Throughout this summer, the prevailing thoughts about the Boston Celtics have been very positive. They added Al Horford, didn’t lose anyone of serious significance, didn’t overpay for anyone and still have assets to use.
Many also feel that the Celtics are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and a top-five squad in the NBA in general.
And you know what? There is a solid chance that ends up being accurate.
However, like with any other team, there are some things that can go wrong here.
Let’s examine a few potential factors that can negatively influence Boston’s success for the 2016-17 season.
Al Horford Could Decline Faster Than Expected
The fact that the Celtics were able to land a big-name free agent like Horford this summer was huge and could be a potential game-changer for them moving forward.
Horford is expected to come in and improve what was an already very good defense and help make things easier for Isaiah Thomas on the offensive end of the floor, but here’s the catch: Horford is 30 years old.
While Horford isn’t exactly going to be filling out any AARP applications anytime soon, he’s still at an age where basketball players (and athletes in general) tend to either plateau or start trending downward.
To be fair, Horford did not show any signs of a decline last season.
He averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game (right around his career averages of 14.3 and 8.9), posted a true-shooting percentage of 56.5 percent (career average: 57 percent) and registered .172 win shares per 48 minutes (above his lifetime average of .159).
But, sometimes, dropoffs happen suddenly, and you can never completely discount that with a 30-year-old big man.
What if Horford loses some athleticism and lateral movement and struggles in pick-and-roll defense? What if he loses some lift and becomes less effective on the glass?
More than likely, Horford will be just fine, and thankfully, Horford doesn’t turn 31 until next June, but these are still things we have to take into consideration.
Marcus Smart’s Progression Could Stall
Marcus Smart demonstrated rather significant signs of progression during last year’s postseason, flashing outstanding versatility and displaying that he may have the tools to become an adequate offensive weapon.
However, the shooting percentages don’t lie: Smart’s efficiency was absolutely horrendous last season.
Forget advanced analytics. Field-goal percentage (34.8 percent) and three-point percentage (25.3 percent) alone showed that Smart wasn’t exactly getting the job done in terms of shooting the basketball in 2015-16.
He certainly had some moments, but, overall, his offensive output wasn’t very good.
Now, on the positive side of things, Smart’s shooting mechanics are not that bad. His main issue is that his release point is a bit too early, something that he can certainly rectify.
Still, what if that is something that Smart doesn’t fix right away or, worse, something that he doesn’t correct at all?
While I tend to lean toward the side that says Smart will be an okay shooter down the line (hey, Avery Bradley did it), there remains the possibility that he will mainly be a defensive stopper with only occasional moments of offensive production.
Plus, Smart’s percentages were so awful last season that it might even seem unrealistic to anticipate a big jump from him in 2016-17.
While the Oklahoma State product is certainly not one of Boston’s top scoring options, the C’s are relying on him to make an improvement on that end of the floor for this upcoming season.
If he doesn’t, that could make things a bit more complicated for the Celtics.
Kelly Olynyk Could Struggle With Consistency
This has been an ongoing problem throughout Kelly Olynyk’s first three seasons in the NBA.
While Olynyk has the ability to be a very useful role player, a lack of consistency has prevented him from being a regular contributor.
Now, to be fair, Olynyk had some injury issues last year, namely a sprained ankle and a bum shoulder, but, even when healthy, Olynyk has displayed some confidence issues that have stymied him from reaching that next level.
Olynyk’s numbers were actually very good last season.
The big man shot 40.5 percent from three-point range on okay volume, attempting three triples per game (5.4 per 36 minutes).
Here’s the thing, though: Olynyk tends to pass up a lot of shots, and he hit on just 35.1 percent and 34.9 percent of his treys, respectively, in his first two years in the league.
Olynyk’s outside shooting could be absolutely pivotal to the Celtics’ success this season. If he is able to shoot 40 percent from deep while taking four three-pointers a night, it will open up the floor for Thomas and Boston’s offense in general.
If he reverts to his 35 percent clip and continues to shy away from shots, the Celtics’ perimeter game could take a big hit.
One of Boston’s biggest issues last year was its struggles from deep.
A confident Olynyk could go a long way in helping remedy those issues in 2016-17.
Lack of Scoring Pop Overall
The Celtics lived off of their defense last season.
Outside of Thomas, Boston did not have any consistent scorers to generate offense on a nightly basis.
As a result, the Celtics’ offensive attack was very prone to droughts. Whenever Thomas wasn’t feeling it that evening or when defenses were keying on him, Boston struggled to score.
Adding Horford should definitely help, but is it enough?
Let’s be honest: as good as Horford is; he isn’t a top-level scorer. He is a very good all-around player, but he is not what you would call a go-to guy offensively.
While the Celtics’ offense will certainly be better, you have to wonder if it will be good enough for a playoff run.
That’s where guys like Smart, Olynyk and even Terry Rozier need to step up and provide some support.
Thomas will score. Horford will do his part. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley will get their 13-15 points a night.
But the rest of the team is a question mark.