I took a quick peek around the various NBA Power Ranking articles and I found a wholly unsurprising result. The Boston Celtics are number one in all of them. Well, at least all the ones I looked at and if there’s a ranking somewhere that doesn’t have them number one, they’re not worth reading.
Still, it is always fun reading what the national writers are saying about the Celtics. So here are some snippets.
The Celtics still have the most efficient offense in NBA history, but they no longer have the best offense in NBA history, with their differential vs. the league average (+8.6 points per 100 possessions) dropping below the best mark in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, that of the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks (+9.0). The Celtics’ last two games — vs. Miami and at Brooklyn — were the fourth and fifth times they’ve scored less than 110 per 100, and turnovers (37 — including 14 from Jayson Tatum — over the two games) were an issue. Three of those turnovers came on the Heat’s 13-0, fourth-quarter run that turned the game around and ultimately set up overtime on Friday. The Celtics are now 0-3 in overtime and 19-2 (with two losses to the Bulls) in regulation.
When you look at the Celtics in the first quarter of this season, their defense is well below average in the NBA. The turnaround we saw last season in their final 43 games (33-10) happened because their offense jumped up (118.5 rating) and their defense was the best in the league. Right now, their defense ranks 14th and is badly missing Robert Williams III patrolling the middle of the floor. The offense? Well, that’s historic. It’s above the best offensive rating in NBA history by 3.0 points per 100 possessions. Jayson Tatum is playing like an MVP. The Celtics are shooting the lights out and on pace to set the record for 3-pointers made in a season. The turnaround last season was a precursor to this, but nobody could have seen the offense being this historic.
My educated guess is that the offense will regress somewhat, if only because it is hard to make all your three pointers for a whole year. On the other hand, we’ve already seen the defense tick up since a slow start. So those things may even out a bit. Adding the dynamic of Robert Williams will be interesting. He’ll add a vertical spacing element but also takes a 3 point shooter off the court (at times). He’ll add elite defense (when fully healthy) so I think that’s a big net positive.
The bottom line is that the Celtics are ridiculous on offense right now. Maybe they have to settle for “best offense in the league” instead of “best offense ever.” But I’ll take that. You can wring hands about the defense if you like, but I’m not too worried about that.