The Celtics’ offense averages out to be well above average, although sometimes it feels like the highs don’t make up for the lows. At the time of this writing, Boston’s 112.4 offensive rating ranks them 10th in the league, while their defensive rating of 110.2 ranks them 13th. For a time, they ranked top-10 in both categories and were one of only three teams to do so. You’d be hard pressed to find many teams with such high marks struggling to win so many regular season games, but here we are.
This is easily the biggest issue. As I noted in my last piece, turnovers seemed to have no correlation between wins and losses, but it’s been pretty clear when giving the ball away has been the difference between a win and a loss. Seven turnovers in the fourth quarter against the Lakers and one costly turnover at the end of the Spurs game pretty directly resulted in losses. I mean, no basketball game is truly decided by one play, but a lot of Boston’s mistakes have uncharacteristically come at the game’s most crucial moments.
Kemba Walker’s return has mitigated this a bit, but I’m not sure it matters now with Marcus Smart missing games. Smart’s 12.2% turnover rate to 25.5% assist rate almost mirrors Kemba’s numbers (9.1% to 25.1% respectively), although it’s worth noting Kemba’s usage rate is almost 10% higher.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who both have usage rate of about 31%, each have turnover rates around 10%, which ranks them 3rd and 4th on the team if you exclude Tacko Fall and Carsen Edwards’ minutes. Four of the Celtics’ best five players can take care of the ball, and yet the team is 24th in turnovers. What’s the deal?
The two standout offenders are both players I happen to really enjoy watching: Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams. Pritchard’s 19.9% turnover rate and Timelord’s 25.5% are the two worst on the team besides Tremont Waters (who I will never give up on).
I’m actually so in on Rob that I think he should play the most minutes at the five of anyone on the team, and yet I still can’t ignore how atrocious some of his turnovers are. I take no pleasure in describing how bad they are, but when they’re bad, they’re bad. He’s the only player I’ve ever seen tear down a rebound and turn the ball over before landing, let alone several times over multiple seasons.
Pritchard doesn’t do anything as dramatic. He steps out of bounds a lot, which is pretty easily fixable.
The free agent signings
It feels like I’d be picking some very low hanging fruit if I were to rag on the new guys and dump the team’s issues on them. Oh well!
Here’s the most generous way I can put it: Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson haven’t found their fit yet. As usual, I’m going to preface the further use of stats with “I’m not a huge stats guy, but...
The advanced numbers are very bad. I suspect most of you will caution me against reacting to small sample sizes, but we’re up over 700 minutes of combined minutes with these guys. I think I’m allowed to have opinions now.
About 11% of Teague’s field goal attempts are taken 10-16 feet from the basket, in which he shoots 15.4%. About 14% of come between 16 feet and the three-point line, in which he shoots about 6%. SIX.
Somehow, he’s still over 40% from three.
Teague is sort of the anti-Pritchard in that he dribbles the ball for a long time without accomplishing much, whereas Pritchard is always on the move and probing the defense to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. PP might be just as prone to turnovers, but at least I don’t have to wait for him to burn 17 seconds of shot clock before making a mistake.
Thompson played well against the Kings and Warriors after a long stretch of disappointing games. One issue that’s hurt the Celtics roster pretty much across the board is the famous Theis’ Seal of Removal is now being called for an offensive foul (Theis has been called for the second most fouls on the team, to the surprise of nobody).
This hampers our bigs’ effectiveness pretty greatly as well as someone like Tatum, who still struggles to finish through contact around the rim. And while Thompson leads the team in rebounding, I can’t help but feel like he’s leaving a lot of boards on the table. It’s an entirely unscientific observation, but he misses out on a ton of 50/50 balls. Whereas Rob has been getting his hands on damn near everything, Thompson seems to often come up short. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt because of the early season hamstring issue, but if that’s still a problem, there’s really no reason for him to soak up so many minutes if this is the result.
Last point on Thompson: I have a near panic attack when he dribbles long distances. And by long, I mean from the three-point line to the paint. It’s like when you let go of a shopping cart to open the car door before realizing the parking lot is slanted and oh god, OH G-
The offense has mostly lived and died by Jaylen Brown, which is both insanely cool and yet still a source of untapped potential (by no fault of his own).
Jaylen the human being is incredible. I’d like nothing more than to see people like him use his platform to advocate for real, transformative change rather than the platitudes that are usually offered. Awareness only gets us so far (not very far at all, really), but it’s a good start.
Jaylen the basketball player has improved his game in every aspect imaginable, but the standout stat for me is free throw percentage. Tommy Heinsohn would always talk about how important it was that Jaylen learns to calm down at the line and hit the first free throw, noting that he would often miss that one before making the second. His FT% actually dropped from 68% to 64% from his first season to his second. Now, he’s at 76%.
The other interesting thing is how much Jaylen’s scoring efficiency has jumped without shooting more threes. Last season, he attempted 5.9 threes per game out of 15.6 shots. Now, he’s shooting 5.9 threes per game on 19.6 shots. His usage is up seven percent. Everything is up except for three point attempts. How often does that happen?
Here’s another fun one: Jaylen generated 280 points off assists (PGA) in 57 games played last season. He’s already generated 171 points in 20 games this year, which puts him on pace for 513 PGA if he plays 60 games.
The percentage of his own field goals that are assisted is as low as it’s ever been. Nearly 97% of his three point makes were assisted two years ago. Last year, it was 88%. Now, 76%.
It kind of goes without saying, but Jaylen is now someone who creates shots for his teammates, but isn’t dependent on them creating shots for him. Being able to create his own shot is obviously good for an offense that often goes cold, but it’ll be even better in slower playoff games with even less ball movement.
My only issue here is not about Jaylen himself, but how often the Celtics will ice him out of games. With so many injuries, there’s no good time for him to sit (I say as his team beats the Clippers without him), but team still has too many scoreless streaks for how many shot creators they have. Jaylen is currently the most reliable scorer, so I hope they learn to lean on him when the offense stagnates.
Quick take on the muscle men
Semi Ojeleye and Carsen Edwards both deserve recognition for their contributions, but I’d like to see a dash of consistency before I get carried away. Watching Semi close the game on Kawhi reminded me of when he guarded Giannis during the Hospital Celtics first round series against the Bucks. Seeing Carsen make smart plays on offense while not getting lost on defense is a pretty massive development if he can keep it up. Boston’s bench is significantly better offensively than it’s been in a while, but they’ll need to be much steadier if they’re aiming to finish above the 5th seed.