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20 games in, the Celtics are really good

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Where we stand at about the quarter mark of the season.

Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Long time readers of the blog know that I do something like this every year. I try to withhold judgement on a season until after 20 games (roughly 14 of the season). That prevents overreactions to small sample sizes and getting carried away with hot takes that look stupid 2 weeks later. I say I “try” to follow this rule but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Still, I think it is safe to look at this year’s squad and take inventory thus far. At a macro level they are 15-5 which is tied for the 3rd best record in the league (using %). They rank top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating (10th and 6th) which naturally means that they are in the top 10 for net rating (6th place at 6.9).

Both Kemba Walker (21.9) and Jayson Tatum (21) are averaging at least 20 points per game and if you round up, so is Jaylen Brown (19.9). The injured Gordon Hayward was also at 18.9 before missing time with a broken hand.

Marcus Smart is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate and an effective distributor (4.0 asst to turnover ratio). Daniel Theis has stepped up to fill the role of starting center admirably and the big rotation has effectively utilized Enes Kanter and Robert Williams as well.

Rounding out the depth chart Brad Stevens has gotten quality contributions from Brad Wanamaker, Semi Ojeleye, and rookies Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. In my opinion nobody has regressed or under-performed considerably and several players have made excellent progress in the right direction.

A few more random stats from NBA.com/stats that are of interest: The Celtics are 4th in the league in Deflections per Game (16.8), 4th in the league in “screen assists” (11.1), and 5th in the league in “clutch plus/minus” with a positive 20.

Oddly enough they don’t rank as high in some categories as you might think. For example, they are just 19th in the league in assists, 24th in the league in FG%, and 22nd in Effective FG%.

Stylistically they are a lot of fun to watch. They play hard, they spread the ball around, and they respond positively to adversity. I’m not even going to bring up comparisons to last year (oops, I guess I just did). This is just a good, solid team that has made excellent progress this year.

The only blip was a challenging road trip out West where the team went 2-3 but there are even some caveats there. The team took the Clippers to overtime and lost Kemba Walker during the Nuggets game to a scary head/neck injury (that thankfully didn’t turn out serious). Back home the team is undefeated with an 8-0 record at TD Garden.

Heading into the season, we knew that this team was going to count heavily upon the continued progress of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (check, check) as well as the return to form of Gordon Hayward (check on hold). There was reasonable skepticism about how the defense would fare without Al Horford in the middle, but so far so good on that front.

It is hard to tell what the ceiling is for this team but I’m not going to rule them out of making a long run in the playoffs this year. Brad Stevens teams generally get better as the season goes along (notable outlier seasons notwithstanding) and it still seems like there’s plenty of room for Tatum and Brown (and others) to grow and thrive.

Frankly speaking, I have no complaints. Let’s get going on the rest of the season!

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. What has impressed you the most? What do you think is still missing?