This year’s Celtics offense has often felt like an old 80’s hip-hop jam: full of a DJ scratching, replaying the same three lyrics over and over again. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, or Jaylen Brown lay down the lyrics over a high-screen baseline and a chorus of isolation follows.
We’ve all enjoyed a spot of record-scratching freestyles over the years, but it’s a safe bet to say that it’s not the meat and potatoes of our music taste. Similar can be said for the steady diet of repetitive pick-and-roll we’ve seen Brad Stevens orchestrate for most of the season.
Fortunately, in recent games, Stevens has begun to diversify the Celtics offensive sets. A coach once known for his genius in after-timeout plays (ATO’s) has regularly failed to impress in recent months. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, we got a flashback to the beautiful simplicity in which Stevens can set up an offensive ATO.
In a game where the Celtics were missing both Walker and Tatum, we saw Stevens at his best: coaching a group of players that were quite clearly limited in offensive upside (except for Brown and Robert Williams, of course). Games like these, where the team has an evident lack of NBA-ready talent, are when Stevens truly excels.
We haven’t seen a simple play like the one above in a while, yet Stevens opts to get rookie Aaron Nesmith an easy look from above the break.
Nesmith gets the easy jumper courtesy of a screener action, which sees the rookie setting a wedge screen for Grant Williams before whizzing off a Robert Williams down screen for an easy jumper in oceans of room.
A “screen the screener” play is when the player setting the original screen, then receives a second screen of their own for them to cut off. In Nesmith’s instance, him setting the initial wedge screen for Grant makes him the “screener.” Robert Williams then setting a down-screen for Nesmith is also known as Rob Williams screening for the screener. And thus, a “screen the screener” action is born.
Despite Nesmith struggling to make an impact thus far in his rookie campaign with his scoring, he is clearly a talented shooter, so Stevens running a set to get his confidence up makes perfect sense. What’s also encouraging is that Nesmith is being used as a movement shooter - something he is used to from his time at Vanderbilt, where he would regularly curl off pin-downs and shoot in motions.
If Stevens can continue to feed Nesmith in motion, and in positions where the rookie is comfortable, then we could begin to see some scoring upside from this year’s lottery pick.
Beyond a simple yet effective ATO, the starters’ absence ensured that the Celtics would be playing to a different tune, resulting in multiple well-designed plays. The beauty of those plays is that now we know Stevens still has some magic left in him, and just like Nesmith, seeing that shot fall may have been the confidence boost the Celtics coach needed.