The Boston Celtics are coming off of the fourth straight loss to teams with a combined record of 79-104. With a record of 34-14, the Celtics still sit atop the eastern conference, but only have a 1.5 game lead over the Toronto Raptors after hitting their low-point on the season.
Brad Stevens’ offense has dropped to 20th in the NBA around the likes of the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks, and if it weren’t for the Cavaliers losing 11 of their last 15 games, the Celtics’ issues would probably fall under a larger microscope.
But this happens, and teams go through rough patches all the time throughout a season. Kyrie Irving even sees this stretch as an important opportunity to grow as a team because, well, what else would a very much woke individual say in this situation?
However, one of the main reasons the Celtics have struggled as a team in January presents a potential concern for the Celtics down the line. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each having a rough January, Boston’s weaknesses hold more weight than they have in the first three months of the season.
Since they’re both so young and aren’t as consistent as the top players in the league yet, depending so heavily on the two could cause some to really worry about the outlook of this team later on. I mean, just google search Jayson Tatum and you’ll see what the main story is on him.
What’s important to remember is how good both Brown and Tatum were before the month of January, and that every little thing, is gonna be alright!
The Celtics have had the league’s worst offense in the month of January, sitting with a 97.9 offensive rating. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have been mostly consistent with their shooting splits from prior months, but Tatum and Brown have fallen off dramatically.
Through the first three months of the regular season, Tatum posted a true shooting percentage(TS%) over 60%. In January, he has dropped to 47%. Similarly, Brown posted monthly TS% splits of 51.8, 56.6, and 61.0 before dropping to 47.8% in January.
Each of their three point percentage’s have fallen off in January as well. Brown is shooting a measly 25.6% after hovering around 40% all season, while Tatum is shooting 39.8% from three after posting a near 50% mark from outside through his first three months.
With the emphasis Brad Stevens puts on spacing and three point shooting, having your two most important offensive players outside of Horford and Irving struggle like this can cause some serious issues. With nearly everyone outside of Boston seemingly waiting for both players to hit a wall and declare the Celtics pretenders, don’t get too down on Tatum and Brown.
There is good news regarding the shooting splits. While both of their percentages are down substantially, the types of shots they are taking hasn’t changed. In fact, their shot profiles have slightly improved.
On the NBA Stats page, you can see player’s shooting percentages depending on how close a defender is. With a defender that is classified as tight(2-4ft), open(4-6ft), and wide open(6+ft), both Brown and Tatum’s percentages have dropped in every category this month.
The silver lining is that the bulk of their attempts are trending towards the open variety rather than towards more defensive pressure. So if you are confident in their shooting mechanics, which their body of work should allow you to do so, then it’s safe to expect their percentages to rise again.
Expectations are another key aspect to keep in mind. When Gordon Hayward was lost for the season, Tatum and Brown were thrust into the forefront of the Celtics’ game plan both offensively and defensively. They responded beautifully, and the Celtics went on to win 16 games in a row, holding onto the top spot in the eastern conference ever since.
While Tatum and Brown are both “superstars in the making”, the second half of that phrase is as present as the first. They aren’t complete products yet. Each player has shown promising consistency, but months like these can happen. The important thing for fans and even the players to remember is how good they have been this year despite their January struggles.
Tatum is averaging 13.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and is shooting almost 45% from three with a usage percentage of over 17% as a 19-year-old. No other rookie in the history of the NBA has a similar line except Yao Ming, who only took two three pointers in his first year.
Brown is the second leading scorer on the Celtics, averaging 14.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and is shooting nearly 38% on his threes with a usage rate around 20%. In the history of the NBA, only two other players posted similar stat lines at the age of 21(Dirk Nowitzki and Shareef Abdur-Rahim).
These two players are unprecedented in their early success, and have been paramount to the Celtics’ east-leading record after losing arguably their best all-around player to injury. Yes, Tatum and Brown have struggled to hit shots this month, and that makes life harder on Horford, Irving, and especially the second unit, but it’ll be okay. Especially under a coach like Stevens that always puts his players in positions to succeed, there isn’t much to worry about.
The Celtics still have the best defense in the league, and have the fourth highest net rating despite their recent skid. Offensive slumps happen, and they happen to young players all the time. Brown and Tatum have had to learn a lot this season, and getting through the month of January is something we’ll all add to the long list of things we laud about when this season is all said and done.