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East Preview: do the Celtics make the leap (over the Bulls)?

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Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics

Last year: 40-42 (7th in Eastern Conference)
'15-'16 Vegas Over / Under: 42.5

Additions / Subtractions
In: David Lee (trade), Amir Johnson (free-agent signing), Perry Jones (trade), R.J. Hunter (drafted), Terry Rozier (drafted), Jordan Mickey (drafted)
Out: Brandon Bass (signed with Lakers), Luigi Datome (signed overseas), Phil Pressey (waived), Gerald Wallace (traded)

This roster has undergone some serious changes over the past year and there's a high probability it could continue to alter as the trade deadline approaches. Moving Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks and Jeff Green to the Grizzlies, the (best?) two players entering the 2014-2015 season are gone.

Along with the Bulls, the C's have one of the most crowded front courts, after Amir Johnson and new NBA-Champ, David Lee entered in the mix. Under top-5 NBA coach, Brad Stevens, the big-men will have plenty of internal competition to earn playing time.

Depth Chart


Point Guard

Shooting Guard

Small Forward

Power Forward

Center

Starter

Marcus Smart

Avery Bradley

Jae Crowder

David Lee

Tyler Zeller

Reserve

Isaiah Thomas

James Young

Evan Turner

Amir Johnson (really a 5)

Kelly Olynyk

Reserve

Terry Rozier

R.J Hunter

Jonas Jerebko (who's really a 4)

Jared Sullinger






Jordan Mickey


After inspecting their depth chart, the Celtics seem to be heaving on ball handlers and big men, but thin on playable NBA wings. They will need to figure out what rotations work well together to maximize success this year.

What To Expect

After All-Star break, this team went 20-11, scoring 102.3 and allowing 99.4 points per game. That stretch propelled them into a gritty series with the Cavs, but it is likely what we can expect from this team in the beginning portion of this season.

With young players like Marcus Smart expected to improve upon their skills, the Celtics youth projects them show an overall improvement on last season. The Celtics are an incredibly well-coached team, full of NBA rotation players. Their roster, while deep, is star-less, which presents a problem for them insofar as you probably aren't winning a championship with Isaiah Thomas as your star player. However, they can roll 10 deep on any given night and never have to worry about playing complete scrubs. In other words, they are a team built for regular season success, hence so many projection models loving them. This will be a solid team, but don't mistake them for a contender if they have a good record after 82 games.

How They Match Up

The Celtics will use their depth to compete with the better teams in the East. The luxury to out-depth teams will almost always benefit this team, but their without ever having the chance to play a great player, it might be a challenge to beat elite teams. With superb coaching and plenty of talent on the roster, they will be able to find different ways to attack defenses. Coach Stevens will likely play with different lineups to see who works well together, but with his knack for winning, management and the city of Boston should rest easy knowing the team is in good hands.

That said, they still have plenty of room for improvement. Jae Crowder, Smart and Avery Bradley need to shoot the ball well to allow room for dribble penetration. But the perimeter defense between those three should give headaches to any backcourt in the league.

They will need to figure out a way to share the ball between Turner, Thomas and Smart who are all ball-dominant players. But with the right coaching and an improving roster, this team should be set to compete again for a lower playoff seed and give most teams in the East a fight.

FerriganFormula

[BaB's own Kevin Ferrigan gives his take using his own statistical model, described as: a plus-minus that used two years of data blended with predictive real plus-minus, and minutes projections from Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com]

Boston is an interesting case. All of the models, including mine, are pretty high on the Celtics next season. The primary reason for this is that the Celtics are extremely deep and just won't be giving many, if any, minutes to poor players (well, except Evan Turner). Most x's and o's analysts are less high on Boston, owing to things like their lack of a star or, in a more nuanced take, their lack of shot creators beyond Isaiah Thomas. Looking just at what the Celtics did last season, though, it's easy to build a case for Boston beyond just what the models spit out. The C's won 40 games last year with a good chunk of their season giving minutes to an awful version of Rajon Rondo and the always bad Jeff Green. They also only had Isaiah Thomas for less than half the year, and he was an absolute asskicker for them. Subtracting Rondo and Green from the equation for the entire year and giving the Celtics a full year of Thomas, solid new acquisitions Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder, and projecting some growth for their young players makes the 9 win improvement I've projected for them seem a lot less crazy to me.