Boston Celtics

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Do the Boston Celtics have the pieces in place to contend for a title?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we'll be dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, the Boston Celtics take the spotlight.

2019-20 season record

48-24, third in Eastern Conference

Notable additions

Aaron Nesmith, No. 14 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Payton Pritchard, No. 26 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Yam Madar, No. 47 overall pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Tristan Thompson, Free agency

Jeff Teague, Free agency

Notable departures

Gordon Hayward, Free agency

Brad Wanamaker, Free agency

Depth chart

Starter Second Third Fourth
PG Kemba Walker Jeff Teague Payton Pritchard Tremont Waters
SG Marcus Smart Aaron Nesmith Carsen Edwards Yam Madar
SF Jaylen Brown Romeo Langford Javonte Green
PF Jayson Tatum Grant Williams Semi Ojeleye
C Daniel Theis Tristan Thompson Robert Williams Tacko Fall

3 key storylines

Another step for Tatum and Brown

Prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, the Celtics signed Jaylen Brown to a four-year, $114 million contract extension to assure the star wing remained in Boston until 2024. Just this past weekend, the Celtics locked up their other franchise cornerstone, reportedly signing Jayson Tatum to a five-year, $195 million max contract extension. With one year remaining on his rookie contract, Tatum's extension will not kick in until 2021-22, keeping the All-Star forward in Boston until 2025 at the minimum with a player option worth $37 million for the 2025-26 season.

In plain terms: the Celtics will be title contenders for years to come with two of the most talented young players in the league under contract long-term.

Brown is coming off of the best season of his young career, averaging 20.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game, shooting 48.1% from the field, 38.2% from 3 and 72.4% from the free throw line. 3-point percentage aside - although still efficient at the highest volume of 3s he's attempted in his four seasons in the NBA - all of the aforementioned were career-highs and Brown was even better when it mattered most in the playoffs.

Coming up short of his first-career All-Star bid, Brown will look to cross that goal off of his career bucket list with another leap in 2020-21.

And speaking of leaps - after a lateral sophomore season, Tatum's career trajectory got back on track to what was expect of him after a breakout rookie year. Averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 45.0% from the field and 40.3% from 3, Tatum earned his first of many All-Star selections to come, as well as being named All-NBA Third Team. Post-All-Star break, the 22-year-old looked unstoppable, averaging just shy of 30 points per game leading up to the NBA's hiatus.

In the playoffs, he continued to showcase his potential as a top-10 player in the NBA. Tatum joined a short list of six players in league history - LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Blake Griffin and Charles Barkley - to average over 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block per game in the playoffs. That list shrinks to just Tatum, James and Bird for players that have achieved said criteria while leading a team to the Conference Finals or beyond.

Any time you're alone in a group that includes LeBron and Bird, you're doing something right.

If Tatum's first leap was becoming an All-Star, All-NBA calibre player, the 2020-21 season could see the young superstar blossom into a potential MVP candidate should he pick up where he left off back in September.

Added frontcourt depth

Frontcourt depth was the biggest question the Celtics faced heading into last season with a centre rotation of Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams.

Theis proved to be a more than serviceable starting centre, bringing good energy to both ends of the floor while providing better-than-expected rim protection for an undersized big at 6-foot-8. There were certainly moments where his lack of size hindered Boston (see: Eastern Conference Finals against All-Star centre Bam Adebayo) but Theis exceeding expectations allowed the Celtics to go as far as they did.

Kanter brought exactly what you'd expect - rebounding and bursts of offence - whereas Williams showed flashes of a player that has a future as a solid rim protector and rim runner, but calling it anything more than flashes would be generous.

Boston still came up short of its goal with a clear need for some help at the five and in free agency, they've appeared to have filled that void by signing NBA champion Tristan Thompson.

Whether or not he starts over Theis at centre, Thompson immediately gives the Celtics a physical presence that can keep up with the likes of Eastern Conference frontcourt monsters such as Adebayo or Joel Embiid. He's coming off of a career-year in Cleveland, where he averaged 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and his experience playing in four NBA Finals is exactly what this team needs to get past the road block that has been the Conference Finals in three of the past four seasons.

Walker's health

Prior to the 2020 All-Star break, Walker had missed some time with a knee injury but still participated in the All-Star Game. Once play resumed following All-Star weekend, Walker couldn't take the floor, missing six consecutive games. Where you would've assumed the league's five-month hiatus would benefit the health of the star point guard's knee, it's no secret that Walker never completely looked like himself during the restart and playoffs.

Even general manager Danny Ainge admitted that in his end-of-season interview, stating, "He was definitely not himself."

"In fairness to Kemba, he doesn't want to say that. He doesn't say that to our coaches, he doesn't say that to (the media), he doesn't say that to me. I haven't heard one excuse from him. But watching the games, even the games we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he wasn't the same physically as he was in October, November, December."

Ahead of training camp, the Celtics announced that Walker will not resume on-court basketball activities until "early December" with a further update regarding his game availability to be provided during "the first week of January."

"I have all the confidence in the world that Kemba will be back, and healthy, and fresh, ready," Ainge stated in an interview prior to the draft. "There could be maintenance issues during the offseason and early part of the season, but at some point he'll be back and ready to go."

With the turnaround of the shortest offseason in league history, Walker has less time than usual to get fully healed, but the free agent signing of veteran guard Jeff Teague could help take some of the pressure off of Kemba's return.

If the Celtics are going to go as far as they did last season, they're going to need Walker back at full strength.

5 games to watch

Dec. 25 vs. Brooklyn Nets

We're one full season removed from Kyrie Irving's departure from the Celtics and we've still yet to see him suit up against his former team. Irving only played in 20 games in the 2019-20 season due to a nagging shoulder injury but with a full recovery, there shouldn't be anything preventing this matchup this season. With the return of Kevin Durant as well, this will be the first game to look for when Boston's schedule is released.

Jan. 4 at Toronto Raptors

In arguably the best series of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Celtics and Raptors will meet for the first time since Boston bounced Toronto in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The matchup between Atlantic Division foes is always must-see-TV with both teams bringing a little extra effort each time they face off. With the close elimination fresh in the Raptors mind you know they're going to give the Celtics their best swing.

Jan. 6 at Miami Heat

Falling just short of The Finals again for the third time in four seasons, the Celtics will be looking for revenge against the defending Eastern Conference champions. It's safe to say Boston's players are itching for the opportunity to get back at the team that knocked them out in the Conference Finals last season.

Jan. 20 at Philadelphia 76ers

Similar to the rivalry above, there's no love lost between the Celtics and 76ers. Philly likely feels like it didn't get a fair crack at Boston in last year's playoffs as All-Star guard Ben Simmons was sidelined with an injury and signing Doc Rivers as a head coach this offseason adds another layer to the story.

Jan. 30 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Boston came up two wins short of creating the 13th rendition of the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals saga last season. With Los Angeles going on to win the title, matching Boston for the most NBA championships in league history with 17, each and every matchup between these teams has a little more meaning behind it. Especially seeing as they're both title contenders again this season.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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