On a recent installment of Shannon Sharpe’s widely renowned podcast, Club Shay Shay, Stephen A. Smith made headlines with some huge claims regarding the Boston Celtics.
Being one of the most prominent figures in the world of basketball analysis, his career has spanned decades, most notably with his tenure as a part of ESPN, dating back to 2003, and as the face of ESPN’s First Take since 2012. Renowned for his unapologetic and outspoken commentary, Stephen A. was never shy about expressing his thoughts and opinions as well as always having a rational explanation for his claims. This particular episode was no exception, sparking heated debates and conversations on a wide array of topics.
Stephen A. Smith calls the Boston Celtics the ‘favorite overall’ during an appearance on Club Shay Shay with Shannon Sharpe
During the September 1st episode of the Club Shay Shay podcast, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe veered into the topic of the Boston Celtics. However, the topic of conversation wasn’t originally centered around the Celtics, as it began with a discussion on who was the strongest team in the Western Conference. Smith, never being one to hesitate in sharing his opinions, stated:
"“Phoenix, to me, should be the favorites”, He confidently declared to Shannon, regarding the West. “So, I would tell you, a rematch between Denver and Phoenix in all likelihood for the Conference Finals”, He later added."
Then the conversation shifted through a wide range of different topics and eventually landed on the discussion about the departure of Marcus Smart. It was amidst this discussion that Stephen A. abruptly and unexpectedly made a huge claim that would undoubtedly ignite interest from Boston, and NBA fans Alike:
"“I got Boston, by the way, as my favorite overall,” he stated confidently. “I think Porzingis at 7-foot-3 with the ability to step away from the basket and shoot, combined with Tatum and Brown, still keeping Al Horford and Robert Williams in the mix, with a Derrick White, with a Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning 6th Man of the Year,” He continued. “I think when you look at their depth, their athleticism, their perimeter shooting, their ability to defend, the fact that Mazzulla has a year under his belt coaching the team – I think all of those things bode well for Boston. They’ve been knocking on the door long enough”."
Are Stephen A. Smith’s Boston Celtics claims merely blind speculation?
He’s certainly right about one thing; We have absolutely been knocking on the door for long enough and the fans are just as hungry as the team are for that 18th championship.
Having the additional shooting option that comes from someone who is seven-foot-three, like Porzingis, in addition to the shooting options already established, teams cannot afford to leave anyone open. Last season, Porzingis averaged 23.2 PPG from an impressive 85.1% from the free throw line, 55.9% from inside the arc, and 38.5% from beyond it. Not many defenders are going to be able to thwart his scoring prowess, and if they attempt to double-team him defensively, then there’s going to be a man open who you won’t want to be left unguarded. The same applies when attempting to defensively double-team anyone on the Celtics next season.
The Celtics boasted the third-best defense in the league last year, narrowly trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Memphis Grizzlies. When you combine this formidable defense with the offensive abilities that Stephen A. mentioned before, it’s clear to see that his claims aren’t mere blind speculations, they’re calculated assumptions based on the team’s impressive balance of offensive and defensive capabilities.
What about the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown combination?
He elaborated further on the elite wing duo of Tatum and Brown by stating:
"“You’re Jaylen Brown, you just signed for $300 million, you damn well better show up. And if you’re Jayson Tatum, who’s in line for about $360 million, you damn well better show up. And so, I’m going to assume that they will”."
I agree with Stephen A. in assuming that they will. Both Tatum and Brown are the foundations of a team built to win, and with all the close calls, all the Conference Finals, and that heartbreaking loss to the Warriors in 2022, it’s time to “Damn well show up”, and show up they undoubtedly will.
Stephen A. Smith calls Jayson Tatum is best player under 25
Later in the conversation, Sharpe made Smith make a tough decision by posing the question:
"“We’ve talked about players under 25, Luka, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Zion, Anthony Edwards, LaMelo, Shai Gilgeous (-Alexander), D. Fox, or Jordan Poole. I’m going to give you one guy out of all those guys I mentioned, who you taking?”"
A strong lineup of names was mentioned, and I know who I’d take from that pool of talent, but who would Stephen A. choose?
"“A lot of people would say Luka, Imma say Jayson Tatum”. He then added, “Jayson Tatum is 6-foot-9, Jayson Tatum can shoot the 3. I saw Jayson Tatum drop 46 points in a closeout playoff game – Game 6 in Milwaukee. I saw Jayson Tatum handle his business in a Game 7. I’ve seen a young Jayson Tatum, when he ain’t even 27 years of age yet, be a primary option on a team that’s going to five Conference Championship series and an NBA Finals. I just look at him and I say, not only that, we look at Jayson Tatum from day 1 and say – He’s in shape – That matters to me; I will go with Jayson Tatum”."
What more is there to say? There are reasons that every Boston Celtics fan sings Tatum’s praise and Stephen A. managed to name almost all of them in a minute.
He mentioned his 3-point shooting and, from beyond the arc, Tatum boasts an impressive average of 37.5% throughout his career. In playoff games, he scored 51 against Philadelphia, 50 against Brooklyn, 46 against Milwaukee, 40 against Brooklyn again, and the list goes on. Tatum has five wins and a pair of losses in Game 7s where he averaged a stellar 26.7 PPG from 47.4% from the field and 47.9% from beyond the arc. Those percentages, especially during closeout games, show that Tatum is clutch, packaged with a calm mindset that can only be compared to someone who is 10 years his superior.
What might the NBA Finals look like in 2024 based on Stephen A. Smith’s claims?
In light of Stephen A’s bold speculations, let’s take a look at what the 2024 NBA finals might look like. The first prediction, as previously mentioned, was a Western Conference Finals match-up between the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. Both would make strong opponents for this formidable Boston side. Facing either the reigning champions or the new big 3 of Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker would both come with their challenges.
However, if this Boston Celtics side can stay healthy, play at their peak when it comes to both ends of the court, and play as a consistent, cohesive unit under Mazzulla, they are the team to be feared. A Finals showdown against either of these Western Juggernauts would make for a captivating series for both sets of fans, and NBA enthusiasts alike.
As mentioned before, Stephen A. openly shares his thoughts, but will always give justification as to why he feels a certain way. He claims the Boston Celtics are his favorite to win it all this year, then explains why. He states that he would choose Tatum over the other extremely talented options, then explains why.
Will his claims come to fruition? I, for one, cannot wait to find out. The season cannot come quick enough and the anticipation for how far Celtics can go is palpable.
In the basketball world, bold claims and predictions are the lifeblood of anticipation that leaves fans longing for the season to begin. With the 2023-2024 season on the horizon, our eyes will be truly fixated on the Celtics to see if Stephen A.’s calculated assumptions will culminate in a championship-winning reality. One thing is for sure and that finding out will be filled with excitement, drama, peaks, valleys, and a dash of Smith’s unapologetic commentary.
Here’s to hoping Stephen A. Smith’s foresight rings true.