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New Year’s resolutions for the Celtics

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Some things the Celtics can work on in 2019.

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

New Year’s Day is a time of fresh beginnings. It’s an opportunity for every one of us to look deep within ourselves, reflect on who we want to be, and make the necessary changes. It’s arbitrary, but it can be a real starting point towards molding yourself into the person that you want to be.

I, very bravely I might add, have turned my back on all of that to instead blog about what the Celtics can do better. There are lots of people setting out on journeys of self-betterment today, but let’s also not forget the brave souls who have pledged to stay exactly the same and came into the New Year ready to post.

Self-betterment, by the way, is something that the Celtics could afford to work on, as they continue their season long journey to hone their rough talent into a sharp team by April. I went through the Celtics roster and offered some friendly suggestions, quite possibly “the little things” that Kyrie Irving keeps suggesting after every loss.

Terry Rozier - more aggression on the glass

With Jaylen Brown making steady progress returning from his hand injury and putting together a string of good games. Celtics fans’ ire is beginning to turn to Terry Rozier after every loss. Psychologically, this kind of makes the most sense for Celtics fans as we hurtle towards a trade deadline and off-season circumstances that make it increasingly unlikely that the Celtics would be the team to give Rozier the highest amount of money. Money, that he by the way, richly deserves if only on the back of his strong playoff performance last year.

However, while Rozier’s role has been adjusted out of necessity to something that hamstrings his optimal use, I think there are still ways for Terry to make a big impact for the Celtics and demonstrate his value. Namely, I’d like to see a return to form for him on the boards.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

A look at Rozier’s per-100 possession rebounding stats won’t point out any discernible difference from last year to this year, but digging further into the NBA.com tracking data will tell a different story. Last year, Rozier’s contested rebounding percentage was 23.6%, an exceptionally high number for guard. For some context, LeBron James finished the year at 24.1%, Paul George at 23.1% and Jayson Tatum at 22.9%. Kyrie Irving’s insane rebounding kick this year has pushed him all the way up to 29.2% in contest rebounding. Eldritch god of combat and winning plays Marcus Smart is quite literally one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA and ended last year at 30.8%.

This year, Rozier is actually has the lowest contested rebounding percentage of any of the Celtics, all the way down to 11.3%. That’s a shame, because Rozier is an excellent rebounder who uses his unreal leaping ability and rangy length to get boards over guys much bigger than him. The Celtics are 26th in the NBA in both rebounds per game and rebounds per 100 possesions since Aron Baynes went down, and a focus on rebounding for Rozier would help to plug that hole while awaiting greater opportunity.

Marcus Smart - maintain low usage

Marcus Smart has quietly (or not so quietly if you see the Twitter memes) been one of the Celtics most important players this year, and a lot of that has to do with his ability to help the team win in complementary ways. Smart doesn’t need the ball to change the game in a meaningful way, and skill is at an absolute premium when you have a team as loaded with talent as the Celtics do. This is a big reason why Smart’s promotion into the starting lineup has yielded such positive returns, and why he’s currently on pace for easily the lowest USG rate of his career.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Effectively, a player’s “usage” is how often they end a possession on offense, whether by shot, assist, or turnover. Smart’s fearless, high octane style of play leads to a relatively high turnover rate, which is still present this year. However, Smart is... well, a smart player. He knows what this team needs and he is executing it to the best of his ability. While many of Smart’s counting stats might be down, a glance at more complete metrics would tell the more definitive story of Smart’s season. For example, Smart is currently 22nd (!!!) in ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, ahead of players like Chris Paul, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, and Victor Oladipo.

Now, it’s important to note that I don’t actually believe Smart is better than those players at least openly and I understand that an example like this could more frequently be used as an indictment on the usefulness of RPM, rather than in praise of Smart. That said, I still think there’s something to be said that a player with a 13.9% USG could ever rank that high, and the conclusion is that Smart should keep doing what he’s doing.

Jaylen Brown - get to the line

Quietly, one of the Celtics biggest weaknesses this year has been playing physically on the offensive side of the ball. Kyrie Irving is a virtuoso of finishing, a player who can use his ridiculous body control to avoid contact and make shots. Jayson Tatum’s first instinct as a scorer is to take jump shots in rhythm with his smooth scoring ability. All this translates to the simple fact that the Celtics don’t get easy points from the free throw line, which make them a bit prone to going on extended scoring droughts.

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Enter the resurgent Jaylen Brown, who is the balm to these wounds. In December, Brown had a free throw rate of 6.6 per 100 possessions, the highest of anyone on the team by a significant margin. Compare this to Brown’s first 19 games of the year, where he averaged only 4.0 per 100 possessions. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Brown’s increased level of play of late coincides with higher free throw rate, because both are a result of a more aggressive Jaylen Brown. On a team filled with jump shooters, Brown is distinguished by his ability to collapse the paint and draw contact. The Celtics are at their best when he’s showcasing that ability.

Well, that’s my resolutions for the Celtics this year. I expect the Celtics to take these New Year’s resolutions seriously, because I wrote them at the expense of not doing any improvements to myself. I’d like to thank everyone who made my first year at CelticsBlog last year a memorable one, and I hope we all have a great 2019!