The NBA is back. Kind of.
The league is facing their version of a new normal. In their words, it’s a whole new game for everyone. What wonders will the Disney Bubble bring to the teams, players, fans and even the league itself?
This pandemic has pushed many of us to try and latch onto anything that resembles the old normal. From binging old school TV shows to indulging on our favorite meals, even via delivery, we have desperately tried to bring back a feeling of normalcy into our lives. That’s even more evident today as the NBA has slowly rolled out its restart.
With the return of the insanity we’ve long associated with the league also comes some sort of inevitability. That inevitability comes in the form of three teams: the LA Lakers, the LA Clippers, and the Milwaukee Bucks. The formula for winning an NBA championship has been simple; have the best players with the best possible team and you’re more likely to win. That’s what those three teams have. They have top five level talent being supported by their respective role players. Their success is the inevitability we’ve long embraced, even before the pandemic. It’s a piece of normalcy we crave, now that we’ve slowly ushered into the new normal.
Let’s play devil’s advocate. What if we’re just fooling ourselves by expecting normalcy to return in the NBA setting? The bubble is a completely different setting from what we’re used to. Societal pressure is less and love for the game is amplified even more. It’s essentially a closed gym with the players latching onto themselves and their teams rather than a crowd of rabid fans. While strategy is of utmost importance, the bubble is a setting built for pure talent to shine at its brightest.
In the simplest of terms, the NBA bubble is built for pure hoopers.
Among the rest of the NBA field, one of the two teams that fits this bill the most are the Boston Celtics. While often associated with the genius of Brad Stevens, an underrated part of Boston is their firepower. Ironically enough, losing Kyrie Irving during the offseason has amplified their talent to levels we haven’t seen in years. Everyone expected Kemba Walker (averaging 21.2 PPG) to get buckets the moment he signed with the Celtics, but the true surprises have been the two Jay’s: Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Brown has been solid for most of his career thanks to his defense, but this season, “solid” has jumped to “great”. His defense continues to be an asset, but it’s in the offensive end where we can see the improvements the most. He’s averaged 20.4 PPG on decent splits (49-38-73). Most importantly, he’s solidified himself as a truly elite wing who can more than just spot up to space the floor. His catch and shoot game is still his strongest asset, but he’s proficient enough on pull-ups off the dribble that the defense has to close out. This is the Jaylen Brown the Celtics expected when they drafted him three years ago.
Then there’s Tatum, whose leap in the middle of the season was both surprising and exciting. He jumped from born scorer to legitimate championship cornerstone. By making better decisions with the shots he takes (7.1 3PA, 37.7 percent frequency), his efficiency (45-39-80) and overall value (3.0 Value Over Replacement Player, 14th in the league) have made quite the jump. His defense has been phenomenal as well (3.4 Defensive Win Shares, 8th in the league) as he’s continued to use his length and athleticism well to stop opposing scorers.
With Tatum and Brown making their respective leaps, what fans are treated to is a Celtics team that’s arguably the most well-rounded in the entire league. More than being a top five team on both offense and defense, what makes these Celtics special is their depth. Walker doesn’t need to carry the load during the clutch all the time. Tatum and Brown have emerged as elite prospects who can blow up and lift the Celtics to wins whenever needed. It’s an overlooked value that isn’t talked about when discussing the championship hopes of basketball teams. The Celtics may not have the single best player but exploding by committee may just get the job done, especially in a setting as unpredictable as the bubble.
You can either try to force that feeling of normalcy for your comfort, or you can adjust to the new normal that the bubble is offering us. The Boston Celtics are a ticking time bomb that can explode at any time. It’s not what the old normal told us, but as we usher in the new normal, their potential eruption is something we should very well be prepared for.