I went through roster player-by-player to see if there were counting statistics or eye test trends to see who was actually playing well compared to their last couple of years. I’ll start with who is performing evenly, then the guys who are trending downwards, and end on a high note with who’s trending up. Enes Kanter and Jabari Parker are not included in this because I don’t feel they should play more than they actually are.
Timelord is receiving way more minutes than in the past (32 per game compared to 19), but has not seen the type of major jumps in his counting stats you would expect from the extra playing time except with blocks, where he’s averaging a career-high two and a half per game.
Romeo’s shot looks way better, with a quicker, smoother release and a softer, more balanced landing. His percentages from 3 continue to climb but it’s not like he’s attempting many more 3’s per game. His other numbers are similar to last year, and yet, he hasn’t shot a free throw this year. Not one. But neither has Payton Pritchard. I can’t get too excited about still-22-year-old Romeo until he shows true consistency and his minutes start to reflect that game-to-game. So far, they haven’t.
Schroder’s stats are normal for him except for two that stand out: his turnovers are slightly down, but so is his FG%, so that’s a wash. Just because we’re lucky to have him at this price and he leads the team in assists, that doesn’t mean he’s playing better than he normally does. His current 36% is the lowest FG% of his nine-year career, and his 14 points per game are not the 18-19 he averaged three years ago.
Juancho Hernangomez and Aaron Nesmith
They’re trending down due to coach’s decision, so I’m calling this even. Why Nesmith can’t get on the court is now getting frustrating. He can’t even get more than a couple minutes in our recent blowout win over Orlando? This is especially frustrating when you compare him to Josh Richardson. Juancho also needs more minutes for ball movement reasons and I think the double-big lineups of Horford and Timelord together allow for a few 4th big’s minutes here and there. If we’re losing anyway, why not reduce Al Horford’s wear and tear by 4-5 minutes a night to give Juancho a chance?
His numbers mimic his rookie year in the same 21 minutes per game that he played then, except they’re slightly worse across the board. His career seems to be bell-curving downwards statistically. He’s supposed to be in the middle of his prime years, but appears to be aging like an old veteran. Every time he gets swung the ball for an open, weak side 3-pointer, it gets worse. Some players are “no, no, yes!” shooters. Josh Richardson is a “no, no, no” shooter.
Smart’s shooting numbers are way down even for him. His free throw attempts are down, his PPG are down, and he doesn’t have an offensive rebound yet on the entire season. That’s very unlike Smart, who averages one per game for his career. Should we just blame all of this on the migraines he dealt with in the first week? His steals are way up, as he’s averaging one more per game than his average, but that is the only positive.
This seems to be an under the radar trend right now, but it exists. Pritchard’s shooting percentages are not what they were last year when he was a 44% FG shooter, including 41% from 3 in 20 minutes per game. This year he’s averaging 27% FG and 31% from 3. Yuck.
Tatum’s shooting percentages are way down for him (38% FG, 26% from 3), and subsequently, his scoring average has dropped, too. The eye test might be worse. He has made really poor decisions with the ball late in games and for the third year in a row, fans are frustrated with his reactions to the referees, his inability to create consistently for teammates, his lack of interest in contact, and the predictability of his reliance on isolation scoring.
I said recently on the Celtics PRIDE podcast that not only would I stick with Tatum for the next six years on this team, but furthermore, he’s different from Lebron or Kobe or the superstars who were born with a killer instinct. Tatum is more like a Devin Booker, Dirk Nowitzki, or even Kevin Durant and Giannis in that Tatum is the kind of superstar who is oozing talent but needs to learn how to have a killer instinct. I think those players proved that this can be learned. Yet this year, many fans are rightfully growing tired of waiting for the light to turn on.
The eye test and the numbers both show that Horford has benefitted more from his role on this team than anyone else on the roster. Playing alongside two scoring wings who aren’t elite playmakers has created a need for a big man to help run the offense. In his 15th season, 35-year-old Horford is playing like 30-year-old Horford when he first came to Boston. His scoring, shooting percentages and assists are normal for him but his early rebounding and shot blocking numbers are some of the best of his entire career. Plus, he’s playing with a pep in his step that we haven’t seen in years.
The eye test says Brown is playing better than ever and his scoring average is up a couple points. Mr. Consistency has been a shining light in his 6th season when you look at how Tatum and Smart have played. In this landscape, I’m taking this version of Jaylen as a guy trending upwards and I’m happy to have that glimmer of hope to cling onto for dear life.
Gran’s shooting percentages are up across the board (52/45/85). He’s never going to get steals or blocks, or pass like Draymond Green. He’ll never make an impact with his athleticism and length like other similarly sized forwards like Keldon Johnson, or Miles Bridges, because Grant has no athleticism or length. I would even go as far as to say Williams will never bring the hard hat and lunch pail like similarly sized tough-guys PJ Tucker or Jae’Sean Tate. Grant is more cerebral and he’s simply less relentless than that player-type. But as long as he can stay in front of some wings and hit open shots he’ll keep trending upwards.
Of our core group, three are playing even, two more aren’t being given the playing time they deserve by the coach, four players are trending down, and only three are up. But it’s really just Horford and Brown who are trending upwards in a way that gets me excited. When you go down the line player-by-player, guys just aren’t playing well individually or together, and I think that simplicity explains the Celtics early season woes more than anything else. Yes, it’s a small sample size, and we can blame the coach all we want, but the statistics help tell a story of a team lost at sea with only two oars and a boat full of guys who aren’t pulling their weight. It’s no wonder we aren’t going anywhere. Yet.