It’s been a couple years since Celtics fans really had much to hang onto, and while nobody expects to be raising Banner 18 to kick off the 2016-17 season a year from now, there’s still reason to be excited for this season’s Celtics team.

Having moved on from Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, the Celtics return this year as an energetic, and eager-to-work bunch that has added a few veterans to the mix.Their younger, talented guys – Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley, to name a few – have another year under their belts. They’ll also get a full season of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. The Celtics are a team clearly on the rise as the season tips off at TD Garden tonight (7:30 p.m., CSNNE). The team they’re playing, the Philadelphia 76ers, can’t say that - at this point anyways.

Boston figures to compete with the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Atlantic Division this season. That’s a far cry from last year, when most didn’t expect the C’s to win more than 30 games.So, why can they compete for the division – and even win a playoff round (or two?!) this year?

 

1. Depth

The Celtics don’t have the strongest starting unit in the NBA – clearly – but if we’re talking top to bottom, they’re up there with the deepest of teams. Think about this: Jared Sullinger and Olynyk both started in last year’s season-opener. This year? They’re both expected to come off the bench, and Sullinger looks to be at the very end of the rotation. That’s due to the emergence of Tyler Zeller and the additions of David Lee and Amir Johnson. Once considered a “small” team, the C’s aren’t feeling that way anymore. 

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“Overall I just think any guy coming off the bench, starting, just has to be ready,” Johnson said, “especially with coach Brad [Stevens], because he can put you in a position at any time. You’ve just got to be ready, have that mindset to be ready.”

 

2. Defense

When the casual NBA fan thinks about the Golden State Warriors, they think about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hitting shot after shot. But the Warriors held opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league last season, too. This season, the Celtics hope to climb up the defensive ranks themselves. With a starting lineup featuring the defensive-minded trio of Smart, Bradley, and Crowder, becoming a Top 10 defense is a very real possibility.

 

3. Brad Stevens

It’s been said around here for a couple seasons: Stevens is this team’s MVP. Hopefully someday an actual Celtics player can make that into a good argument, but as of now, Stevens is the brains behind the Celtics’ success. His even-keeled attitude has a calming effect on his squad – one that his rookies need and one that his veterans appreciate.