The Boston Celtics hype has never been higher than it is right now. After taking LeBron James and the Cavaliers to seven games in the ECF last season, the Celtics now get Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier took on big roles in the playoffs last season and performed well. How will they respond to decreased roles with the insertion of Irving and Hayward into the starting lineup?
Brad Stevens is widely considered to be a top-three coach in the NBA. He will have his work cut out for him this season in trying to develop a rotation and keep everyone involved. With such a talented roster, players will have to sacrifice opportunities.
It was just two years ago when the Wizards and Celtics faced off in the 2017 Eastern conference semifinals. Boston, then led by Isaiah Thomas, defeated Washington in seven games. The Wizards were on the cusp of victory and are still looking to avenge the series loss.
Have they done enough this offseason to give themselves a chance? Let’s see how the two teams stack up against each other heading into the season.
John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving
When the Celtics and Wizards face off this season, the matchup ultimately figures to be determined at the point guard position. Irving and Wall, two former number one overall picks, have been compared to each other for several years.
Both players are all-star talents with different strengths. Irving is arguably the best ball-handler and isolation scorer in the league. He’s a great mid-range and three-point shooter, and possesses a unique ability to finish at the rim with either hand against much larger defenders.
Wall’s scoring and offensive abilities aren’t quite on the same level, but he makes an impact in other areas. Wall has long been a superior playmaker and defender compared to Irving, which remains true even after an injury-riddled 2017 season.
These two have had some great battles over the years, with each player getting the best of the other on several occasions. Irving is viewed as the better player by many, but flashy plays are not everything. No, Wall cannot match Irving’s scoring wizardry and shooting ability.
However, his superior defense, passing ability and elite athleticism are difficult to ignore. If you look past the highlight reel, Wall is a slightly better overall, well-rounded player.
Edge: John Wall
Bradley Beal vs. Jaylen Brown
While this isn’t his natural position, Jaylen Brown will enter the season as the Celtics starting shooting guard with Gordon Hayward back in the fold. At 6’7 with elite athleticism, he’ll be a tough matchup for most two-guards in the league.
Brown came on strong in the playoffs last season, improving as a three-point shooter and isolation scorer. His size, speed and instincts allow him to be disruptive on defense. All of this points to an emerging young talent, which Brown is.
However, he is not quite on Bradley Beal’s level. Beal, coming off his first all-star appearance, has yet to enter his prime. Compared to Brown, he’s the far superior three-point shooter, ball-handler and polished scorer. Last season, Beal averaged a career-high 4.5 assists compared to Brown’s 1.6.
Edge: Bradley Beal
Otto Porter Jr. vs. Gordon Hayward
We can only base this argument on the Gordon Hayward we saw in 2016, before suffering a gruesome injury in the season opener last year. Hayward looks primed to bounce back and appeared to be his normal self in the preseason.
Otto’s length gives him the advantage as a rebounder, and his activity on defense allows him to create more steals in the passing lane. However, as a pure isolation defender, Hayward is just as good, if not better.
Porter’s shooting numbers are more efficient, but more of Hayward’s shot attempts come off the dribble with a higher degree of difficulty. Hayward is a far more advanced ball-handler and playmaker, and his versatile offensive game gives him the overall edge over Otto.
Edge: Gordon Hayward
Markieff Morris vs. Jayson Tatum
Tatum, the third-overall pick in last years’ draft, is coming off an electric rookie season. His advanced and polished offensive game surprised many. Tatum showed a lot of growth throughout the season as a shooter, ball-handler and defender.
In the playoffs, he emerged as the Celtics go-to scorer and dueled with LeBron James in the Eastern conference finals. While his natural position is small forward, the Celtics will be banking on his ability to hold his own at the four spot despite being just 6’8, 205 pounds.
Morris has a much larger frame and is more a physical player. This gives him an advantage as a rebounder, but the difference is not as significant as you would expect. Last season, Tatum averaged 5.0 RPG compared to Morris’ 5.6.
Entering his second season, it’s hard to argue that Tatum is not already the superior overall player. When these two matchup, it’ll be interesting to see if Morris can hold his own against Tatum out on the perimeter.
Edge: Jayson Tatum
LeBron has to follow Jayson Tatum on Twitter after this dunk pic.twitter.com/H9Etof8kEw
— SB Nation (@SBNation) May 28, 2018
Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford
On paper, Howard put up significantly higher scoring and rebounding numbers last season. He also shot a higher percentage from the field and averaged more blocks. However, these numbers fail to tell the whole story.
Horford and Howard have contrasting play-styles. Dwight’s most prominent attributes are his rebounding and defense. He plays above-the-rim, whereas Horford is less athletics. Horford does many things that do not show up in the box score.
Horford s a terrific defender, both team and individually. He’s emerged as an efficient outsider shooter of the past several seasons and shot a career-high 42.9% from three last year. Horford is also a far superior free-throw shooter, a glaring deficiency in Howard’s game.
Both players impact the game on both ends of the floor. Horford’s versatility on offense and playmaking ability, along with his defense, gives him a slight overall edge.
Edge: Al Horford
Celtics: Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Aron Baynes
Wizards: Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green, Ian Mahinmi
The Celtics bench was one of the more productive groups in the league last season, and they return the same group after re-signing Marcus Smart. Smart is an elite defensive player and brings physicality on the second unit.
Starting in place of the injured Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier shined in the playoffs last season. He isn’t the greatest playmaker at the point guard spot, but Rozier is a gifted scorer and athlete. After gaining valuable experience playing against starters, Rozier only figures to improve.
The Wizards bench matches up fairly well with Boston’s on paper. However, Boston’s rotation is simply too deep and talented heading into the season.
Edge: Boston Celtics
Since he became the head coach of the Celtics in 2013, Brad Stevens has quickly emerged as one of the best coaches in the league. He does a great job of getting the most out his talent and developing his players.
Stevens is an elite offensive mind and play-caller. Scott Brooks does many things well as a head coach, but there’s no question which team has the coaching advantage in this matchup.
Edge: Brad Stevens
Boston Celtics: 5
Washington Wizards: 2