The NBA world was shaken a few weeks ago when Damian Lillard was dealt to the Bucks in a Blockbuster deal including Jrue Holiday and more. This trade immediately propelled the Bucks to become the betting favorites to win the Eastern Conference by Points Bet, closely followed by the Celtics. However, I think that the Celtics should be first.
While I will admit that the Bucks did improve offensively by getting Damian Lillard, he limits them on defense. Jrue Holiday was arguably the best perimeter defender in the league last year. With both Giannis and Jrue, the Bucks had one of the best defenses in the league, but they have now given that up.
Some of the Bucks’ best players spent much of the season on the bench. While Giannis played consistently, Dame only played 58 games (29 the preceding season), and Khris Middleton played just 33 games, and a significant decrease in minutes per game.
By contrast, the Celtics have improved both their defense and their offense this offseason. After trading Marcus Smart, the Celtics upgraded to Jrue Holiday who is just as good a defender, but much better on offense. Combined with Derrick White, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kristaps Porzingis, the Celtics now have the best defense in the league. Additionally, they have plenty of offense. With Holiday and Porzingis on board (both of whom were 20-ppg scorers last year), Tatum and Brown no longer have to shoulder the entire offense. Most of the Celtics losses last season happened when Tatum and Brown both scored below their respective averages. Now that more consistent scorers have been added, that will not be the case this year. There are injury concerns for Kristaps but I think that if his minutes are managed well then he won’t get hurt.
Even last year without Jrue and Kristaps, the Celtics played well head-to-head against the Bucks. On Christmas day last year, the Celtics outscored the Bucks 139-118 behind a 40 ball from Tatum. In their second meeting on February 14th, The Bucks won in overtime, but the Celtics were benching Tatum, Brown, and Smart. Then, in their third and final meeting, the Celtics destroyed them 140-99, with Tatum and Brown combining for 70 points.
Various sites, including Yahoo Sports claim, that the Celtics traded away all of their depth. Nevertheless, the Celtics bench consists of players like Al Horford, Oshae Brisset, Payton Pritchard, and Sam Hauser. Though getting older, the 37-year-old Horford shot over 44 percent from 3 last year and is a viable option on defense. Newly signed free agent, Oshae Brissett, is a well-above-average defender and can hold his own on offense. One of the shiftiest players in the league and a very accurate 3-point shooter (nearly 40% over 3 years), Payton Pritchard could pose a problem for opposing defenders as long as he gets more minutes. Speaking of 3-pointers, one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the league, Sam Hauser, adds great spacing to the floor whenever he is on the court. Lamar Stevens and rookie Jordan Walsh both are solid bench options but will probably only get minutes if there are injuries. But a 9 man rotation is all the Celtics need this season. The Celtics will win more games than the Bucks this season due to better defense and depth, which will set Boston up for a deep playoff run.