The Boston Celtics came into the 2016-17 NBA season with high expectations. After signing Al Horford in free agency, taking big strides in a season that saw them almost knock off the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, and Isaiah Thomas making the All-Star game, the Celtics came as a favorite to challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.
However, the season has gotten off to a shaky start, with Jae Crowder, Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk dealing with injuries. In addition, the defense has been uncharacteristically porous, giving up over 100 points in every game but their win vs. Charlotte (104-98 win). Despite this, it is not time to press the panic button in Boston.
Avery Bradley has stepped up as an impact player, both on the defensive and now the offensive side of the ball. Bradley is averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in six games this season, which are career highs. Bradley and Thomas have become an improbable explosive backcourt, allowing the Celtics to utilize Marcus Smart at the two guard in small ball situations for defensive purposes. When Crowder returns from injury, these small ball rotations will become stronger and the defense will improve.
Furthermore, the injuries faced by the Celtics have been crippling on both sides of the ball. Olynyk is set to return from a shoulder injury against the Washington Wizards, which will help the offense, but with Crowder and Horford out, the defense still suffers. Crowder is the leader in steals, while Horford is the leader in blocks and with both back, the backcourt can take more chances and depend on the forwards to back them up.
Brad Stevens is a rising star in the NBA coaching world and certainly misses three members of his rotation. However, the Celtics will be fine, and expect to see the gritty attitude as the year moves forward.