Chris Forsberg

Revisiting seven bold Celtics predictions after dominant campaign

In many ways, the record-breaking 2023-24 Celtics lived up to the hype.

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The Boston Celtics wrapped up one of the most dominant regular seasons in NBA history on Sunday.

The Celtics won 64 games, the fourth highest total in franchise history, and finished fifth all-time in point differential, slotting right behind some very lofty company in the 1995-96 Bulls and 2016-17 Warriors.

Right before the start of the 2023-24 season, we offered seven bold predictions for this Celtics team. With a week break while the play-in sorts itself out, it felt like a good time to circle back and check the effectiveness of our crystal ball.

1. Kristaps Porzingis will be an All-Star

We missed on this one but we don’t feel terrible about it. Given Boston’s first-half domination, you could make a case that the Celtics deserved a third star in Indianapolis. Even then, Derrick White might have made an equally strong case as Porzingis to be there.

Porzingis was even better than anticipated in just about every aspect this season. His presence in the post added a new dimension to Boston’s multi-cylinder offense. He averaged a league-best 1.3 points per play on 3.2 post ups per game and shot a career-best 63.6 percent from the paint overall. Defensively, he was a back-line deterrent who frequently altered shots if opponents were able to slip past the All-Defense backcourt of White and Jrue Holiday.

Maybe most importantly, Porzingis brought an obvious joy to this team with him smiling wide every time he touched the floor. TD Garden fans would roar as he walked to the court for pregame warmups and he’d excitedly wave in every direction.

The Celtics’ starting five, despite a slight midseason dip, was one of the best five-man units in the league, and that group might be the biggest reason for confidence as they start the march toward Banner 18.

Porzingis didn’t hit the 65-game criteria to be included in award consideration but the Celtics worked diligently to keep him upright knowing just how important he is to whatever comes next.

Kristaps Porzingis could not be happier about heading into the playoffs as a Boston Celtic

2. Celtics lead the NBA in offensive rating … and set new league record

Nailed this one. The Celtics posted an NBA-leading offensive rating of 122.2, which was 1.7 points better than the next closest rival (Indy) and a staggering 3.6 points better than Sacramento’s record-shattering mark of a season ago.

The Celtics embraced Joe Mazzulla’s 3-point heavy offense but had enough wrinkles to sustain output even when that shot wasn’t falling. Five of the eight season leaders in offensive rating came from the Celtics this season, including Payton Pritchard, who topped the NBA at 122.8. No Celtics starter had a mark lower than 120.2 this season and Boston placed nine players in the top 23 overall (minimum: 50 games played).

The offensive explosion in the NBA suggests this record might not stand long, but for now, the Celtics are the greatest show on parquet.

3. Celtics trade for a third big … in early January

We were off by a couple weeks here as president of basketball operations Brad Stevens waited until the day before the February deadline to acquire backup big man Xavier Tillman from the Memphis Grizzlies.

But it turned out the need for a depth big was largely overstated. The combo of Luke Kornet and Neemias Queta combined to provide serviceable depth behind the combo of Porzingis and Al Horford. Kornet might have even set himself up for a nice offseason payday with his steadiness, while Queta, playing initially on a two-way deal, swooped in while Kornet was sidelined and provided great energy at both ends.

Kornet eschewed the 3-point shot — save for a late shot-clock make late in the season — and embraced being a rim-roller capable of tossing down alley-oops or hunting offensive rebounds. Queta was rewarded for his energy-filled play by being elevated to the parent roster in the final week of the season and will be playoff eligible for the Celtics.

Tillman still could help Boston in the postseason given his defensive versatility. But those fretting how much Boston might need another big to navigate the regular season — and we were certainly among them to start the season — didn’t given enough credit to how steady Kornet could be in a depth role. 

Brad Stevens sits down with Chris Forsberg to discuss the addition of Xavier Tillman

4. Brad Stevens wins Executive of the Year

We’ll have to wait a few weeks for league general mangers to vote on this, but we are going to go ahead and put this one in the win column.

Stevens took two home run swings this offseason, acquiring Porzingis as part of a deal that included Marcus Smart, then adding Holiday on the eve of training camp in a swap that sent out Robert Williams III and Malcolm Brogdon.

There were no guarantees in sending out two defensive stalwarts from the 2022 finalist, but those two tweaks delivered an even more dynamic roster that only accentuated the talents of superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

What’s more, Boston’s bench thrived this season, serving as one of the most efficient units in the league. The way that Kornet, Pritchard, and Hauser have all developed since being rarely used pieces on the 2022 Finals squad is remarkable. In fact, those three players should all see time during Boston’s postseason run and could be vital to injecting energy in spots. 

The Celtics finished seven games clear of the next closest team in the NBA (both Oklahoma City and Denver). There should be no discussion here: Stevens, just three years removed from ascending to head of basketball ops, has built a championship-caliber roster and one the team can keep together deeper into the future.

5. Derrick White leads the NBA in net rating

White owned this spot for the majority of the season, only to watch a couple of Boston’s bench players surge to the finish line. Hauser (+14.2) and Pritchard (+13.6) finished 1-2, while White landed third at +12.5. Among the 301 players with at least 50 appearances, Boston owned the top four spots with Kornet charting as well at +12.1.

Allow us to take a small victory lap, though. Crunch the list to the 87 players that played at least 30 minutes per game with 50+ appearances and White finished No. 1 ahead of the Denver tandem of Nikola Jokic (+11.8) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (+11.3), and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+11.3). Tatum slots fifth on that list at +11.2.

It simply continues a longstanding trend of White making good things happen whenever he’s on the court. The Celtics routinely play some of their most inspired ball with White helping quarterback the team. Thrust into a larger role, White made a strong play for All-Star consideration and was routinely a steadying force whenever things got bumpy (which wasn’t too often for this team).

White has positioned himself to consider a potential four-year, $122 million contract extension this summer, which could keep him a part of this core deep into the future. 

6. Celtics win inaugural NBA Cup in Las Vegas

OK, it turns out the Celtics had loftier goals here. And they ran into a Pacers buzzsaw, given that Indy was supremely motivated to show it was a legitimate contender early in the season.

Maybe we dodged a bullet, though. The Lakers won the IST and hilariously decided to raise a banner to celebrate it. The Celtics kept their energy locked on the banners that truly matter.

7. Al Horford retires after winning an NBA title

We’ll need a couple more months to see how this one trends. But we’ll say this: Horford is ageless. He’ll turn 38 just days before the start of the 2024 Finals but hardly looks it. Horford, maybe more than anyone on the roster, yearns for the career capstone that would confirm his status as one of the greatest winners in basketball. 

We always thought he might ride off into the sunset if the Celtics win a title. But Horford in better shape than most 28-year-olds in the league and always seems to take his game up a level when the stakes are raised.

Maybe the Celtics win a title and Horford decides to stick around and see if this group can win multiple crowns. The Celtics didn’t miss a beat pacing their bigs and were rewarded with inspired play whenever they were on the court.

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