Here are the Celtics’ biggest X-factors for 2023-24 – NBC Sports Boston

Heading into the 2023-24 NBA season, the Boston Celtics are expected to perform exceptionally. With the recent additions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis to the star tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics possess one of the league’s best top-six rosters, making them favorites for a championship.

Nevertheless, there are certain X-factors that could determine the team’s success in winning a title. Undoubtedly, Tatum and Brown will shoulder significant responsibility as leaders. With regards to Holiday, there is little doubt that his consistent scoring and All-Defensive talents will make a positive impact. The contributions of these three players can be anticipated with a fair degree of certainty.

Now, let us examine the players who have a wider range of potential outcomes and could play a determining role in Boston’s pursuit of Banner 18 next summer.

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis, a player who could easily be the number one option on several teams, is content with accepting a role as the third option behind Tatum and Brown. In fact, he appears to be thriving in this role.

The 7-foot-3 big man was acquired in a blockbuster three-way deal involving Marcus Smart earlier this year. During the preseason, Porzingis has showcased his abilities on both ends of the court. Due to opposing defenses focusing on Tatum and Brown, Porzingis has found success with wide-open looks, shooting an impressive 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in three games. He has also excelled as a rim protector with three blocks.

Prior to Porzingis’ arrival, the Celtics already possessed one of the league’s top offenses. Now, with “The Unicorn” in the mix, the starting lineup will become nearly unstoppable. However, one potential obstacle that could mar the celebration is an untimely injury.

Porzingis is the Celtics’ top X-factor, not only due to his talent, but also because of his injury history and Boston’s lack of frontcourt depth. Last season, he played 65 games, which was his highest total since the 2016-17 season. Furthermore, there was an injury scare over the summer when he was unable to participate in the FIBA World Cup due to plantar fasciitis.

With Robert Williams III traded to Portland in the Jrue Holiday trade, the Celtics are left with 37-year-old Al Horford and Luke Kornet as the next options on the frontcourt depth chart behind Porzingis. As a result, the Celtics’ chances of winning Banner 18 may very well depend on Porzingis’ health.

Derrick White

Despite having a remarkable 2022-23 season and postseason with the Boston Celtics, Derrick White continues to be underrated. ESPN excluded the All-Defensive selection from its Top 100 player rankings, which defies comprehension.

In the upcoming season, White aims to prove his talent and indispensability on the Celtics roster. As D’Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers stated, White doesn’t receive the credit he deserves for his contributions and consistently makes winning plays. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, his impact is felt every time he steps onto the court.

Last season, White started 70 games, but that number may decrease if head coach Joe Mazzulla prefers to utilize the double-big lineup of Porzingis and Horford. White can take on the role of Malcolm Brogdon, a formidable sixth man who brings energy to the second unit. His versatility and the expectation of further improvement this season make him an obvious X-factor.

Al Horford

As Al Horford enters his 17th NBA season, he appears to be in good shape, as seen in recent pictures. Nonetheless, depending on him to maintain this condition throughout the grueling 82-game campaign is risky.

Despite this risk, the Celtics have found themselves heavily reliant on Horford after parting ways with Robert Williams. The frontcourt, led by the often-injured Porzingis and the 37-year-old who struggled in the second half of last season, can suffer significant setbacks if anything goes wrong with these two big men.

Last season, Horford started in all 63 games he played. However, in the 2023-24 season, his role may change depending on whether Mazzulla prefers to have him or Derrick White come off the bench. Ensuring Horford remains fresh seems wise due to his crucial role in the team’s success.

Payton Pritchard

With Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon no longer on the team, Payton Pritchard is expected to take on a larger role for the Celtics in the upcoming season. The preseason indicates that he is more than ready for this opportunity.

The 25-year-old guard, who recently signed a four-year extension, has been the standout player in preseason games. He has made at least three 3-pointers in all four games and has converted on 16 of his 41 attempts from beyond the arc, resulting in an impressive 39 percent success rate. Pritchard is currently averaging 18.8 points in 24.5 minutes per game.

While the success of the Celtics’ 2023-24 season does not necessarily depend solely on Pritchard’s performance, his role as a key bench player becomes even more crucial with the absence of Brogdon. If Pritchard can carry his impressive preseason performance into the regular season, it will further elevate the team’s potential.

A breakout season for Pritchard may be on the horizon, and even as the seventh player on the roster, he becomes an X-factor by default.


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