NBA: Why the Boston Celtics Are Title Contenders in 2016–17

When entering the 2016 NBA offseason, there was pretty much only two ways things could go for the Boston Celtics. They could either make the right moves and become one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, or they could essentially stay right where they were, as one of the better teams in the division, but still not able to get over the top.

Fortunately for Boston Celtics fans, they did the former, and they have now become one of the best teams — not only in the conference, but possibly in the entire NBA. The Celtics posted a record of 48-34 last season, and due to a brutal tiebreaker, finished No. 5 in the East.

It was a rough draw for them, but realistically, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t as good, if not better than the teams who finished ahead of them in 201516, with the exception of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The Toronto Raptors are still a strong team, but the Boston Celtics’ improvements should elevate them above the Raptors — and the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks both lost key pieces — so this offseason has played out perfectly for Boston.

The addition of the much-needed big man

NBA: Why the Boston Celtics Are Title Contenders in 2016–17

Big Papi welcomes Al Horford to Boston. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Celtics are absolutely loaded with backcourt talent, including Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and even Terry Rozier. They also still have Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, and Kelly Olynyk. The biggest piece of their starting lineup now? Free agent signing Al Horford.

The simple fact is that the Boston Celtics had to pay up to ensure they landed Horford, as this was a move that put them over the top and made them dangerous at essentially every position.

Horford landed a four-year, $113 million deal, but he will be worth every penny for Boston, and realistically he should have the best season of his career. Head coach Brad Stevens will do everything in his power to make sure Horford gets plenty of touches. Pairing him up with Thomas should make for an incredibly great one-two punch in 2016–17.

The Brad Stevens effect

NBA: Why the Boston Celtics Are Title Contenders in 2016–17

Boston’s Isaiah Thomas chats with coach Brad Stevens. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Stevens is a guy who flat out knows how to win games. He did it at Butler against all odds, and he’s hit the ground running with the Boston Celtics. In his first year, Stevens went 25-57. Then, in year two, he led the Celtics back to the postseason with a 40-42 record. Then came the real breakthrough in 2015, when the team went 48-34.

This means that Stevens helped the team increase their win total every season since he’s been there, and now he has a legitimate big man to work with in 2016–17. Overall, Stevens is in a spot to realistically win the NBA’s Coach of the Year award.

During Stevens’ time with the Boston Celtics, they’ve also increased their offensive rating in each year (an offensive rating is an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions). Over the past three years, the rating has gone from 102.9 to 104.7 and finally up to 106.8 last season. Basically, Stevens got his offense humming in a beautiful way, and the weapons are still there for the team this season.

Setting expectations

NBA: Why the Boston Celtics Are Title Contenders in 2016–17

Isaiah Thomas gets pumped up. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There’s absolutely no reason to believe that the Celtics aren’t talented enough to defeat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series. Will it happen? That’s a complete unknown, but it’s a realistic argument to make. Putting the Cavaliers on the back burner for now, we can’t see another team in the East that can truly beat the Celtics in a seven-game series.

Overall, Boston seems Eastern Conference Finals-bound this season. As for a championship? Assuming they can defeat the Cavaliers, which we believe they can, it’ll be about taking down one of those top Western Conference teams. The good news is that the addition of Horford, as well as the strong backcourt play, is what will help them get that done.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.

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