The Celtics have fewer offensive talents this year than they had last year, but that might actually be working out to their advantage.
Currently, three players are averaging over 20 points per game (Kemba Walker 24.3, Jayson Tatum 21.6, and Gordon Hayward 20.3). Add to that mix Jaylen Brown, who has struggled with foul trouble and sickness early on this season, who may soon increase his current average of 16 per game.
This is just the fifth time in Celtics franchise history the C’s have had three 20-point scorers through seven games. Three of those other four Boston teams win on to win the NBA title, including the 2008 “Big Three” team featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Aside from Kanter’s one game of 12 points, no other Celtics player is averaging double figures (Marcus Smart is at 9.6). Last season the Celtics had just one player average over 20 per game, but had 5 others in double figures. (Note: I’m fully aware that I’m comparing a small sample size of 7 games to a full season of data. This all may change quickly.)
A recurring refrain repeated often last year was that too many players were “looking for their shots.” In part, that was because there were a lot of “mouths to feed” in the offense. Younger players like Tatum, Brown, and Terry Rozier were looking for bigger roles while veterans like Marcus Morris, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, and of course Kyrie Irving were used to getting their own touches.
At this point I should also point out that last year the team finished 10th in the league in offensive rating with a 111.3 rating. Thus far, this year’s rating is only 107.7 good for only 14th in the league (small sample size disclaimer repeated). Obviously the higher defensive rating has helped this team to the 6-1 start, but it just feels like there’s something to this offensive balance that is helping as well.
There’s a clear hierarchy of touches in the offense right now, with 4 primary scorers. Despite being a high usage guy, Kemba is very willing to let his teammates shine. Jayson Tatum is Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Return of the Jedi. He’s ready and he knows it, he just has to go out there and prove it. Gordon Hayward is finally back to living his best life and he’s been the feel good story of the early season. Then there’s Jaylen Brown who is relentlessly attacking the paint with his athleticism and improved handle.
There are other players on the team that can have big nights occasionally. Just not consistently. Sometimes Marcus Smart gets the 3 falling and can rack up big numbers. Carsen Edwards is going to go supernova every once in a while. When Enes Kanter comes back, he could have his own share of box score stuffing games. But for the most part, this team is filled with young role players (Grant Williams, Robert Williams, Daniel Theis, Brad Wanamaker, etc.) that don’t need consistent touches to make a positive impact on the game.
Of course, there is a risk to this new focused offensive balance. If anything happens to any of the top 4 scorers (injuries, foul trouble), it puts a lot more pressure on the others to have a good game. We’ve already seen stretches in games this year where it seemed like nothing was falling.
Perhaps the difference is that this year the four scorers know that even if they miss a few shots, they’ll get the ball back for another look. Last year that might not have been the case, which adds unnecessary mental pressure on each shot.
Again, it is early yet and all this could change quickly. I don’t even have statistical evidence to support my theory (other than winning percentage). However, this seems like a positive early season trend to at least keep an eye on.