Welcome to Week 3 of Three Leaf Clover. I’m writing this one a little earlier than normal because I’m off to every West Virginian’s vacation spot, Myrtle Beach. Looking forward to damaging the fairways of several nice golf courses, getting some sleep, and of course, watching the Celtics dismantle the Hornets tonight. But before I make my way to Pittsburgh and then off to the beach, let’s jump in.
Stat of the Week: -10.9%
Kristaps Porzingis is, in the words of my 2.5-year-old son, “wewwy big.” He doesn’t do well with the word “really,” but he tries. Part of being that big is responsibility, specifically, the responsibility of protecting the rim. The death knell of offensive centers is when they cannot defend at a decent level. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, which is a metaphor I’ve always been very disgusted by, but you have to play some type of defense. You can be a switch everything maven like Bam Adebayo, or a more traditional rim protector like Brook Lopez. If you can do neither, your offense has to be generational to be a positive player.
Well, KP is showing that he’s very much in the Lopez style (of defense, not cosmetically, although KP with Robin’s hair would amazing). -10.9% is the field goal percentage difference between field goals less than six feet, and field goals less than 6 feet when defended by KP. In other words, and probably simpler to understand, opponents’ FG% dropped by 10.9% when KP defended their shots from less than 6 feet. That was good for 11th in the NBA.
That’s an important number, but context is still very necessary. Like shampoo commercials are always going on about, volume matters. Well, KP has that covered, too. He was tied for 4th in number of field goals defended per game from less than 6 feet at 8.1 per. So not only is he affecting shots at an elite level, but he’s affecting a lot of them.
It’s worth noting that the -10.9% number is a career high (or low? career best? there we go), but I’ve not seen any reason to think that number was an anomaly. He’s anticipating well, and his absurd length allows him to contest just about anything he’s remotely near, even if he’s not exactly in the play.
Nice anticipation and elite levels of being 7'3" on this block. pic.twitter.com/tB78T7AGTe— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 19, 2023
KP has started to show the signs of the true elite rim protectors, where guys are afraid to even try him. He got Donte DiVincenzo so shook on one drive that he couldn’t figure out if he wanted to pass or get a shot off. Instead of picking one, he went full coffee creamer and did the old half-and-half — ball went the other direction quickly.
Dante saw KP in the lane and had no clue what to do so he just passed it to him. pic.twitter.com/tsFs9aJIEi— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 19, 2023
Look, KP isn’t going to be Rob Williams, swatting 3s endlessly and protecting the rim out of nowhere, but he doesn’t need to be. The Celtics have elite defenders all over the place, and KP can do what he’s asked at an elite level, and that’s what’s most important.
X’s and Ooooohhhhhh’s: Versatile and ageless Al
Al Horford is extremely good at everything to do with basketball. He may have lost a step, but he’s not totally helpless on an island.
Is this the best defense on a switch ever? No. Is it good enough for a center? Yes. pic.twitter.com/vBtVMTekSc— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 18, 2023
He’s still able to protect the rim, even when the offensive player is a massive center with a full head of steam.
Al Horford is just so good at basketball. Perfect straight up and down contest. pic.twitter.com/Rb815ZIoTE— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 18, 2023
Offensively, the shooting has looked every bit as good as last year, but it’s his intelligence and high-level reading of the game that truly shines. How many centers in the NBA can create a shot like this from the wing?
Man, imagine if there was a backup center that could create shots for others off the dribble?— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 18, 2023
(You gotta bury that PP) pic.twitter.com/QJXjo5SAUi
Not to mention how comfortable he is handling the ball on the break and picking out the open man.
He’s got all of that talent and smarts, and he’s still one of the hardest working players on the court. This play is pure, uncut Al Horford.
Absurd how good Al has looked. Out works two Knicks, and, of course, picks out the perfect pass. pic.twitter.com/4Cqkpl2Gxx— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 18, 2023
I hope this man plays for another decade.
Non-basketball Stuff of the Week: it’s beautiful when a plan comes together
I don’t need to rehash all the changes of the offseason, many words have been written about them, many of them mine. But we’ve also heard from the team and Joe Mazzulla about the plan, what they hope to accomplish. Joe talked more about curveballs than a Barry Zito interview. Well, we’ve started to see it all come together over the past two weeks, and it’s beautiful.
The clip above of Horford picking out the perfect pass is off of a full-court press, something I can’t remember the Celts doing since Rick Pitino was running himself out of town. Offensively, they’ve got more breaking pitches than Jamie Moyer (I’m sticking with pitcher similes for some reason). There are just endless weapons on this team, I don’t know how you stop them.
Perhaps the best part is how the new guys have seamlessly melded into the team culture and fit exactly what the Cs have needed on the court. You can also tell they really want this to be successful. I mean look at this double follow!
The ole' double follow, just how Mazzulla drew it up. pic.twitter.com/fdkfVupIrH— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) October 18, 2023
It’s been a very encouraging few games of preseason, it’s got every Celtics fan feeling good, including me. This will be tested when the real games start, and I’m still very anxious to see what the offense looks like in crunch time. But for now, it’s nice to bask in the fun.
Celtics fans realizing Brad's vision this preseason pic.twitter.com/TanjiKUd7a— First to the Floor☘️ (@First2TheFloor) October 18, 2023
Slightly unrelated, but everyone should follow First to the Floor on YouTube and Twitter... I say that with zero bias (ok, maybe a lot of bias). Until next week!