We’re almost two weeks into the season. The Celtics are 4-2, but that already accounts for 7% of the season. That isn’t a whole lot, so I’m not really making the point I thought I was. In any case, six games is enough to qualify as a sample size — small, but still a sample size. While you shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations over small samples, small samples can still add value.
To that end, I wanted to take a moment to look at a few things that concern me, a few things that you couldn’t pay me to be concerned over, and a few things that I’m a big fan of so far. Please do not take this overly serious, but also, don’t take this underly serious either.
Things that concern me:
I don’t think there’s anyone who’s happy with the defense right now. As of Monday, October 31st, the Celtics sit 23rd in the league in defensive rating, with a rating of 116.0. This is not great, considering the drop off from last year. The Celtics finished No. 1 in the league with a defensive rating of 107.7 last season.
The Wizards entered tonight with the highest FG% in the NBA at 49.1%.— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) October 31, 2022
Boston just held them to a 38.8% clip.
Again, small sample. However, the defensive principles are different, and different isn’t always better. It’s no coincidence that Boston’s best defensive effort of the young season so far came against the Washington Wizards, a game in which Boston switched more frequently, according to the eye test. This year, Joe Mazzulla has experimented with less switching and more drop coverage. This minimizes Al Horford’s impact on that end, especially as Horford is already playing “out of position,” so to speak, in more of a rim protector role.
Unsurprisingly, this also has led to the Celtics being 28th in total rebounds. Part of that is everyone besides Smart is playing up a position. I don’t think the rebounding issues need to be addressed by a player not on the roster, but I do think the starting lineup needs to be rethought.
We have positive and negative examples of Derrick White starting. If Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert are going to do whatever they want, there’s no use letting that happen and letting your team be out-rebounded. On the other hand, if players like Bradley Beal are going to be neutralized, then maybe it’s worth it. I’m of the opinion that switch everything, double-big lineups should be maximized even with Robert Williams out with injury.
If you went with Noah Vonleh or Luke Kornet in the starting lineup, yes, the offense might suffer, but you still have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. I think you’ll be alright.
Things that you couldn’t pay me to be concerned about:
I don’t care about Joe Mazzulla not calling timeouts. I literally could not care less about it. It was annoying when Brad Stevens wouldn’t do it with a third-year Jayson Tatum in the bubble, but these guys are five months removed from a Finals run. This is a veteran, battle-tested team. They shouldn’t need hand-holding, and getting experience in fighting through adversity should be one of the goals of the early part of the season.
Also, isn’t this why we acquired floor general Malcolm Brogdon? Just let them figure it out! If they lose a few games here and there because they couldn’t, at least they’ll have grown.
I will care about this when the playoffs roll around and Joe Mazzulla still isn’t calling timeouts during huge runs.
I am also not really concerned about Mazzulla’s lack of ATO (after timeout plays) creativity. The Celtics have really only been in one close game down the stretch, and I thought that would have been a time to execute something. I understand the appeal of not wanting the opposing defense to get set, though, and trusting your top-10 player. The jury’s still out on this one, but I’m not yet concerned.
Things I’m a big fan of:
Considering who he has to work with, I really love Joe Mazzulla’s rotations so far. My barometer for this is how many times a game I question “what is this lineup,” which hasn’t happened too often. I think the stars are playing an appropriate amount, especially with the schedule spread out the way it is. Mazzulla has a lot to balance and a lot of annoying factors that impact these choices (injuries, suspensions), so I’m not unhappy with any of that.
I am unhappy with Marcus Smart’s up-and-down play. I think he could be doing a better job staying mobile on the defensive end (too many blow-bys for a reigning Defensive Player of the Year), and while his shot selection improved by leaps and bounds last year, he has strayed into bad habits at times. Additionally, he’s just not hitting some shots that he should be. He’s dealing with a sore hip and oblique from a hard fall in Toronto, so perhaps that’s part of it. This team is better when he’s playing his role as he did last year.
Jayson Tatum should be getting more MVP love.
Jaylen Brown at home is HIM.
Sam Hauser has been sensational all things considered. He’s not even a trainwreck defensively. In fact, he’s staying in front of guys when they try to target him. Malcolm Brogdon’s presence with bench units improves the efficiency of guys like Hauser and Grant Williams tenfold. He’s unafraid of hard drives to the basket, and his ability to get past the first line of defense has opened up plenty of opportunities for bench shooters to put up an easy 9-12 points.
Overall, there’s not much to be overly negative about with foul wins, one awful loss and a really close loss to a very good team. None of the big issues facing this team are unfixable. We’re not going to go 82-0, but I still feel good about my 57-25 prediction. Only time will tell! Until the next vibe check!