With the next Celtics game that counts officially two weeks from today, we’re getting 10 Takeaways back focused on basketball!
We’re using the space to dive into some stats and some film to try and understand how the team ticks. Part 1 looked at who runs the most/the fastest, how Jayson Tatum became a shooting machine, Kemba Walker differing from Kyrie Irving but not how you think, Daniel Theis hold down Al Horford’s role defensively and Grant Williams playing bully ball.
Let’s dive in on Part 2!
1. Jaylen Brown is a better offensive player than ever. That’s easy to see. Even the basic stats tell us that. He’s got the ball in his hands more and he’s shooting it better than ever. But if you look a little deeper you see what has really launched Brown from nice player to All-Star contender is his patience.
In that clip, Brown keeps his dribble and goes for the floater. In years past, Brown would have tried to put his head down barrel his way to the rim. Those plays often resulted in a miss, a turnover or an offensive foul.
Brown is also more content than ever to bully smaller players on paint touches. Austin Rivers has no chance here. Catch, two dribbles, layup:
For his first three years, Brown had the shot profile of a player who wasn’t very confident in his handle. It was all layups (mostly in transition or off cuts) or three-pointers. Now, Brown gets himself to his spots.
Over his four seasons, Brown has gone from 40% of his attempts coming at the rim to 27%. That could seem worrisome, but it’s been an evolution of those reckless drives all the way to the cup into short, under control shots in the paint instead. He’s gone from 13% of shots in floater range all the way up to 20%. And he’s settled in around 36% of his attempts coming from behind the arc.
On defense, Brown doesn’t always get the acclaim that Marcus Smart or Jayson Tatum get as a defender, but he’s very good in his own right. He defends the most different types of players of any Celtic, as his matchup profile is roughly even guarding 2-4.
Brown also defends more opponent’s shots per game than any other Celtic outside of Daniel Theis (bigs usually rank highest in this metric). On those attempts, Brown holds opponents under their average FG% by -1.7 percentage points. That puts him just behind Tatum (-2.0 percentage points) and Smart (-2.4 percentage points).
Brown’s statistical profile is one you really need to match to the eye-test. Nothing really screams that he’s as good as he is. That’s why he always shows up lower on a lot of the statistical rankings. But when you see him play, the story all comes together.
2. In the playoffs, the games tend to slow down and one of the everlasting mantras is “You have to be able to score inside”. We covered Grant Williams playing bully ball in Part 1, but Boston has a few more established inside weapons.
Enes Kanter has his deficiencies as a defender in space (he’s actually Boston’s best defender in the post though!), but he’s an offensive weapon. He’s good as a roll man, but he’s also solid on post-ups and especially on put-backs.
Had Kanter played in a few more games, he would have qualified and led the NBA in Offensive Rebound Percentage. When he’s on the floor, Kanter grabs an absurd 17.1% of available offensive boards. That’s over two percentage points better than Andre Drummond, who led the NBA. Kanter being able to make plays like this one, will help Boston win playoff games:
Kanter is also the Celtics best weapon for straight post-ups. He’s actually the Celtics only traditional post player, as the rest of the leaders are wings or have Grant Williams’ small sample size.
If you can score on Rudy Gobert out of a post-up, you can score on anyone.
Kanter also gets to the free throw line on about 15% of his post-ups, where he shoots 77.6% for his career. Whenever Boston is in a scoring drought, look for Brad Stevens to call for Kanter to get the ball inside to steal some easy offense.
3. Has Gordon Hayward’s Celtics career been everything he hoped it would be? Of course not. Has Gordon Hayward taken a disproportionate amount of crap when he has a bad game? Yup.
Hayward is Boston’s most consistently good offensive player. His shooting splits this year are a terrific 50.2% overall, 39.2% three-pointers and 84.7% free throws. His counting stat averages are 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. And Hayward is better on defense than you probably think too.
Going back to the theme of the game slowing down in the postseason and having to find offense, that usually means playing through your stars. Boston’s strength lies in the fact that anyone out of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and, yes, Gordon Hayward can take over. In some ways, Hayward’s offensive game is best suited for the playoffs.
Last season, Hayward was ok as a spot-up shooter, but that became his primary role. He was clearly fourth in the pecking order for touches and shots and it’s hard to be in rhythm that way. Brad Stevens tried tweaking the offense to have Hayward initiate plays, but Hayward knew once he gave the ball up, it wasn’t coming back. That led to him drifting aimlessly around the arc.
This season, Hayward is part of an equal opportunity offense and he’s engaged every play. Hayward taken 2.8 attempts a game as a spot-up shooter this season. He’s at 48% on those shots, which is in the 91st percentile. That’s compared to 41.4% last season.
When he has the ball, Hayward is an efficient scorer because he doesn’t do things he can’t do. Put a smaller defender on him on a switch, he almost always hits the paint:
Hayward is equally comfortable using a screen or playing out of ISO situations. As an ISO player, which regularly happens in the playoffs, Hayward shoots 52.8%, which is in the 93rd percentile, and he creates free throws 11.4% of the time.
Hayward, like Tatum and Walker, excels as a pull-up shooter. Whereas Tatum and Walker are killers on the pull-up triple, Hayward is best when he does it like this:
He can stop on a dime for his jumper in and around the paint over all but the longest of defenders. From two-point range, Hayward is a fairly ridiculous 53.5% shooter on pull-up jumpers and he takes 3.4 such attempts per game.
Look for Stevens to continue to tweak the offense to put Hayward in position to make plays.
4. Pick and roll plays are a staple of almost every NBA offense. This used to feature the point guard working exclusively with a big. Now, teams run all sorts of versions. Bigs will get screens from guards, wings will run them together and every other combo you can imagine. But when we talk about roll men, that’s still the domain of the big man.
Boston isn’t overly dependent on finding the roll man, as Daniel Theis is the most frequent participant on just 2.3 possessions per game. It’s fairly effectively, but far devastating as Theis ranks in the 66th percentile at 1.18 points per possession as the roller.
Where it can be a weapon for the Celtics is with Robert Williams, who may be the best lob threat Boston has ever had as a big man. It’s a very small sample size, but Williams’ finishing out of pick and roll is solid. Here is a delayed version, where Williams rolls a bit late, but still hammers one home:
Seeing Williams get up for a finish is common, as 26 of his 42 made field goals have been dunks. If he can stay health, and not continue to commit fouls at a crazy rate, Williams is going to be a weapon for Boston in the postseason.
5. Part 1 finished with a small sample size we’d love to see more of with Grant Williams in the post. Part 2 is going to finish with a small sample size we’d love to see more of with Romeo Langford on defense.
Langford only played 298 minutes over 27 games, and was brutal offensively. But he showed up on defense in a big way. He was a team best at holding opponents to -6.9 percentage points under their shooting percentage. Overall, Langford held his man to just 37.2% shooting. That’ll normalize some as Langford plays more, but it’s an encouraging sign of his ability to compete on defense.
Langford is also solid as a help defender, showing surprising shot blocking skills for a 6’4’’ wing. These two blocks came in different ways. First, Langford gets back in transition to spike this layup off the backboard:
Then he challenges John Collins, one of the NBA’s best finishers, at the rim in the halfcourt:
It’s clear Langford has spent some time watching Marcus Smart, who may be the NBA’s preeminent help defender in the under 6’9’’ division.
Later in this same game, Langford played 4th overall pick De’Andre Hunter straight up and sent back his layup attempt. Bonus, look at Langford fight through the screen to stay with Hunter:
The Celtics have felt a wing short all season long. The three starters are terrific, as is Smart, but Boston could use one more guy on the perimeter. Semi Ojeleye is matchup dependent and Javonte Green is nice for a burst of energy. Langford is the guy who can make a real difference.
Gordon Hayward is going to leave the team for the birth of his fourth child at some point in the playoffs. It would be huge if Brad Stevens could trust Langford for 8-10 minutes a game until Hayward gets back.