Celtics Bold Predictions Ahead of 2021-22 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2021

Celtics Bold Predictions Ahead of 2021-22 NBA Season

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    The Boston Celtics don't look dramatically different from last season, but they certainly feel that way.

    The familiarity comes largely from the still intact trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, plus a lot of the same young players populating the supporting cast. But they did change coaches (from now-team president Brad Stevens to Ime Udoka), swapped out Kemba Walker for Al Horford, acquired Josh Richardson, signed Dennis Schroder and brought back Enes Kanter.

    It's tough to tell where the new-look Shamrocks rank in the NBA's Eastern Conference, as anything from a No. 4 seed to a play-in tournament spot seems in play.

    However, after putting this squad under the microscope, a trio of bold predictions for the 2021-22 campaign came to light.

Josh Richardson Starts More Games Than Dennis Schroder

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    After making major waves across four seasons with the Miami Heat, Josh Richardson went down a rocky road these last two years. He never seemed to find his fit with the 2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers and encountered the same kind of turbulence with last season's Dallas Mavericks.

    But the Celtics brought the 27-year-old in for a reason. They've seen what his length and energy can do defensively. They know he can help keep things moving as a secondary ball-handler and ball-mover. They also believe he can rediscover his touch from distance, a sentiment felt by Udoka, an assistant coach on that same Sixers squad.

    "He didn't shoot as well the last few years but we are going to get him back to that," the coach told reporters. "He's a better shooter than he showed in Dallas."

    If the Tennessee product gets his groove back from range—he shot 36.6 percent outside his last two seasons in South Beach—he'd become a cleaner fit for the first five than Schroder, whose ball-dominance and scorer's mentality arguably fits best in a sixth man spot.

    The Celtics might experiment with both in the opening group, but Richardson's complementary skills will get him the majority of the starts at the 2.

Marcus Smart Averages 7-Plus Assists

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    The Celtics could see a brand-new side of the longest-tenured player on their team.

    Smart, now entering his eighth season in Boston, is in the driver's seat to be the club's primary playmaker for the first time in his career. He has always been a sneaky-good passer, but those contributions (and opportunities) have been muted by the presences of Walker, Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas.

    The 27-year-old averaged a career-high 5.7 assists last season. Importantly, he also averaged just 2.0 turnovers. He can control an offense and weaponizing him as a passer might cover up his limitations as a scorer. It could also free Tatum and Brown to focus more on their own scoring, though each will chip in with shot-creating duties, too.

    Still, a lot of this offense will run through Smart, and he'll take advantage of the weapons around him. By year's end, he'll have shattered his previous best and perhaps cracked the league's top 10 with at least seven assists per outing.

Aaron Nesmith Makes 150-Plus Threes

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    Last season, 36 players made at least 150 three-pointers. Predictably, most of them were high-minute regulars, and many of them were stars.

    Aaron Nesmith won't take a star turn this season. Other than some possible spot starts for injured players, he probably won't open many contests, either.

    But his shooting stroke could grant him not-insignificant floor time, and if it's as sharp as it can be, the 21-year-old could challenge the league's best role-playing sharpshooters for three-point makes. Davis Bertans, Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes all cracked that 150-triple club, and none logged 1,700 minutes. Bertans and Forbes both played fewer than 1,500.

    Nesmith could get to that number by finding volume and efficiency with his outside shot. Knockdown snipers are among the best helpers for stars, and if he becomes one, he'll help pull defensive attention away from Tatum and Brown.

    That's reason enough to green-light the Vanderbilt product for regular minutes and all the three-point shots he can find.