I said early on in the season that I would wait 15 games before making any real judgments of this team. Then as usual I completely forgot about that rule and published an article stating that this team is good-not-great. So much for restraint.
However, now it has been 15 games and I feel totally confident telling you that this team is good-not-great. At least in my opinion. The great thing about opinions is that everyone's entitled to their own. How "good" or "bad" a team is often depends on expectations.
With all that said, we do have some quantifiable numbers that we can look at. You can make compelling and amusing arguments that these numbers are skewed or misrepresent reality or whatever. But right now the Celtics are what their record is.
The most important numbers are the win-loss record, which stands at a modest 8-7 right now. One game over .500 and good for a virtual tie for 8th place (throwing out tiebreakers which are meaningless this early). I think when the season began we all hoped that the team would end up closer to the 5th seed but we still have a small sample size to consider with the standings. To wit, the Celtics are just 1.5 games out of the 3rd seed in the East right now.
With so many teams bunched up together in the standings, it helps to look deeper into the stats. I'm no analytics expert by any means, but here are some stats that jump out to me.
The Celtics hold the 5th best defensive rating at 96.7 but just the 22nd best offensive rating at 99.9 thus far. That gives us the 10th best net rating at 3.2. So our offense holds us back, but our defense more than makes up for it to push us into the upper 3rd of the league overall.
So what about Brad's pace and space, how's that working out? Well, the Celtics play at a high pace (101.73), good for 5th best in the league. They also share the ball well, assisting on 62.9% of the made field goals, which is good for 6th in the league. Unfortunately the turn the ball over a lot, 6th most in the league with a 16.1 TO ratio. That gives them a middling AST/TO ratio of 1.46 which is good for 14th in the league.
It helps in a pace and space system to be able to hit 3 pointers to provide the space necessary. Unfortunately the Celtics are hitting just 31.8% of their outside shots, which is 8th worst in the league (and just ahead of the lowly Lakers). Some of the shooters on this team have bright futures and could develop into legit outside threats, but right now the team as a whole is struggling from deep.
What about rebounding? The team is actually pretty good about getting on the offensive boards, coming in at 6th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. However, they are 9th worst in defensive rebounding percentage, giving them a total rebounding percentage of just 49.6% which is 17th in the league.
How about some good news? The Celtics currently lead the league in steals with 11.3 per game, which surely helps their defensive rating and makes up some for the lack of rebounding.
Note: All the above stats were found at NBA.com on Friday, November 27th.
There are a lot of individual stats we could pour through, but that would make for a very long column. So I'll just point people to ESPN's relatively new stat called Real Plus-Minus which supposedly takes plus-minus and factors in all the things that people say that plus-minus misses (situation, pace, etc.). I don't know how well it accomplishes this goal, but it is an interesting set of numbers to look at and compare to the eye test.
Right now Jae Crowder ranks as our best in this stat and he's actually 16th overall. Sullinger is next at 23rd and Isaiah Thomas doesn't show up until 55th. James Young is our lowest ranked, but to be fair, he's only played in 2 games for just 2 min each and if memory serves that was garbage time anyway.
So what do all of these stats mean? Well, like I said in the beginning, I think it means that we are a good team that has plenty of room for improvement. We need better offense which probably would happen if we had better outside shooting. We have a stellar defense and the team seems to be buying into Brad's pace and space and team philosophy.
Taking the long-view, I don't think I've seen anything that has changed my perspective from earlier in the year.
In the long term everything is still going according to plan. The Celtics are not supposed to be contenders this season. They are supposed to be competitive and hopefully make the playoffs and try to win a playoff series. But all of that is secondary to developing talent - which is going to take time an patience. Something that is in shorter supply now that expectations have been raised.
So far, so good. All I ask is that the team keeps making progress and learning from their experiences this year.