If you listen to the postgame pressers, they’re littered with words and phrases like “compete,” “make the right play,” “fun,” “playing the game the right way,” and “making the extra pass.” Because of how well Jayson Tatum has looked to start the year, he’s garnered MVP consideration, but that’s really overshadowed how much the team chemistry and offensive and defensive systems have improved, too.
It’s not as if Tatum is surrounded by a bunch of role players that accentuate his strengths (think LeBron James on the Cavaliers surrounded by shooters). Instead, Brad Stevens built a team with a bunch of players that can do a lot of things. Tatum just happens to be the best player that can do the most things.
Those team-oriented mantras were on full display in a barrage from beyond the arc in Atlanta on Wednesday night. The Celtics made twenty-one three pointers against the Hawks, tying their second highest total of triples for the season. In their 46 attempts from 3, you can see all the machinations of what could be a historic offense: the ability of everybody to do a little bit of everything, ball movement turning down good shots and turning into great shots, and Boston embracing a democratic approach to who takes the shot.
Tatum and the Hickory High bench have been destroying second units and it’s not been because Tatum has carried them. Yes, there’s a keen understanding of how to utilize a First Team All-NBAer on the floor, but he’s often been a decoy for everybody else to shine. First, some things to note early on the play above: 1) the Hawks are hiding Trae Young on Sam Hauser and 2) Payton Pritchard starts with the ball.
To start, it’s Tatum — Mr. All-Star, the best player on the planet right now, the Max Contract Man — setting the screen. He eventually gets the ball, but even that slight role reversal in the beginning is enough to draw everybody’s attention, mainly Young’s. It’s just long enough for Hauser to sneak out of his periphery and start cutting baseline.
By the time Young realizes it, the pod bay doors are already closing and Young has to try and negotiate the double screen of Luke Kornet and Grant Williams to contest a wide open look by Hauser.
And even the missed shots are pretty. You can’t see it in the clip, but it starts with a Tatum kick out to Williams. Everything builds from there — scratch that. Everythings builds from the offseason. Williams gets the first touch on the daisy chain and because Williams put so much time last summer putting the ball on the floor and attacking close outs, he can re-drive and sink the defense even further.
After Tatum receives the ball on the re-position, he swings it to Derrick White. White, who shot 30.6% from 3 last season, made some changes to his shot mechanics and is now shooting a career-best 40.7% this season. And because of that marked improvement, Clint Capela has to close out on him, leaving Al Horford for the open corner 3.
And of course, when everybody is sharing the ball and getting their looks, there’s an energy shift that even the players on the bench can feel.
“We can’t do it by ourselves. We need each and every person, so just trust everybody and make the right play, and play the game the right way. It’s fun,” Derrick White said after filling in for Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon and scoring 16 points and dishing out 10 assists.
As a fan, I can say we feel it, too.