Basketball Bits #1: What do the Celtics need to win it all?

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This year’s NBA off-season will be pivotal for many teams across the league. Going into free agency, I see no clear favorite to win the NBA Finals. Even the Warriors could fall out of contention if Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins all leave as free agents. A handful of big names will be on the open market, and whoever dominates in free agency should have a good chance to win it all. Even teams who struggled mightily in 2018-19 like the Knicks and Lakers have the chance to jump into title contention with the help of a strong off-season.

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The Celtics are in an interesting situation. Last season, they were expected to be serious title contenders with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury alongside the rise of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others. But Kyrie Irving did not mesh well with the team, and he grew to dislike Boston. The expectation going into the season was that Kyrie Irving would return to the Celtics on a long term deal or at least 1 more year on his player option before agreeing to a long term deal. But now, Irving is expected to leave for Brooklyn, LA, or somewhere else.

With Irving expected to leave, what do the Celtics need in order to stay relevant and a potential championship contender? Do they need a star who will be a better leader than Kyrie was? Do they need multiple stars? Will they just roll with the young core of Tatum and Brown? Do they have enough cap space to do what they need to do? I researched every NBA champion in history and looked at how many star players they had, using 20 PPG as criteria for stardom. I also included the number of 25 PPG and 30 PPG scorers, as these players are less common. Check out my research as well as some Basketball Bits.

The Research

Basketball Bits #1_ Stars on Championship Teams – Sheet1

The “Basketball Bits”

  • The NBA has 73 champions all-time
    • Just 14 of 73 (19.2%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
      • 35 of 73 (47.95%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
      • 22 of 73 (30.1%) had 2 20 PPG scorers
      • Just 2 of 73 (2.7%) had 3 20 PPG scorers:
        • The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Thompson, Durant)
        • The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (Curry, Thompson, Durant)
    • 47 of 73 (64.4%) lacked a 25 PPG scorer
      • 20 of 73 (27.4%) had 1 25 PPG scorer
      • 6 of 73 (8.2%) had 2 25 PPG scorers
    • 67 of 73 (91.8%) lacked a 30 PPG scorer – nobody had more than 1
  • The Boston Celtics have won 17 championships:
    • None of them had a 30 PPG scorer
    • Only 2 of 17 (11.8%) had a 25 PPG scorer
    • 5 of 17 (29.4%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
    • 8 of 17 (47.1%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
    • 4 of 17 (23.5%) had 2 20 PPG scorers 
  • In the last 25 years:
    • Only 3 teams (12%) have won it all without a 20 PPG scorer:
      • The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (Most recent)
      • The 2007-08 Boston Celtics
      • The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
    • Only 10 teams (40%) have won it all without 25 PPG scorer
  • In the NBA’s first 25 years:
    • 6 teams (24%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 21 teams (84%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • Between 1972 and 1994 (everything else):
    • 5 teams (21.7%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 16 teams (69.6%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • There are only 3 franchises who have ever won a championship with a 30 PPG scorer:
    • The Chicago Bulls (4 times, Michael Jordan)
    • The Milwaukee Bucks (1 time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
    • The Golden State Warriors (1 time, Rick Barry)

The Verdict

In this era, the Celtics will need at least one consistent 20-25 PPG scorer to win a title, and a second would be helpful. You never know, maybe Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can be our guys. But I think pairing Tatum and Brown with a star point guard or star center would be ideal. The Celtics did win with a handful of 15-20 PPG scorers in 2008. That was in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen era. I doubt they can put something like that together again in today’s NBA with all these stars on the open market.

But if they sign one star player that can allow Tatum and Brown to thrive while that player still puts up 25 PPG, such as PG Kemba Walker, PG D’Angelo Russell, or C Nikola Vucevic, this team could have the chance to contend. They aren’t going to pull the trigger if it puts their future at risk. I don’t think that will happen. But do they have enough money? Do these stars want to sign in Boston unlike Kyrie Irving? I can’t wait to find out, and I’ll be releasing my predictions soon.