The Celtics offense sucks, but much of this is just the circumstances that the team has started the season in. Part of it also is not just integrating two players into #ateamthatgottoGame7oftheEasternConferenceFinals. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are arguably Boston’s best players and the two players are expected to be primary ball handlers and playmakers for the team. Unfortunately, they’re not healthy. Brad Stevens is playing Hayward and Irving like they’re #1 and #2 options when (if we’re being honest) they should be way down on the depth chart. Even though The Sixers ruined the word for me, I’ll use it: this is a process.
The Celtics could have opted to ease both players with them coming off the bench and feasting on second units. Everyone would understand that decision and in Brad Stevens’ merit-based democracy, if Terry Rozier is playing better than Kyrie Irving then Terry Rozier should be playing over Kyrie Irving. We saw some of that in the 4th quarter against the Sixers.
However, Stevens also knows that basketball is about chemistry and continuity and getting that fivesome as much time together as possible early. Consider this an extension of the preseason. Even though Stevens said in last night’s presser than they have “jobs with scoreboards,” these first twenty games should be treated like a new pair of jeans. They need to be worn as much as possible, broken in, and never washed.
In terms of the ball movement (or lack there of), here’s my theory: the increase in isolations and decrease in ball movement is a product of the switching defense trend taking over the league and Boston’s focus on taking advantages of mismatches. Stevens knows that he might have to crack some eggs in October and November, but by the end of the season, guys like Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum will be seasoned one-on-one killers in April. Remember when Jared Sullinger went from shooting 52 three-pointers in two seasons at Ohio State and then a grand total of 5 in his rookie season to 208 in his first year with Stevens? That’s kind of where we’re at now. Those fifteen footers clanking off the rim against the Knicks and Magic are frustrating, but when they become a necessary weapon against Toronto and Golden State in seven months, this stretch will be a forgettable blip.
That doesn’t exactly excuse the indiscriminate scattered shot charts that we’ve seen over these first four games, but it could explain Stevens’ cool attitude so far. He’s made few harsh critiques about his team’s offense while he waits for “water to meet its level.”
After last night’s debacle against the Magic where the Celtics shot 40.7% from the field which included 9-for-40 from behind the arc. Boston hasn’t had a FG% over 41% in the last three games, but Brad Stevens saw some improvement vs. Orlando:
"That was the best offensively we played all season as far as moving the ball," Brad Stevens says. C's shot just 40.7% from the field. Coach believes it could've been a 35-assist night for them had they made quality shots.— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) October 23, 2018
The Celtics are currently 2nd in defensive rating (yay!) and 2nd worst in offensive rating (ugh...). Stevens recognizes that these are just growing pains though. Shots will start going down. Irving and Tatum won’t shoot a combined 9-for-41 from 3. The Celtics won’t be last in FTA’s per game. To Stevens’ point about assists, the Celtics are currently 9th in potential assists per game at 45.0. For some context, the pass-happy Spurs are first at 51.5 and the Pelicans who are first in OffRtg average 48.0. Unfortunately for Boston, they’re converting so few of their shots and averaging on 23.7 assists per game.
Here’s Kyrie on what he sees on the team’s improvement: