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What I’m Excited For Week: The Celtics’ elite defensive backcourt

Marcus Smart, Derrick White, and Malcolm Brogdon are about to dominate on the defensive end.

2022 NBA Finals - Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics don’t have a top-10 point guard in the NBA. There is no Stephen Curry, no Damian Lillard, no Luka Doncic. However, there’s a serious argument that can be made that they have three of the top-25 point guards in the league.

Marcus Smart. Derrick White. Malcolm Brogdon.

In a league where high-powered offenses steal the eyes of viewers, this group has been designed to do the opposite. Instead of launching threes and dishing out behind-the-back dimes, this trio was brought together to bring opposing offenses to a halt.

Here are a few headshot graphs from BBall Index to consider.

All three account for matchup difficulty on the X-axis, but the stat on the Y-axis changes. The two stats are on-ball defense rating and D-LEBRON. All guards who played at least 1000 minutes last season are included on the graphs.

Notice anything? Some potential takeaways:

  • The Chicago Bulls have an underappreciated defensive backcourt.
  • Jrue Holiday is an elite perimeter defender.
  • Payton Pritchard is underrated as a defender.

But let’s look again. This time, with some added graphics:

Boston’s three-headed backcourt monster is constantly in the top right of the graphs. That means they not only take on the most difficult matchups, but they’re also extremely effective. Outside of Chicago, whose trio dips off in some areas, no other team has that many players at the top of the list.

Despite their slow start, the Celtics ended last season as the best defense in the league, dominating opponents throughout the second half of the year. Now, they’ll be running it back with the same squad, with Brogdon as an added piece to play with.

Boston Celtics Vs Golden State Warriors at Chase Center Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

In order to earn minutes on Ime Udoka’s rotation, you have to be able to compete on defense. There isn’t a single player in Boston’s current rotation that isn’t capable of doing that, especially in the backcourt. In fact, the Celtics might have the best defensive guard rotation in the NBA.

And while they might be known for their elite defense, that group is solid on offense, too. As much slack as Smart gets for his shot selection, he proved to be an impressive playmaker for the Celtics last year. White falls in that same category, and Brogdon is just two years removed from putting up seven assists per game.

None are at the same level of playmakers as the likes of Chris Paul and Trae Young, but combined, they seem to be the perfect mix of defense, playmaking, and versatility that the Celtics aimed to pair alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

For the past five years, the Celtics have been obsessed with star point guards from Isaiah Thomas to Kemba Walker to Kyrie Irving. When one leaves, they’ve made sure to bring in another All-Star caliber guy. But last year, they shifted gears.

They chose to give Tatum and Brown full control, hand Smart the keys to the point guard position, and emphasized defense at that spot. At the trade deadline, they doubled down on that ideology, trading for White. And this summer, they tripled down, moving five players and a pick for Brogdon.

Watching Smart, White, and Brogdon terrorize opposing offenses is going to be a sight to see this season. Make sure to tune in.