Jayson Tatum drained a wide open three-point shot in the final minutes of the first quarter of the Boston Celtics’ recent victory over the Houston Rockets. It was a considerably less difficult shot than the contested sidestep jumpers that Tatum has become known for, punctuation on a play that included an encouraging amount of ball movement for an offense that has frequently grown stagnant throughout the year.
The ball starts with Tatum. He backs things out after an unsuccessful foray towards the rim. In similar instances throughout year, Tatum has proceeded to attack the mismatched big guarding him in isolation. Against Houston, he opted to swing the ball to the other side of the court.
Evan Fournier quickly moves into a secondary action with Luke Kornet, who slips to the basket out of a pick-and-roll. Fournier finds him, and Kornet fires the ball to Marcus Smart in the corner who pings it back to Tatum for the easy look – a karmic reward for his willingness to give up the ball in the first place.
The Celtics’ offense has been severely lacking in the kind of half court pace and quick decision-making that led to Tatum’s open triple. That’s largely the result of personnel. Boston hasn’t had its full complement of perimeter players available until very recently, and prior to adding Fournier, barely had the pieces to play any lineups that included enough offensive dynamism and passing to pressure defenses consistently even when they were at full strength.
In rebalancing their roster, the Celtics have given themselves far greater flexibility to put together units that include just one traditional big surrounded by players capable of dribbling, passing, and shooting, at least to a much more significant degree than prior to the deadline. Starting Robert Williams at center has helped boost ball movement as well. Boston’s offense appears to be evolving because of it.
The Celtics have had the eighth most efficient offense in the NBA since increasing their total number of wings by adding Fournier to their roster, compared to fourteenth for the full season, per NBA.com. They’ve still got room to grow, as Fournier further integrates himself into the rotation.
Boston has had plenty of positive flashes in the pan this year, and it’s possible that the crispness of their ball movement in recent games is simply a momentary blip, but there are forces undergirding it that offer reason to be optimistic about its sustainability. The Celtics are a much more dangerous team when they can prioritize versatility, particularly on the offensive end of the court. They may be able to save a sinking season if they continue to share the ball like they did in their matchup with the Rockets.