Seven bold predictions for a 2023-24 Celtics team with lofty goals originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The 2023-24 NBA season tips off Tuesday night and expectations for the Boston Celtics are already sky high. Thus, concocting a series of “bold” predictions for a team with a championship-or-bust outlook is no easy task.
Even with all the Green Kool-Aid fueled projections you’ll find below, there will be rough patches for the Celtics this season. The hysteria that will grow upon Boston’s first three-game losing streak will tell us a lot about this year’s team and how it handles the burden of expectations.
But if Boston taps into its full potential, a lot of spoils await this talent-gushing bunch. That would include:
1. Kristaps Porzingis will be an All-Star
During the most recent Big Three era, it wasn’t unusual for the Celtics to bring three players to All-Star weekend. Heck, in 2011 they brought four (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo). Such are the spoils when you’re the best team in a conference.
Porzingis, whose lone All-Star appearance came with the Knicks in 2018, looks poised for a return to that midseason stage. If he hadn’t been playing for the lowly Wizards last year, maybe that drought would have ended sooner.
Porzingis will get no shortage of quality looks in Boston’s new-look offense. Defenders who stay attached to Tatum or Brown on pick-and-rolls have little chance to scramble back to Porzingis, and he’ll just shoot over the top of them if they do. Porzingis shot 50 percent on 3-point attempts this preseason, while averaging 15.5 points in just 23.1 minutes per game. He could really put up some gaudy numbers even if every Celtics player will need to sacrifice in some form or another for the greater good of the team.
2. Celtics lead the NBA in offensive rating … and set new league record
It’s easy to forget now, especially given some of those painful postseason scoring lulls, but the Celtics were actually on pace to accomplish this feat last season. Boston started the year 21-5 and had a blistering offensive rating of 119.9 that was 3.6 points per 100 possessions better than the next closest rival. The wheels came off in December -- and maybe never fully reattached -- though Boston still finished second in the NBA with a mark of 117.3.
Sacramento’s output is not going to be an easy mark to top, but Boston is overflowing with offensive talent and coach Joe Mazzulla’s 3-point loving ways ought to lead to a whole bunch of high-scoring outputs.
Consider this: Even with Tatum and Brown both sitting out two of Boston’s five preseason games, the Celtics posted a league-best offensive rating of 123.5 in the first half of their five preseason games.
3. Celtics trade for a third big … in early January
This isn’t a knock on Luke Kornet or Neemias Queta. We actually think both players can play a depth role on this team. But it’s clear that Boston’s biggest roster need entering the season is a high-level backup big who can help hold down the fort if Porzingis or Al Horford don’t suit up.
Trade restrictions on some of Boston’s offseason wing additions will lift on December 15 and we suspect Brad Stevens will yearn to shore up that spot, at least if a more glaring need doesn’t emerge over the first couple months of the season.
By not waiting until the February 8 deadline, Stevens limits any drama about potential moves, gives the acquired player more time to get comfortable, and lets the team put all its focus on the stretch run. Resting other starters gets easier with another talented big in the fold.
Remember, Boston still has a robust assortment of future draft picks to help facilitate a deal (and a valuable Grant Williams traded player exception, too).
4. Brad Stevens wins Executive of the Year
This might not sound like a hot take, but rarely does this award go to a team that simply meets expectations. This award typically lands with an executive whose team greatly outkicked preseason prognostications with help from some offseason additions.
Still, it would be hard to deny Stevens if the Celtics finish at the top of the East. He took two gigantic swings this offseason in adding Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. Teams like Phoenix and Milwaukee can get into the conversation based on their own major offseason trades.
5. Derrick White leads the NBA in net rating
White has been a net rating darling throughout his NBA career but his numbers really leaped off the page last year. The Celtics posted a +11 net rating with White on the floor. That was the third-best mark in the entire league among qualifiers, with White surrounded in the top five by Denver Nuggets. The only two players with a better mark: Nikola Jokic at +12.5 and Aaron Gordon at +12.1.
Everything is set up for White to thrive again this year. In the preseason he spent much of his minutes with Tatum, another net rating darling. That included working together in early reserve lineups. What’s more, Holiday was one of the best net rating guys in the NBA last season -- he slotted right behind White and the Nuggets -- and those two should be paired often in Boston’s backcourt.
6. Celtics win inaugural NBA Cup in Las Vegas
The Celtics have much grander goals than topping the NBA’s new in-season tournament. But dominating the Vegas stage would help Boston send an early message across the league.
Boston has a favorable group (Brooklyn, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando) and should be favored to earn a spot in Vegas. A long plane ride isn’t ideal for a team that has a long West Coast trip less than two weeks later, but Boston’s sleep doctors will just have to grin and bear it.
The extra $500,000 for every winning player is some solid motivation, too — even when you’ve got a whole bunch of guys making big money at the top of the roster.
7. Al Horford retires after winning an NBA title
Horford signed a two-year, $19.5 million extension last year. Even at age 37, he’s looked lean and spry this preseason. We suspect that, if he accomplishes his ultimate NBA goal, he’d gleefully ride off into the sunset with the Larry O’Brien trophy in his clutch.
Celtics season prediction: 58 wins, No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference, NBA champions