We are officially 12.195122 percent through this NBA season, and I’ve been keeping track of advanced stats using my highly sophisticated and confidential data collection system. Here’s what I’ve collected:
1. The Celtics have 87 percent more riding on this season than any other in the last decade
It’s no brilliant revelation that the Celtics have pushed a lot of chips to the center of the table, but you may wonder how I arrived at such a specific number. Fret not! I’ve prepared a breakdown.
Since the end of the 2022 season, the Celtics have…
- …added two All-Stars to their already formidable core = 40 percent
- …traded fan favorite and emotional leader Marcus Smart = 27 percent
- …stuck with and cleared the decks for young coach Joe Mazzulla = 12 percent
- …will soon be paying an unbelievable amount of money to their top four players = 8 percent
I don’t know about you guys, but through ten games, the expectation to win Banner 18 this season is greater than ever. Brad Stevens has spent his relatively short tenure as GM building a starting lineup that is nothing short of a god squad, complete with five All-Stars, two All-NBA players, and one whole Derrick White.
It’s an unbelievably formidable lineup, captained by a top-five player in the NBA—potentially the hardest thing to find on planet Earth—in Jayson Tatum. None of that even counts Al Horford, a former All-NBA center who is working his way into a 6th man role. What a time to be alive.
But man, is anyone else feeling the pressure? This team is one of the most talented groups since… ever, and the Celtics have done nothing but make deep runs in the playoffs since the Jays became true superstars. That’s fun and all, but has the unfortunate byproduct of meaning things can kind of only go wrong.
Take the 76ers, who would make progress merely by getting out of the second round. The Clippers would probably say it’s championship or bust, but they literally haven’t made an NBA Finals ever. The Suns share the Celtics plight of losing in the Finals relatively recently, but they have to solve a Nikola Jokic-shaped problem before anyone starts levying expectations on them.
But the Celtics have a runway. The team is stacked, and the excuses are completely spent. 87 percent more stakes feels low now that I say it out loud, so I’ll have to double-check the formula.
2. Jayson Tatum is averaging 3 T.I.D.W.H.T.D.L.Y (Things I Desperately Wanted Him To Do Last Year) per game this season
In September, I wrote about how Tatum could continue adding to his game to ascend even further up the rungs of greatness. I wasn’t sure what he would try to do, but I took some guesses based on his current bag and the career paths of all-time great forwards of NBA history.
Priority #1 was a bully-ball post game, something that LeBron James figured out around 2012 upon realizing he was physically stronger than every other player in the league. Tatum came out of the offseason absurdly jacked, and his workouts with Paul Piece—a noted practitioner of “I’m bigger than you” basketball—made me think a post bag was in the works. And yeah, it was.
Through ten games, Tatum has been forcing this issue in the low post, constantly looking to isolate smaller defenders and back them down along the baseline. He hasn’t yet mastered the intricacies of post play yet, but he’s such a talented offensive player that it hasn’t slowed him down.
This is almost certainly intentional, but Tatum’s progression as a scorer has mimicked a mid-career Kobe Bryant, who added a lethal baseline post-fade to his game once the Shaq-less Lakers needed him to create at all three levels. Like Kobe, Tatum has always been able to shred defenders out of the triple threat, but adding a back-to-the-basket game allows him to control the floor from another angle.
Priority #2 was hitting threes around 40 percent of the time. Tatum is an excellent shooter, but actually saw his three-point marks dip to 35 percent each of the last two years after hovering around 40 for his first four seasons. He’s so dynamic that this isn’t really a dealbreaker, but if Tatum can shoot from beyond the arc at a lethal rate, so much will open up.
This season, he’s been right at that 40 percent mark. It’s a small sample size, but forcing defenses to overcorrect to the outside shot will enable him to attack closeouts like never before. In short, Tatum will have even more space to create.
The last of his three T.I.D.W.H.T.D.L.Y is not quite so statistical, but Tatum has been closing out wins for real this year. I was on my knees begging for him—or literally anyone—to figure out how to close a game against the 76ers in the playoffs last year, but often times opposing stars just looked tougher and more focused.
Not this time. On Monday night, Tatum grabbed the Knicks by the collar and hucked them clean out of the Garden, all the way to the Halftime Pizza across the street. His 17 points in the fourth quarter was the final word of the night, and he made no mistake that the Celtics would be walking out of there with a win. The Knicks are a tough team, but Tatum was tougher.
3. Kristaps Porzingis has the highest N.T.H.R. (New Team Happiness Rating) in NBA history
I hope everyone can find somebody who looks at them like Kristaps Porzingis looks at his Celtics teammates. From cackling with Jaylen Brown on the bench in a blowout to being physically unable to hold back a smile when talking to reporters, he has been a ball of joy since coming to Boston.
Before this year, Porzingis hadn’t sniffed what it was like to be on an actual contender. He was part of a very weird, Phil Jackson-led rebuild on the Knicks, but never really got to play in big games. The Wizards were the Wizards, but at least his second season in Dallas saw the team make it to the Western Conference Finals… right? Oh, they traded him to the Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans midseason? Darn.
Imagine Porzingis as that kid whose mom always mixed vegetables in his brownies. As far as he knew, they were the real thing, but the young Porzingis always saw that his friends seemed to be enjoying their brownies from home more than he was. Weird.
And then he came to the Celtics, and all the chunks of broccoli disappeared from his sacred chocolate squares. He seems legitimately stupefied by how much space he has when he is surrounded by four other creators, and seems to be walking on sunshine in press conferences.
I really hope Zinger can stay healthy, not just because I want to win basketball games, but because I would hate to deprive someone of such unadulterated joy. And basketball is supposed to be fun, contrary to the rhetoric of some players, coaches, and pundits. Hopefully, we can all look to Porzingis on how to enjoy ourselves. Because he’s having a great time.