Tatum made another All-Star team and was named to the All-NBA First Team last year after leading the surge in the second half. His performance in the World Cup finals left a bad taste. Tatum’s three-point shooting is down for the second year in a row, to a career-low 35.3, and despite being honored recently, it appears he’s still on the fringes of stardom — for now.
But he doesn’t get enough credit for his defense, his toughness, and his willingness to do the right job. He will continue to attract more attention from the defences, but he needs to keep attacking and putting pressure on them.
Jaylen Brown ▪ Forward
Brown has a habit of dominating the first quarters and then sometimes disappearing for extended periods. Nobody dominates all the time, but it will be important for him to be more consistent.
This Browns perimeter’s shooting numbers are down before the season, but he’s looking increasingly confident outside the arc. His impulses tend to turn adventurous, and he’s unlikely to suddenly become an elite ball handler. He just has to make better choices.
However, he has looked comfortable this pre-season and could be in good shape at 26.
Al Horford ▪ Forward / Center
Horford is probably tired of people asking when he’s going to start falling apart. He turned 36 in June, but he’s not showing any real signs of slowing down. He looks like he’s ready to play on almost all nights this year.
So, until further notice, he remains the backbone of this defense, using a combination of perception, strength, timing, intelligence and agility to help keep the Celtics’ elite unit in tip-top shape.
It should be noted that his recovery season last year followed what was essentially a year off in Oklahoma City. The wear and tear accumulated during last year’s Finals may be more significant.
Robert Williams. center
Williams appeared to be faltering after returning to the playoffs following surgery on his left meniscus, and is now expected to miss about two more months after undergoing a maintenance procedure on that joint. The Celtics are confident this latest scope will help him get back into shape without any pain, and his health is probably the most important story of the first half of this season.
Williams, who turned 25 on Monday, is a force over the edge at both ends. He’s not an All-Star like Tatum, but he has more room to grow and hasn’t touched his ceiling. The next step would be to add a consistent jump shot, but no rush.
Marcus Smart ▪ Point Guard
Last season I was making up for Smart. He became the first guard to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since 1996, and after watching teammates like Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker get the keys to the Celtics offense, he was the guard that led them to the Finals.
Smart’s confidence has never been higher, and it shows. His shot selection has improved, but there is room for improvement. Late in the games, Smart needs to give in to Tatum and Brown.
Malcolm Brogdon ▪ Jared
Brogdon hasn’t come off the bench since the 2017-18 season, but looks set to fully embrace his role as a sixth man. The Celtics played quickly during the pre-season, and Brogdon was a key catalyst, pushing the ball and making quick, accurate decisions to keep defenses off balance.
He is a solid defender with good long range shooting, and will be on the ground to close out matches more often than not.
Derek White ▪ Shooting guard
White was something of an enigma for the Celtics after he was acquired from the Spurs in February. He struggled with outside shooting so much that defenses ignored him on the perimeter, making things more difficult for the others. But he was a blight on Boston’s heavily switched defensive line and, on offense, kept the ball moving, helping repair some of the team’s early season slump.
He should be more comfortable having gone through the off-season camp and training as a Celtic player.
Grant Williams ▪ Forward
Another first-round discovery by former President of Basketball Operations Danny Ange, Williams realized he could only become valuable by playing good defense and making three open throws.
He is able to guard all five positions and seems very comfortable being spotted from behind the arc. He had some interesting moments in fast breaks and a shutout attack this pre-season, and it’s likely showing where he’ll grow this year.
Payton Pritchard ▪ Guard
It looks like Pritchard will once again be out of the regular cycle to start the season, but he will get opportunities when there are injuries, or even in trades, and he has always remained on point.
The offenses tried to pick Pritchard through his first two seasons, but he’s a fierce competitor and generally offered enough resistance to make opponents consider other weak links.
Blake Griffin ▪ Forward
The former six-time All-Star was training alone in Los Angeles and hoping for another shot when he called up the Celtics following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams. Griffin struggled as a defender with the net last season, but has improved in that area overall and is still an above-average passer.
And he showed during the preseason that he can still fight for second chances in the paint, which is an important role on this junior team. Griffin also led the NBA in counts charged last year.
Sam Houser ▪ Ft
In the summer of 2021, Hauser is a little-known free agent from Virginia just hoping to stick around the organization. Now, the suave forward is on a fully guaranteed contract and will be given the chance to fill the void created by Gallinari’s ACL tear at the end of the season.
His teammates really believe in him as a shooter, which is good for his confidence and theirs. Hauser just needs to show that he can stand up for himself.
Danilo Gallinari ▪ Forwards
The veteran forward signed a two-year deal in July and was expected to deliver a much needed scoring drive off the bench. But he tore his AFC Champions League playing for Italy in a World Cup qualifier last month and is expected to miss the entire season.
Gallinari is back in Boston and has said he plans to continue his rehabilitation here. He’s certainly grateful to have a player option for next season, when he’ll be 35 and seriously injured.
Luke Cornet ▪ Center
Head of Basketball Operations Brad Stephens has been intrigued about the 7-foot-2-inch center publicly and privately, and really believes he could be a contributor. Cornette has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Celtics, so his knowledge will help, and he’s a decent option as a skilled senior who can make space on the floor with his shooting.
Noah Fonleigh ▪ Striker / Midfielder
The Haverhill native earned one of the last two rosters and showed during the pre-season that he can help out on the boards. It’s possible that coach Joe Mazzulla will continue experimenting with lineups during Robert Williams’ absence, and Vonleh may get a chance to show he belongs.
Justin Jackson ▪ Forward
The sixth-year winger and Fonleigh are examples of Stevens’ preference to fill the end of the roster with veterans who haven’t reached their potential rather than sloppy free agents who are essentially lottery tickets. Jackson had a 10-day contract with the Celtics last year, and he’s not a bad option for a break in an emergency.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @employee.