It feels as though the Celtics simply survived the first 12 games of the season. It is very tempting to say that none of the games before the win over the Pistons matter because the Celtics were banged up and missing key players for each of those games. (So really, we’re 1-0 on the year!)
However, every team has to deal with some injuries at some point, and the losses go on the books regardless of circumstance. If anything, the Celtics have the kind of depth that (in theory) should have allowed them to weather the storm a bit better.
There’s still a lot of noise in the small-sample-size data set. It is impossible to know exactly how things would have been different if the team had Al Horford and Jae Crowder healthy (never mind Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart) all year.
It doesn’t make sense that this Celtics team would be 19th in the league in Defensive Rating, but here we are. You could say that blowout losses to the Nuggets, Wizards, and Warriors skew those numbers a bit, but hey, the Celtics allowed those games to get out of hand. The Celtics also allowed a terrible and depleted Pelicans team to beat them (and were in danger of blowing the Nets game to start the season).
Rebounding is an issue that (barring personnel changes) isn’t going away any time soon. But what is more confusing (and low-key concerning) is the lack of steals. This team created a lot of fast-break looks last season by swiping the ball 9.2 times per game, good for 2nd in the league. This year they are down to 7.1 per game, putting them 23rd (just behind the Knicks). Horford and Crowder should help with that, but it is worth keeping an eye on.
It hasn’t all been bad though. There are some very positive signs to which the Celtics can point, starting with the offense. Boston is currently 10th in offensive rating and they are in the top four in both Assist % and AST/TO rate. They are moving the ball and shooting it better from deep (36% this year compared to 33.5% last year).
In particular, our starting backcourt has played exceptionally well thus far. Isaiah Thomas has only had one game where he scored fewer than 20 points (“just” 18 points against the Warriors when he played only 28 minutes). Avery Bradley has increased his scoring average to 17 per game and is leading the team in rebounding at 8.5 per game.
Jaylen Brown has shown hints of his potential (and plenty of reminders that he’s a raw rookie). Marcus Smart is still doing Marcus Smart things all over the basketball court, and he has raised his three-point shooting percentage to a whopping 30.8% (hey, that’s progress)!
Aside from one glorious James Young game and one mind-blowing Amir Johnson heat-check game, I’m not sure if anyone else on the roster really stood out through the first month of the season. Rozier and Jerebko have been hot and cold. Tyler Zeller is...Tyler Zeller. Gerald Green seems to have fallen out of the rotation already.
All things considered, the Celtics aren’t in a terrible position. They are a game over .500 and just a game behind the division-leading Raptors. Boston has an opportunity to gain some momentum in the next couple of games, but they can’t take either foe for granted. They travel to Minnesota (where the Wolves might just be the future of the league) and Brooklyn (who have lost four straight but are playing hard).
I’m still holding my judgement of this team till we’ve gotten through 20 games (early December), but so far it seems like the team has survived a difficult stretch and has the opportunity to get back on track now that they are fully healthy.