It's going to be a different kind of season in Boston this year.
Will this be a team that overachieves low expectations and makes a run at the playoffs? Or will the Celtics' campaign be riddled with multiple variations on how to lose a ballgame?
Either way, this upcoming slate is one that should keep fans glued to the TV.
With that said, here are some realistic expectations for this year’s squad.
Bradley (right) has made life tough for opponents.
In 2013-14, Avery Bradley will become an even better defender.
Yes, you heard that right.
Over 50 games last season, Bradley was a force on defense. According to Synergy Sports Data, via ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg, the 22-year-old limited opponents to just 0.697 points per play. Furthermore, opponents shot only 30.8 percent against him while scoring 31.8 percent of the time.
All three marks were a league low among players with at least 475 total defensive possessions.
However, this season, expect to see Bradley off the ball a lot. More specifically, he’ll be assigned to slow down the opposing team’s biggest scoring threat.
Thus far, it’s worked well.
Head coach Brad Stevens first implemented the strategy during the Celtics 111-81 win over the New York Knicks on Oct. 12.
With many of the Knicks sitting out, Bradley was assigned to pressure Tim Hardaway Jr., the same player who scorched Boston for 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting during the two teams’ previous meeting.
This time out, the 21-year-old looked more like the rookie he is. Thanks in part to suffocating defense by Bradley, Hardaway Jr. was held to just nine points on 3-of-16 shooting.
Three nights later, against the Brooklyn Nets, Bradley took on a tougher challenge in Joe Johnson.
Although the Celtics lost 82-80, it wasn’t at the hands of Johnson. The 32-year-old was just 2-of-6 from the field with six points.
While Bradley may still be struggling to find his own shot—36.9 percent shooting in six games this preseason—he’s done a phenomenal job making sure opponents can’t find theirs either.
Olynyk has been an early surprise for the C's.
When the Celtics traded up to grab Kelly Olynyk during June’s NBA draft, fans and media alike groaned.
It was quite baffling that the team gave up two future second-round picks just to move up three spots—especially for a guy many thought would be a late first-round selection at best.
Olynyk took the first steps to prove his critics wrong during the NBA Summer League.
In five appearances, the 22-year-old averaged 18 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals over 24.3 minutes per game. Furthermore, according to Synergy Sports Data, via ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg, he averaged 1.084 points per play—only the Utah Jazz’s Chris Roberts (1.113) fared better among players with at least 30 offensive plays.
Olynyk was named to the 2013 Orlando Summer League All-Tournament First Team for his efforts.
But that still didn’t please anybody. “It’s just summer league,” people crooned.
That must have only fired Olynyk up more.
Through six appearances in the preseason, the Gonzaga product is averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds over 22 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 53.2 percent from the field.
Although he still has rookie mistakes to correct—2.17 turnovers per game, 4.5 fouls per game—Olynyk has made his presence felt elsewhere. He has drawn a team-high six charges.
Sure, the detractors will claim it’s still only the preseason. However, it’s hard to ignore the impact Olynyk has had thus far.
This guy is going to be good.
Sullinger (left) is ready to take his game to the next level.
At first, Jared Sullinger’s stat line during his rookie season won’t pop out at you. The 21-year-old averaged just 6.1 points and 5.9 rebounds over 19.8 minutes per game.
However, a deeper look shows a young player ready to step up and lead.
Sullinger logged a total of 25 minutes or more nine times last year. In those instances, the former Ohio State standout averaged 12 points and 10.3 rebounds on 59.5 percent shooting.
Furthermore, his defense was among the best in the league.
According to Synergy Sports Data, via ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg, Sullinger allowed just 0.708 points per play. That ranked third among players with at least 300 possessions.
During the preseason, he hasn’t missed a beat.
Through six appearances, Sullinger averages a team-high 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds over 21 minutes per game. He also has shot 42.1 percent from the field.
Many thought the back surgery may slow Sullinger down. However, if anything, he’s come back looking better than ever.
The Celtics' success this season will rely on Sullinger’s play.
Rondo should be a top performer in 2013-14.
Say what you want about Rajon Rondo.
You can say he’s selfish. You can say he’s a ball hog. Heck, you can even say he has an attitude problem.
However, there’s no denying that the 27-year-old wants to win.
According to The Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy, Rondo is even eyeing the MVP and looking at Adrian Peterson's incredible return to football after an ACL injury:
"Obviously, he came back and had an MVP season," Rondo said of Peterson. "That’s what I want to have when I come back. I don’t want to come back and be mediocre. I don’t want to have any excuses. I want to be ready to go. I don’t want to have to blame anything on my knee."
That’s not too much of a stretch to believe.
In 38 contests last season, Rondo averaged 13.7 points, 11.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds over 37.4 minutes per game. He also connected on 48.4 percent of his shots from the field.
Once again, Rondo led the league in assists. But he also showed off his versatility, recording a league-best five triple-doubles.
And per Murphy's report, Rondo wants to be nowhere else but here:
I love it here, the fans are great here, (president of basketball operations) Danny (Ainge) has been straight with me, so why would I want to leave? Why would I want out? This is a brand new start for us as a team.
Keep your trade talk to yourself. Rondo is all in for Boston.
Stevens shouldn't have an issue getting Boston into the postseason.
The Eastern Conference has certainly seen better days.
However, other than that, the conference is totally wide open.
According to ESPN’s 2013-14 NBA predictions, the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers will fill out the final three spots in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, all three of those teams were also predicted to finish with losing records.
Look, I’m not trying to convince you that the Celtics will win 50 games. But given the lack of strength in the East, just 40 wins may be enough to get a team in.
With Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, Boston certainly has the talent to make a push for one of the East’s low seeds.
That wouldn’t be so bad for a team that has undergone such a facelift as the Celtics have this offseason.