Happy New Year, CelticsBlog readers! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season, and we’re glad you’re joining us for more Boston Celtics coverage as the midway point of the season approaches. Invariably busy as they always are, the holidays prompted a brief hiatus for Player of the Week, so today, we’re doing a bit of catch-up. We have three weeks of Celtics basketball to cover, and we’ll be appointing a winner for all three. As a refresher, here’s what those weeks looked like:
Week #10: L vs Indiana (112-117). W vs Minnesota (121-109), W vs Milwaukee (139-118)
Week #11: W vs Houston (126-102), W vs LA Clippers (116-110), L @ Denver (111-123)
Week #12: L @ Oklahoma City (117-150), W @ Dallas (124-95), W @ San Antonio (121-116)
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so we’re going to skip our customary honorable mentions and jump right into it.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #10: Jayson Tatum
3 GP, 37.3 MPG, 37.3 PPG (53% FG, 33% 3PT), 6.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2 SPG, +33
When you score a point per minute for an entire week while playing starter minutes, you’ve probably done pretty well for yourself, I think.
Tatum had himself a little bit of a tear in mid-December, recording five straight games with at least 30 points — three of which eclipsed the 40-point mark. It started with the comeback against the Lakers, and after sitting out the second Magic game, it peaked with his commanding 41-7-5-3 line against the Milwaukee Bucks.
That Bucks win was, of course, the cherry on top of this week. It’s the biggest win of the Celtics’ season thus far, coming at exactly a time in which the team desperately needed a lift, and Tatum’s 41 points were the key factor. He absolutely abused the Bucks on both ends of the court, trampling All-Defense guard Jrue Holiday — who, with Khris Middleton unavailable, largely served as his point-of-attack defender — while helping restrain Giannis Antetokounmpo to a rough-by-his-standards 27 points on 9-of-22 shooting, alongside a plus-minutes of -27.
Also worth mentioning here: Tatum is getting to the free throw line a ton. He attempted 34 freebies across these three games, and on the year, he’s taking nearly nine per game — easily outpacing his previous career-high of 6.2 (set last season). Combined with a career-best season inside the three-point arc and at the rim, and this has been the most complete offensive season we’ve seen from him yet. Tatum is simply cooking teams from every spot on the court.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #11: Jaylen Brown
3 GP, 33.9 MPG, 32.7 PPG (54% FG, 32% 3PT), 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, +19
There has perhaps been some consternation regarding the treatment of Brown in our Player of the Week columns thus far. It’s not without merit — he has found himself the bridesmaid more often than the bride in this space since the season began, despite having a genuinely terrific season to this point. Paradoxically as it may seem, his consistency has almost been a burden; the baseline has been high, but we’re looking for the peaks, and those haven’t always lined up appropriately.
The discourse surrounding Brown has been particularly charged in both directions this year, and it feels like many have lost the forest for the trees. He’s a unique form of star player — one that can be understandably frustrating at times. The turnovers tend to pile up on occasion, as the handle never looks as tight as it should be, and he’s prone to a handful of confusing defensive mistakes each night that seem to underlie his reputation as a lockdown defender. The three-pointers have simply refused to fall this year.
And yet, he’s still one of the most dynamic scorers in basketball. He’s shooting 73% at the rim, and he’s become one of the NBA’s very best midrange scorers, with a 53% mark between 10 feet and the three-point line. He’s scoring so well from two-point range that, even as he’s shooting just 33% from deep, he’s recording a career-high true shooting percentage of 59.3%.
All this is to say: this was a good week to recognize Jaylen Brown for the season he’s had. He just gets buckets. Brown compiled 98 points across the three games, including a season-high 39 in the win over Houston, and he kept the turnovers to a minimum with just five in that span of time. Though he shot 0-for-8 from deep in the win over the Clippers, he connected on 10 of his 23 attempts against Houston and Denver. His shot looks as good as ever — it will start to fall consistently again before long.
It can be easy to forget how much Brown means to this Boston offense. He may not always help his case with some of the loud mistakes he can be prone to, but he remains a defense-breaking scoring threat that can lift the team on nights when his co-star doesn’t have it. A good week for Brown. A spot on the All-NBA team remains within reach.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #12: Malcolm Brogdon
3 GP, 26.3 MPG, 18.3 PPG (50% FG, 64% 3PT), 4.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, +11
First of all, the key for this week is to take that Oklahoma City game and throw it straight out the window. Was it a disappointing loss (to say the least)? Of course it was. Was it altogether very meaningful? Not really. Nobody wanted to see the Celtics lose to one of the league’s youngest teams, least of all in the form of a 150-point walloping. But that game was something of a mirage — a massive outlier for both teams, and the kind of scoring outburst that has become broadly more frequent as offense has surged across the league.
Setting that one aside, Brogdon felt like a standout across Boston’s remaining two games in the week. In the wins over Dallas and San Antonio, he scored 38 points across the two games, including eight threes in 13 attempts, and tacking on 11 assists.
The Celtics need more like this from Brogdon. The value in his acquisition was his ability to create offense to supplement Tatum and Brown, providing an additional playmaking threat the team didn’t necessarily have last year. He’s an ideal modern combo guard, bringing a bundle of useful skills to the table while taking little-to-nothing off of it. Brogdon can shoot, he can score on volume and he can move the ball — all skills that no offense can ever have enough of.
And of course, lest we forget, he’s practically a Terminator when it comes to attacking the rim.
His impact has lapsed in recent weeks. Brogdon slumped alongside many of the Celtics in December, albeit a little more mildly (56% true shooting percentage), and rung in the new year on a streak of four straight single-digit scoring performances. A target is growing on his back, a little bit; the hyped offseason acquisition expected to be the missing piece for a championship team has instead been simply missing, and that has generated some consternation.
The Celtics are lucky enough to have the kind of roster that can withstand slumps from rotation players; as long you’re avoiding turnovers, spacing the floor and knocking down threes, you’ve probably got a role to play. But the less carrying Tatum and Brown have to do, the better, and most direct source of relief is Brogdon. Stringing together some more performances like these over the coming weeks will go a long way towards keeping the Celtics in command of the Eastern Conference.
That’ll do for our holiday catch-up edition of Player of the Week. We’ll be back to our regular weekly programming going forward, starting with a busy four-day week for the Celtics. The slate includes Monday’s win over Chicago, back-to-back games against New Orleans and Brooklyn on Wednesday and Thursday, and a weekend trip to Charlotte to face the Hornets on Saturday. Will the bench continue to step up as the week goes on, or will the Player of the Week award find its way back into the hands of one of the stars? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.