“Small sample size, but . . .” is my favorite sentence of every October and November of every year. The early NBA season is routinely weird, and it’s filled with trends and statistics that will undoubtedly change and become irrelevant within a few weeks or so.
The fun part is sorting through the noise and seeing which trends are not just trends but something else. What’s going to stick? What’s absurd in an unsustainable way, and what’s just plain absurd? These are the hard-hitting questions that this committee of one will examine.
To do so, we’re going to go by one simple metric that will be able to solve all of our questions. It’s a scale, and it’s a question: “On a scale from one to yes, where does this stat/trend rank in terms of sustainability?”
Anything ranked 1-3 is “not sustainable in the slightest.” If it falls between 4-6, I’m going to categorize it as “not super sustainable, but maybe.” I’d call a 5-7 “pretty sustainable” while 8-9 is a trend that is “in fact, very sustainable.” A “Yes” is very clearly “insanely sustainable.”
This is science, folks.
Guerschon Yabusele Being the Best Player in the League: (2 Not sustainable at all)
So far, the Dancing Bear (what a nickname) is not second, not third, not fourth, not four hundred and twentieth, but first (!) in the NBA with a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 40.77, four whole points ahead of the next best: Giannis Antetokounmpo (36.47). Who needs a Greek Freak when you can have the Dancing Bear? Never mind the fact that he’s only played 8 minutes...Yabusele is goi- I’m sorry, I can’t keep lying to myself.
Yabu could be a really solid player. He’s super mobile for his size, and he has a good touch. He played Joel Embiid pretty well in his very limited minutes that one time. Here’s the thing about small sample sizes, though: I’d rather have him lead the league in PER and shoot 100% from 3-point range at this point than not at this point *shrugs*.
Terry Rozier - A Modern Tracy McGrady/Reggie Miller: (1 Not sustainable at all)
Scary Terry Rozier III helped the Celtics get a huge monkey off their back by contributing to the team beating the San Antonio Spurs for the first time since January 5th, 2011. He did this by scoring a very entertaining 8 points in less than a minute. Was it insanely cool? Without a doubt. Sustainable? Do you have to ask?
But in case you wanted to relive it:
Jayson Tatum Being a Top Rookie: Yes. (Insanely sustainable)
Tatum, while lacking a catchy nickname, has been phenomenal to start this season. Honestly, he’s crushed all expectations, including expectations on the defensive end. So far this season, Tatum is fourth among all rookies in defensive rating while he leads the field in true shooting percentage. That true shooting percentage of 63% is really, really good. He also ranks in the 99th (!!!) percentile in the league in transition scoring so far this year. Tatum’s shooting 9-11 on transition shots. That’s extremely good.
With a massive influx of unexpected minutes coming his away, Jayson Tatum has thrust himself into a contending spot for the Rookie of the Year award. That much was clear when Gordon Hayward went down. What’s been unpredictably cool about the Tatum experience is how he’s been an extremely good defender for a 19-year-old rookie. He knows where to be (except in transition), he knows how to use his body, and he knows how to not get lost off the ball too often. If he can keep it up, that would be a huge step for both him and the team.
Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and Defensive Win-Shares: 5-7 (Pretty sustainable)
Al Horford leads the league in defensive win-shares. If you’ve watched the team this year, this isn’t a surprise because he’s locked up Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Joel Embiid like he’s a vigilante checking names off a list. Maybe it’s another year of being comfortable in the offense, but Horford looks rejuvenated on both ends so far this year. Horford staying within the top-3 in defensive win-shares is not a stretch by any means, especially if his teammates continue to be as solid as they have been. I’d give Horford a “Yes (insanely sustainable).”
The reason this section is a 5-7 overall is because Kyrie Irving is the other part of the equation. He’s been phenomenal on defense so far this year. Is it because he is trying to leave a good impression on the Boston fans? Trying to establish a new image? I don’t care because it’s meant really good things for us defensively so far. Although steals don’t necessarily equal good defense, Irving leads the league with 17 so far, and again, I’d rather have that than the alternative. The unlikelihood of Irving continuing this play and Horford’s assured continued production lead to a “pretty sustainable” ranking.
Oh, and Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both within the top-10 for defensive win-shares as well.
The Celtics Being the Best Defensive Team in the League: 8-9 (In fact, very sustainable)
After a whole summer of NBA pundits punditing about how the Celtics losing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder meant a massive step back on defense, Boston has flown out of the gates to the tune of the NBA’s best defense. The Celtics lead the league with a defensive rating of 97.8, and they’re second in the league opponent’s points per game at 94.9. The team has also been good at limiting opponents on the glass, with opponents only grabbing 8.6 offensive rebounds a game. That’s third in the league. The Celtics are also limiting teams to only 7.6 3-point makes a game, also 3rd best in the NBA.
Bottom line? This is a good defensive team so far. Is it sustainable? While the defensive play of guys like Kyrie Irving might drop (or it might not, which would be cool), overall this team is better equipped to defend the modern NBA. The Celtics are armed with a lot of guys with long arms, good defensive instincts, and versatility. All signs point to this being a very sustainable trend.
While the Celtics are in the bottom third in the league in offensive rating, they should be able to figure that out as the year progresses. What’s most important is keeping the defense where it is now.
Overall, this team has looked great so far as they sit in first place in the Eastern Conference. Something that is also important is that this is a really fun team to watch, so this season, wacky trends or not, will be entertaining.
If you need one general and measured take on what to make of this team early on, look no further than Twitter:
Small sample size but it looks like these Celtics are literally the greatest team of all time and they should basically cancel the season— Teodosic Cigs Caddy☭ (@HebertofRiffs) October 3, 2017
What small sample size statistic or trend have you noticed this year?