No worries about the Celtics’ hiccup in Chicago Monday night, their first loss in four games. If their issues in that loss — rebounding and shot selection, mostly — become recurring problems and interim coach Joe Mazzulla isn’t making the proper repairs, then we’ll talk.
But I’m not sweating it. This is the deepest roster in the NBA, top to bottom, and there’s so much understandable anticipation about what they might be capable of achieving that nights without a game actually feel like a letdown.
So for the fun of it, and because I really just wanted to write a quasi-preview of this team before it accelerates too deep into the season, here’s a status report on the players who make up this genuine championship contender …
▪ Jayson Tatum: I’m not saying Tatum is motivated by revenge. I’m just saying he looks like he spent the summer devouring barbells, working on his footwork and finishing touch from dawn ‘til dusk and then back at dawn again, and muttering, “I’ve got something for you, Wiggins,” when each new variation of a move is added to his repertoire. OK, I am saying he’s motivated by revenge, and his vengeance is going to be something to behold.
His candor about his haunting frustrations with his Finals performance is one more sign of his maturity. He’s a top-three MVP candidate, but like Celtics greats before him, it’s the quest for the ring that now drives him.
▪ Jaylen Brown: It’s so impressive how he comes back a little bit to a lot better every season, and we don’t talk about it enough. The guy works, and I suspect the payoff comes this season when he’s finally regarded as a perennial All-Star in his own right and not just the 1B to Tatum’s 1A.
The next, and perhaps final, step in his ascent: Stop forcing it on those nights when the shot isn’t falling. Pass the ball. It will come back. Your teammates know how good you are.
▪ Marcus Smart: This is somehow already the ninth season of the Marcus Smart Experience, and I’m grateful for it. It’s a never-ending wild ride, with his irrational confidence in his shot, underrated playmaking, and trademark relentless defense.
He’s always going to take those “no-no-YES!” shots and plenty of “no-no-C’MON MARCUS” ones too. But those imperfections make him distinctive. He cares, man, and that’s what makes him the truest of Celtics.
▪ Al Horford: Here’s a prediction for you. If the Celtics win the title this season and Horford, at age 36, remains basically the same player he was a season ago, he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday. He won back-to-back titles in college at Florida, has made five All-Star teams, and his most similar players statistically include Hall of Famers Wes Unseld, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Bob Lanier, and Robert Parish. (I’m ignoring that Bill Laimbeer is also on that list.)
▪ Robert Williams III: He should take all the time he needs to recover from his latest knee procedure. The priority, of course, is to have him at his best for the postseason gauntlet. But man, don’t you miss watching him play so much? Watching him come into his own, swatting shots into orbit and throwing down ridiculous alley-oops, was the most enjoyable aspect of last year’s team.
▪ Malcolm Brogdon: He’s exactly what Celtics fans who coveted him for years presumed he’d be if he ever came here — a calming, versatile, clever player whose play complements everyone around him. I worry about his injury history; please, Joe, do not play him a minute of garbage time, ever. But my only annoyance regarding Brogdon is that Brad Stevens hasn’t figured out a way to retroactively put him on the roster for last year’s Finals. If he had been here, a banner would have been raised a few nights ago.
▪ Derrick White: Confident Derrick White is something to behold, isn’t it? That two-handed dunk he threw down against the Magic is going to stand as the singular I-had-no-idea-that-guy-could-do-that moment this season. If he can keep that confidence intact in his first full season with the Celtics, look out.
▪ Grant Williams: Consider this a direct plea. Please stop carping at the refs. Please. You’ve made yourself into an incredibly valuable player. But it’s counterproductive, even detrimental, for a superstar like Tatum to chirp at the zebras. Just imagine the nonsense they’ll call to get you out of their ear.
▪ Sam Hauser: Through four games, he has taken 11 shots and made six — all from 3-point territory. I’m not sure he’s going to shoot 54.5 percent from 3 for the entire season, but he does have a chance to be the Celtics’ purest bench shooter since Eddie House in the New Big Three years.
▪ Payton Pritchard: His chance will come, but it must be frustrating to have played just nine total minutes through four games after averaging 15 per game in the Eastern Conference finals and 11 in the Finals. Hopefully his confidence isn’t dented, because his fearlessness is one of the best things about his game.
▪ Blake Griffin: There are few genres of players more likable than the Good-Natured, Aging-But-Savvy Former Superstar Who Knows His Role. Griffin isn’t bounding over cars anymore, and he’s not the second coming of ‘86 Bill Walton. But it would not shock me at all if he has an ‘08 P.J. Brown flashback in him.
▪ Noah Vonleh: Of course, Well-Traveled Player Catching On With His Hometown Team is also a fine recurring story, and it seemed like everyone was rooting for the Haverhill native to make the club, especially after a 14-point, 13-rebound preseason game against Charlotte. He can look unsure on both ends of the court at times, but this is someone who belongs in this league.
▪ Justin Jackson: I’m glad he stuck, and not just because it’s wise to have a Tar Heel around to counteract the Blue Devil influence. One of the roster-building mistakes the Celtics made a couple of years ago was filling the bench with projects rather than limited but competent veterans. The Celtics could get away with playing Jackson, said competent veteran, for 6-8 minutes a game if they had to.
▪ Luke Kornet: Do you think management really believes he can be a helpful part of the frontcourt while Rob Williams is out? He’s in his sixth NBA season, has played just 150 games, owns a career 40.8 field goal percentage, and averages 6.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in his career, which matches Javonte Green’s rebounds-per-36 average with the Bulls last year — and Green is 9 inches shorter than the 7-2 Kornet.
▪ Mfiondu Kabengele: The No. 27 overall pick in the ‘19 Draft by the Nets — he went one selection before the Warriors chose Jordan Poole — remains a raw offensive player, and he probably always will be. But he plays hard, cheers like a taller Malik Fitts when he’s on the bench, and hey, his daily allotment of six fouls will come in handy in a game or two, Greg Kite-style.
▪ J.D. Davison: His turbo button is stuck in the pressed position, which leads to reckless turnovers and crazy highlights in abundance. He could be fun to watch when Gino is dancing and there are no stakes, and he’s going to light up the Portland Expo.
▪ Danilo Gallinari: Are we sure we won’t see him this year? Mobility wasn’t really his thing before the ACL injury. If he keeps that shot sharp …