The NBA season is not brief. Focus in on any specific small sample size and you can get a distorted view. Sometimes it is important to pay attention to the details. An arborist can tell you a lot about a tree from the leaves, bark, and sap samples they take. However, they can’t tell you about the overall forest until they jump in their pickup and drive to the nearest scenic overlook.
As fun as the last few games have been, there were some very un-fun games just before that. There are clearly peaks and valleys in any NBA season, but usually by Christmas you kind of know what to expect from a team. On December 26th, I’m not sure that we’re there with this Celtics team.
Part of that is simply cognitive dissonance. We entered this season with a belief that this team is a championship contender but the evidence on the court has often contradicted that assumption. There are moments of greatness and moments of disjointed confusion. In short, this team has been inconsistent and that’s usually not a great sign for a team looking to be great.
Last year’s playoff team was led by young players performing like grizzled veterans. Now that our veterans are back, the young players have performed inconsistently (you know, like young players normally do). Put that together with their reduced roles and a continued emphasis in locker room quotes on “sacrifice” and “putting the team first” and it isn’t hard to figure out that some of this is simply growing pains.
There have been literal pains as well, as Gordon Hayward has slowly started rounding into form and both Al Horford and the surprisingly important Marcus Morris have already dealt with injuries this season.
Are 33 games (40% of the season) enough of a sample size to tell us unequivocally what this team is and what it isn’t? Well, as Bill Parcells taught us long ago, “you are what your record says you are.” Right now the Celtics are a 5 seed in the East which wouldn’t even give them home court advantage in the first round.
Still, that proverbial “if the season ended today” scenario doesn’t consider factors like team growth, injuries, and the NBA trade deadline. I’d prefer to hop in Robert Williams’ DeLorean and see where we are at the end of the regular season. A lot can change in that other 60% of the season.
Generally speaking, Brad Stevens likes to tinker with rotations and lineups early in the season (check), has the team playing top of the league defense (check), and by the end of the year everyone knows their roles and the team is in a great position headed into the postseason.
For the moment it appears that the Airing of Grievances team meeting has put Boston on the right path, but it is too early to say that it “fixed” their problems. They absolutely will have more bad games at some point this year. There will always need to be course corrections along the way. The hope here is that the inconsistencies will be fewer and farther in between as the year progresses.
Said another way, nobody will care what happened in November and December if the team is playing well in May and well into June.