The early part of the NBA season has featured plenty of exciting young players and highly watchable teams, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of greatness to go around. The Warriors are still dominant, but the Cavs have looked downright bad at times, and the Thunder are still in beta testing. The Rockets are good, but we won’t really know who they are until Chris Paul comes back. Meanwhile, the Celtics, a team that has more right than any other in the league’s top tier to be struggling right now, just won their 13th game in a row.
The Celtics started the year by dropping two straight games and losing star forward Gordon Hayward to a horrific injury. At the time, it was easy to imagine how the next few weeks would play out: A young and rattled team would struggle to find its footing, Kyrie Irving would hero-ball himself into plenty of trouble, and the Celtics would tread water until at least Christmas.
Things have not played out like that. After beating the Nets 109-102 last night, Boston is now 13-2 and in possession of some sparkling team statistics. Their 95.8 defensive rating is by far the best mark in the league, and their 7.8 net rating is second only to the Warriors, who possess a hilarious net rating of 14.4.
Irving has been exactly the kind of lead superstar he imagined himself as capable of being when he decided to leave Cleveland, Al Horford has been perfectly solid in his usual way, and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been playing like seasoned pros. This is the best team in the East, and it’s really not all that close.
What should scare the rest of the NBA is not that the Celtics have been so good so far this year, but that their future looks even brighter. Irving, Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart are all age 25 or younger, and they will add another true, young superstar to the mix whenever Hayward has healed. They also have future-best-coach-in-the-league Brad Stevens, and a potential 2018 lottery pick if the Lakers suck enough to draw any pick between two and five.
The Celtics’ rosy outlook hasn’t escaped the attention of Steve Kerr, who gassed up the team while talking to reporters yesterday. From ESPN:
“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie [Irving] is amazing,” Kerr said after practice Tuesday. “That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that’s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”
It doesn’t really matter whether Kerr actually believes this or is just trying to manage the hype heading into tomorrow night’s game between Golden State and Boston. What matters is that he’s probably right.