Ranking The 2023-24 Celtics

How historically great were the 2023-24 Celtics?  It’s nearly impossible to compare teams from different eras on a head-to-head matchup basis because the rules and strategies have changed so much between generations.  It is not an apples-to-apples comparison when one wonders how the 1995-96 Bulls would play if they were magically teleported to the 2024 NBA.  There is also the thorny issue of whether the players are just better today, though I’m confident that the good players of the 1980s and 1990s would do just fine today.

I would love to see a magic world where the current Celtics could play the 1985-86 Bird Celtics team but, even if we could simulate this, the Bird team would have to totally change its offense just to keep up with the frequency of modern three-pointers.  I have no doubt that the Bird team could do this but it’s a fool’s errand to speculate how it would play out.  Instead, we are left with comparing how dominant the teams were against their peers and then, at the end, sprinkle in a little conjecture.  Let’s start with dominance…

Boston had a dominant team based on wins (64) and ratings (1st in offense and 3rd in defense).  The Celts’ SRS is fifth best ever (10.75) behind only true legends.  In fact, Boston is the first Celtic team with an SRS greater than 10 and only the eleventh team to ever post 10+.  Here’s the full list:

1. Milwaukee 1970-71, 119.92 (66-16)

2. Chicago 1995-96, 11.80 (72-10)

3. L.A. Lakers 1971-72, 11.65 (69-13)

4. Golden State 2016-17, 11.35 (67-15)

5. Boston 2023-24, 10.75 (64-18)

6. Milwaukee 1971-72, 10.70 (63-19)

    Chicago 1996-97, 10.70 (69-13)

8. Golden State 2015-16, 10.38 (73-9)

9. San Antonio 2015-16, 10.28 (67-15)

10. Chicago 1991-92, 10.07 (67-15)

11. Golden State 2014-15, 10.01 (67-15)

So, the Celts were dominant in the regular season, how about the playoffs?  It’s not their fault but Boston had a very easy playoffs schedule.  The Celtics went 16-3 and outscored opponents by 8.05 ppg, which ranks 15th of 70 title teams since 1954-55. Not quite as dominant as the regular season but still pretty high.  Here’s the full list of title teams with better playoff point per game margin:

1. Milwaukee 1970-71, +14.50 (12-2)

2. Golden State 2016-17, +13.53 (16-1)

3.  L.A. Lakers 2000-01, +12.75 (15-1)

4. Chicago 1990-91, +11.71 (15-2)

5. Boston 1960-61, +11.60 (8-2)

6. L.A. Lakers 1986-87, +11.39 (15-3)

7. Chicago 1995-96, +10.56 (15-3)

8. Boston 1985-86, +10.33 (15-3)

9. L.A. Lakers 1984-85, +10.16 (15-4)

10. Golden State 2017-18, +10.00 (16-5)

11. Philadelphia 1966-67, +9.33 (11-4)

12. San Antonio 2013-14, +9.30 (16-7)

13. Cleveland 2015-16, +8.62 (16-5)

14. Denver 2022-23, +8.30 (16-4)

15. Boston 2023-24, +8.05 (16-3)

The dominance review shows the current Boston team to be slightly below the best regular season teams and a solid tier below the best playoff teams (yes, the Celts’ 37-point loss to Dallas in Game 4 was anomalous but it still counts).

Now, for the last leg of the analysis, we do a slight bit of match up comparison.  Earlier, we wrote that it is silly to try compare teams from different eras, and this is largely true.   The one exception is top end talent comparison.  The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the best players usually win.  The 2023-24 Celtics are deep team and their best player, Jayson Tatum, is great but doesn’t rate as quite other worldly compared to Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and other inner circle Hall of Famers.  By way of comparison, here are the best BPMs of other legendary teams:

1985-86 Celtics: Larry Bird 8.7

1986-87 Lakers: Magic Johnson 8.8

1995-96 Bulls: Michael Jordan 10.5

2000-01 Lakers: Shaquille O’Neal 9.3

2007-08 Celtics: Kevin Garnett 8.2

2016-17 Warriors: Kevin Durant 8.9

2023-24 Celtics: Jayson Tatum 5.1

This year’s Celtics are super deep and BPM is hardly the only or best way to evaluate players but it provides a nice short hand for player dominance and Tatum, while a great player, doesn’t quite measure up to these guys.

We are aware that the implication here is that if teams from different era were to play each other, the other teams are more likely to get buckets in close games than the Tatum Celtics.  Again, this is a futile exercise but it is a minor factor to be considered when ranking the greats of the greats.

In all, the 2023-24 Celtics were a worthy title team and as good as any other team that has played.  Having said that, for teams of the Three-Point Era, I see them as a notch below the 1985-86 Celtics, the 1986-87 Lakers, the top Jordan Bulls teams, the 2000-01 Lakers, and the Curry Warriors.  There are other teams that have arguments over this current Celtic team but it’s safe to say that they rank in the 10 to 15 range of the best teams of the last 45 years.