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Celtics’ balanced attack fuels dangerous offense

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When they’re clicking, they’re scary.

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

On CelticsBlog, we’ve looked at this in a number of different ways. Jeff looked at the possibility of multiple Celtics making the All-Star team in February. Greg wrote about the combine 64 points from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on Friday night against the Cavaliers and how a string of performances like that could catapult them into superstardom. Kemba Walker has become somewhat of a b-story over the last few weeks, but still leads the team in scoring and assists. Gordon Hayward’s has taken on a complementary role since returning from injury and Marcus Smart’s comeback is imminent, too.

Boston’s balanced attack is not just a kumbaya, let-everybody-eat approach so that all the players feel involved. It’s a relentless onslaught of do-it-all ball handlers and wings that has catapulted the Celtics’ offense to 4th in the league in offensive rating at 112.3 points per 100 possessions (as of December 27th).

Consider the usage rate profiles of the eight teams at the top of both the Eastern and Western Conferences (excluding the Celtics for now). Because of injuries, I’ve included some rotation players in addition to their starters for some of the teams:

Contenders’ Usage Rate and PIE

PLAYERS GP MIN USG% PIE
PLAYERS GP MIN USG% PIE
Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo 31 31.1 37 23.4
Khris Middleton 26 27.8 25.7 14.5
Eric Bledsoe 26 26.6 23.5 13.3
Brook Lopez 31 26.4 16.5 8.7
Wesley Matthews 32 24 12.4 6.2
Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler 27 35.2 25.1 16.1
Bam Adebayo 31 34.1 20 15.4
Justise Winslow 10 33.7 19.6 7.9
Kendrick Nunn 31 30.8 23.4 9.2
Tyler Herro 30 28.7 21.2 9.6
Goran Dragic 21 28.6 23.3 11.7
Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry 20 38.1 21.9 12.5
Pascal Siakam 27 36.6 29.3 13.6
Fred VanVleet 26 36.4 22.6 11.9
OG Anunoby 30 30.2 15.3 8.9
Norman Powell 27 28.9 19.2 10.3
Marc Gasol 27 28.2 12.3 8
Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons 32 34.9 19.3 13.2
Tobias Harris 34 34.3 23.6 13.3
Josh Richardson 26 31.3 21.3 8.4
Joel Embiid 28 30.8 30.8 20.4
Al Horford 30 30.6 18.2 11.7
Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis 29 35.1 29.8 18.3
LeBron James 30 34.9 31.6 19.5
Danny Green 31 25.7 13.4 6.6
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 31 25.2 14 6.6
Avery Bradley 17 24.3 15.8 4.7
Kyle Kuzma 22 23.2 22.4 7.6
Denver Nuggets
Will Barton 28 32.9 18.9 11.6
Gary Harris 30 32.8 15 6.7
Jamal Murray 30 31.8 24.9 11.9
Nikola Jokic 30 31.2 25.2 17.5
Paul Millsap 28 24.9 19.7 11.3
Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard 24 31.6 33.1 19.8
Paul George 22 30.9 30.4 14.8
Lou Williams 31 30.2 27 12.3
Montrezl Harrell 33 29.2 23.8 14.6
Patrick Beverley 28 29.1 12.5 8.3
Landry Shamet 16 27.3 12.7 4.5
Maurice Harkless 33 23.4 10.3 5.5
Houston Rockets
James Harden 31 37.6 37.2 19.5
P.J. Tucker 31 36.1 9.5 7.2
Russell Westbrook 28 35.2 31.3 12.8
Clint Capela 27 33.6 15.1 14.2
Danuel House Jr. 25 30.4 13.4 6.9
Eric Gordon 9 29.4 18.6 1.1
Ben McLemore 31 23.8 16.2 6.3
Austin Rivers 29 23.4 14.1 5.5

There are some noticeable trend lines. Teams like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, both Los Angeles teams, and Houston rely heavily on their MVP candidates. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden average nearly or over a 30% usage rate. Their offenses tilt in their direction. For what it’s worth, their teams are a combined 17-12 when they’ve missed games.

Now here’s Boston’s usage rate and PIE stats:

Celtics’ Usage Rate and PIE

PLAYERS GP MIN AST% USG% PIE
PLAYERS GP MIN AST% USG% PIE
Jayson Tatum 29 34.1 13.3 27.6 13.1
Jaylen Brown 26 33.4 11.5 23.6 13.5
Kemba Walker 28 32.2 24.3 27.8 13.7
Marcus Smart 20 31.8 20.5 16.3 8.8
Gordon Hayward 13 30.1 21.8 21.4 15
Daniel Theis 26 21.6 9 13.8 9.8
Brad Wanamaker 29 18.8 22.4 16 9.9
Enes Kanter 22 17.5 8.9 18.5 15.8
Grant Williams 27 15.4 7.6 11.5 2.9
Semi Ojeleye 29 15 4.5 7.5 4.2
Robert Williams III 19 14.1 10.8 11.2 12

He’s not listed, but the buried headline is that Tacko Fall leads in usage rate (50%) and PIE (35.3) in his Gino Time minutes. Outside of Tacko’s stature on the floor and in the advanced box score, Boston is a plateau of reliability and consistency. And to some extent, this is why Boston has been so successful weathering the storm of injuries that have plagued them all season. Only the Heat can boast as balanced an attack as the Celtics with four or more players averaging +20% usage rate.

On Friday afternoon, Brown and Tatum combined for 64 points on 24-for-40 shooting. It’s a strong example of how efficient and varied the Celtics’ offense can be and how each player can shift from being a ball handler and a finisher seamlessly. Both have the ability to create on the ball coming off picks and picking apart defensive rotations:

Or spotting up and finishing off of their other primary playmakers like Hayward and Walker:

By my count, Tatum and Brown were 14-of-26 as primary ball handlers/scorers and 10-of-14 as finishers against the Cavaliers. After the game, Brown spoke about the team’s room to grow:

“We definitely got to continue to have the right balance, make the right plays, the right reads and continue to get better,” Brown said. “We still have our best days in front of us. As a team we got to continue to strive. Worry less about the opponent and more about us. We got to get better. We’re looking to be a team playing deep into the postseason this year.

Every game counts. Every game is a chance to get better. Every game is an opportunity and we got to make sure that we seize it.”

The rotation patterns have also suggested that Stevens and the Celtics are doubling down on versatility and playing their more well-rounded rookies more than the specialists. Grant Williams and Romeo Langford have become regular contributors, averaging 19.1 and 16.1 minutes over the last five games, instead of Semi Ojeleye, Javonte Green, and Carsen Edwards. By March and April, Boston could be a whirling dervish 10 players that are capable of scoring 10+ points each.