors to exceed expectations in order to reach the peak of their season. The Celtics were in disarray in 2020-21, and now with Udoka at the helm, here are five big questions the team entering their 2021-22 season must answer.
5 big questions about the Boston Celtics
1. Will Robert Williams be healthy for most of the season?
Robert Williams in his prime can take on some of the Association’s best great men. It has the ability to defeat anyone, as well as a creative game creation game that will propel their shooters to gain their confidence. Additionally, Williams is one of the best shot blockers in the league due to his high vertical leap and precise timing.
Bill Simmons even shared on his podcast that he thinks Williams can compete with people like Deandre Ayton for two weeks, but he still suffers an injury while on top of his game. If Williams can play at least 70 games this season, he would be a vital asset to Boston in its quest for another deep playoff series.
2. Is Marcus Smart a great starting point for a championship contender?
Marcus Smart has mainly been a 2-guard during his career. He was effective in defending the best wingers on opposing teams, but now Udoka challenges him to facilitate and orchestrate the offense for Boston.
New acquisition Dennis Schroder will equip the second unit, but it’s hard to predict whether Smart and Schroder’s rotation is enough to catapult the Celtics to the top. Kemba Walker was a big loss for them (he’s always good when he’s healthy), and they couldn’t sign Lonzo Ball or Kyle Lowry in the offseason. Smart is a great role player, but the question is whether he can pilot the ship over a competitor.
3. Is Jayson Tatum a # 1 guy on a championship contender?
Jayson Tatum scored over 26 points per game last season and made 50 points in the playoffs. Tatum was also a key player on the US team at the Olympics. However, there are still areas of his game that he can improve on in order to take that next step and become a true elite player who can lead Boston to a title.
If Tatum is to lead the Celtics to the Promised Land, he must contribute to other facets of the game if his score is zero. He can still improve as a playmaker and become a leader to motivate his teammates in the most important games of the season.
4. Is Ime Udoka the perfect replacement for Brad Stevens?
Some questioned Brad Stevens’ ploys and strategies last season as things often got too stagnant. Tatum and Brown were forced to over-engineer their own attack, which at times resulted in abysmal fire. Meanwhile, having been a top defensive team in previous seasons, Boston was a unit in the middle of the pack on that side in 2020-21.
After Stevens got upstairs, he decided to hire Udoka, who is known for his defensive system due to his tenure with Gregg Popovich over the San Antonio Spurs. With the Celtics adding Schroder, Al Horford and Josh Richardson, it’s a great indicator that one of Udoka’s priorities is to maximize their defensive skills.
5. Will any of their young players be effective?
Former Celtics president Danny Ainge was known to stock up on a plethora of draft picks in hopes of finding top talent. Tatum and Brown being local stars, they are proof that this could be an effective method. Some of their other first-round picks Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard are still trying to become legitimate talents who make a difference.
Even though Ainge traded for these picks, there is still a need for them to become consistent contributors for Boston. Similar to the rise of Herro or Jordan Poole, one of these youngsters must surprise Celtics fans and become a deadly threat towards the end of the season. If that happens, the Celtics will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.