Celtics season preview: Predicting team MVP, other superlatives for 2022-23 squad
Predicting Celtics' superlatives, from Team MVP to Most Improved originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We made it, folks.
After a roller-coaster offseason that included Kevin Durant trade rumors, the surprising suspension of Ime Udoka and Jaylen Brown's wild underwater pool workouts, the Boston Celtics' regular season officially begins Tuesday night.
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The Celtics enter 2022-23 with lofty expectations after reaching Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals and bolstering their talented young core with starting-caliber guard Malcolm Brogdon. They also enter with plenty of questions, from the ability of 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla to transition to an interim head coach role to frontcourt depth in the absence of Robert Williams and Danilo Gallinari.
While the next six months should bring plenty of surprises, we're not above predicting how the season will unfold by forecasting some "superlatives" for the 2022-23 Celtics -- starting with Team MVP.
Team MVP: Jayson Tatum
Brown is the sleeper candidate here (especially if you ask Eddie House), but Jayson Tatum is the obvious choice. Fresh off a First-Team All-NBA campaign in 2021-22, Tatum has blossomed into an elite all-around player who can drop 30 points per night but also lead the team in assists.
Tatum made huge strides as a playmaker last season, especially in the playoffs, where he averaged a team-high 6.2 assists per game. If he can continue to combine elite scoring with quality facilitating, the Celtics could have one of the NBA's best offenses.
Brown is a very talented sidekick who should push for All-NBA consideration. But this team's success still rests on Tatum's shoulders.
Most Improved: Sam Hauser
Hauser admittedly has a low bar to hurdle: He appeared in just 26 games last season playing mostly garbage-time minutes. But after signing a three-year contract this offseason, the 24-year-old could have a regular spot in Boston's rotation.
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Hauser is a knock-down shooter who hit 48.1 percent of his 3-pointers this preseason (13 of 27), and his size (6-foot-8, 215 pounds) gives him a leg up over other bench options like Payton Pritchard. If Hauser can hold his own on the defensive end, he could play a legitimate role as a floor-spacer for a title contender. Not too shabby for a 2021 undrafted free agent.
X-Factor: Malcolm Brogdon
We could also call this the "Most Self-Aware" award, because Brogdon himself believes he can be the "missing piece" for this Celtics team. Turnovers and a disjointed offense were key reasons why Boston lost the 2022 Finals, and Brogdon is the perfect antidote for those issues as a seasoned floor general who takes care of the ball and plays the game at his own pace.
Marcus Smart is the Celtics' starting point guard, but don't be surprised if Brogdon is running the offense in crunch time. The issue with Brogdon, of course, is health, so how many games he plays could go a long way in determining Boston's seed in a highly-competitive Eastern Conference.
Unsung Hero: Coaching staff
Being an NBA head coach ain't easy, and Mazzulla will endure some growing pains as the Celtics' lead decision-maker. It's notable, however, that Boston declined to hire a veteran assistant from another team, instead sticking with the same core group of assistants in Damon Stoudamire, Ben Sullivan, Tony Dobbins, Aaron Miles and D.J. MacLeay.
Those assistants will be instrumental in helping Mazzulla get acclimated in his new role. If the Celtics' players can coalesce under the leadership of Mazzulla and his staff, that's a major question answered.
Biggest surprise: Derrick White's shooting
Eddie House astutely observed on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast that White has altered his shooting form in 2022-23 to be more square to the basket. The early returns have been positive, with White making 10 of 18 3-point attempts in the preseason.
Outside shooting was the glaring hole in White's game last season (30.6 percent from three after his trade to Boston), and teams likely will leave him open until he proves he can consistently connect from deep. That could pave the way for White to knock down more 3-pointers than expected this season.
Under-the-radar storyline: Frontcourt depth
OK, this isn't exactly "under the radar" after Tuesday's news that Robert Williams likely won't return until 2023. But the frontcourt appears to be Boston's biggest weakness, with the burden placed on 36-year-old Al Horford, 6-foot-6 Grant Williams and end-of-the-rotation players like Noah Vonleh, Luke Kornet, Mfiondu Kabengele and Blake Griffin to hold down the fort in Time Lord's absence.
The Celtics appear committed to playing lots of "small ball" with Tatum at the four, but that could expose them on the boards against bigger teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. If Boston's small-ball experiment isn't working and its backup bigs are struggling, that may inspire Brad Stevens to explore frontcourt options ahead of the NBA trade deadline.