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New Year’s resolutions: starters edition

When we’ve seen the Celtics starting 5, they’ve been good together, but they can always get better in 2022.

Philadelphia 76ers Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Marcus Smart: A lot has been made of Smart’s ability and inability to be a point guard, which, in this humble writer’s opinion, is a waste of time because the answer is obvious: Marcus Smart is a point guard. The real question is – can Marcus Smart be the point guard that works for this team, and more specifically, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Many outsiders note that the Celtics need a floor general. Smart is already the team’s best passer, but he doesn’t impose his will on the floor as he should on a nightly basis – at least positively. That’s what he should improve on for 2022 – for him to be someone who can direct the offense at all times and get players their shots. If you want to boil it down, consistency in doing so is the biggest leap he can make. The Celtics don’t need an All-Star point guard; they need Smart to be a consistent floor general to alleviate pressure from the Jays who are still growing their playmaking chops year-over-year. - Andrew Doxy

Jaylen Brown: My mother teaches first grade. Within the last few years, she moved up a grade from kindergarten. There are obvious differences in her approach for both levels, but I’m pretty certain that one thing remains true: she has to teach her students about the importance of sharing. My gut tells me that “sharing is caring” has been said unironically in her classroom before; I’m also confident that “sharing more” was a popular choice among New Year’s resolutions for her students this year.

Perhaps Jaylen Brown should enroll at Ridge Elementary to ring in the new year, as his sharing could use some serious work. On the season, he has more turnovers (61) than assists (55). His 5.6 potential assists per game rank fifth on the Celtics, as do his 2.6 actual assists. Last night against the Clippers, Brown had eight potential assists – tied for the most by any player who didn’t record an assist in a game this season. As one of the team’s primary creators on offense, it should be impossible to finish a game with zero assists, let alone eight potential ones. Yet that was Brown’s fourth zero-assist outing this season. He simply has to improve when it comes to sharing the basketball. Just ask one of Mrs. Bjarnar’s first-graders; they’ll be happy to help. - Will Bjarnar

Jayson Tatum: I’ll offer up one realistic resolution and one that’s more aspirational for Jayson Tatum. The former is to shoot the ball better from three. Tatum has made just 32.9 percent of his looks from beyond the arc this year, well below his career rate of 38.6 percent. Getting back to his normal level of efficiency from distance would do wonders for Tatum’s individual game and provide a significant boost to the Celtics’ offense overall.The longer-term resolution for Tatum is to learn to run a pick-and-roll at an elite level. Boston needs someone that can initiate the game’s most common action badly. Tatum has the handle and off-the-dribble shooting ability to create all sorts of pressure on opponents, and he’s developing as a passer. The Celtics should prioritize getting him as many reps as possible to see if he can build on the considerable skills he has to become one of the game’s better pick-and-roll ballhandlers. - Greg Brueck-Cassoli

Al Horford: He has brought a lot of surprise value to the table for the Celtics this season, but in a twist of fate, one of the more reliable aspects of his game has been largely absent: three-point shooting. Since he started shooting threes on meaningful volume with the 2015-16 Hawks, Horford has never recorded a season where he shot less than 34% from behind the arc… until this year, where, after an 0-for-7 performance amidst a listless team offensive performance against the Clippers, he now sits at a brutal 29% on nearly five attempts per game.As the Clippers game put on display, these Celtics simply lack shooting in a dire way. Only three players on the roster have both played substantial minutes and made more than 33% of their threes (Jaylen Brown, Grant Willams and Josh Richardson). It’s a brutal lack of spacing that has placed an untenable load of offensive pressure on Tatum and Brown, and one of first steps towards relieving the issue would be Horford finding his touch from range once again. - Daniel Poarch

Robert Williams III: Williams III deserves a nod for his closing stretch of 2021. While less flashy than his breakout last season, he’s playing more minutes, dominating the boards with a career high 10 offensive rebounds on Wednesday, continuing to make sharp passing decisions and finishing 73.6% of his shots at the rim. This is all while finishing only 1.5 pick-and-roll dive plays and receiving 18.6 passes per game. His usage rate is 12.4%, down from 15% last year when he played far less. At times, Williams III is relegated to chasing down rebounds. He’s far more talented than that, and where his game stands now casts added resolutions onto Brown, Tatum, Smart and others. It’s also a wakeup call for him though. He needs to begin diversifying his offensive game. Right now, he has little in his arsenal to follow an entry pass or lob that he has to catch instead of finish other than passing the ball out. When he puts the ball on the floor, it often results in a turnover. Williams doesn’t need a LeBron James 2012-style post revamp, but he does need a move or two down low and an ability to put shots back up he recovers around the rim. He ranks in the 80th percentile with 1.26 points per possession on put backs, but attempts just over two of those shots per game. He should also improve his ball-handling to the point where he can fake dribble-handoffs and attack, run limited numbers of offensive sets with his passing vision and simply make himself a threat somewhere other than lobs. It’s carried him far to this point, but Williams would actually move closer to realizing all-star potential if he can add even a few of these things to his game. Unfortunately, we haven’t even seen spurts of these in 2021. So all these efforts will start at the ground floor. If he wants to start small, hitting free throws (62.5% this season) would be a good start, along with short-range jumpers he flashed more often last year. - Bobby Manning

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