The Celtics are humming, and I need to be careful. I’m very close to overdosing on positive vibes, but it feels deserved with this team. Something about it just feels a little different. Hot starts are obviously incredibly sustainable, and no team has ever been disappointed after a very strong start to the season, say like 21-5. As Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” Instead, we are here to fire off some basketball stats and takes.
State of the Week: +8.6
If there’s one symptomatic affliction with this team (other than COVID in 2020-21), it’s when Jayson Tatum goes to the bench. Last year was the first season since Kyrie Irving left that the Celtics were positive with Tatum off the court. Unfortunately, that all came crashing down in the playoffs and they were -1.1 points per 100 possessions when Tatum sat. Not ideal.
The early returns this season, however, are very, very, very (three “verys” and they’re italicized so you know I’m serious) encouraging. Jaylen Brown, for the first time in his career, is driving a massive positive impact when Jayson Tatum sits.
Very encouraging early signs in Jaylen without Tatum minutes. pic.twitter.com/Yuw5NgLQ26— Wayne Spooney (@WSpooney) November 2, 2023
That sounds like a backhanded compliment in Jaylen’s direction, but it’s not intended to be. There are just very few guys that, year-over-year, have a large, tangible positive impact on their team’s net rating. Jayson Tatum happens to be one of them. The fact that the Celtics are annihilating teams in Jaylen’s minutes without Tatum is the most important early season trend.
Whether it’s sustainable is another matter, but I’m tempted to say that it is (not to this level, but solidly positive with Tatum off). Kristaps Porzingis certainly makes life easier for Jaylen, who is asked to create more when Tatum sits, but he also seems to be dedicating himself to winning basketball more this season.
Security can provide immense freedom; I wonder if the security of 300 million dollars has allowed Jaylen to feel like he doesn’t need to score 30 every night. He can instead defend, play in rhythm, and rebound. And maybe also drop 8 threes on the Hornets for fun. There’s lots of talk about Jayson Tatum taking a leap into top-5 territory this season, but Jaylen might be making a more subtle leap — one that’s just as important.
X’s and ooohhhhhhhh’s: Derrick White THE Point Guard
After Derrick White eviscerated the Heat, he got up to the podium and declared what we all already knew: “Well, I’m the point guard . . . .”
Derrick isn’t the league’s most traditional point guard, but he can do everything you want from one. Point guards need to set the tempo, get downhill, play make for others, and hit shots. Derrick does it all. He just does it his own way.
The tempo setting is a given. Every time he touches the ball, he or the ball is moving almost immediately. His downhill drives aren’t the slippery, athletic excursions of someone like Rajon Rondo. Instead, Derrick prefers a more direct, unorthodox approach.
He’s stronger and bigger than most point guards, and, to use a phrase worn out by English soccer announcers, his touch is sublime.
His playmaking is similarly unique. Catching defenses off-guard when they think they’ve blown up a pick-and-roll.
Or hitting a cutter that also happens to be extremely tall.
When he does create separation and get deep into the lane, he knows exactly what to do with it.
And the shot making, oh baby, the shot making. Derrick White is shooting 58% from 3! He’s flashing the whole bag, catch and shoot, pull-ups behind the pick-and-roll, and deep threes that have no business going in, but they keep dropping.
Long live THE point guard.
Other Stuff of the Week: the bench figures it out
The highs and lows of life. I have an almost photographic memory of the 30 minutes after I finished taking the Bar Exam. I mindlessly waddled out of the Charleson, West Virginia Convention Center and took the short walk to the Marriot across the street where I was staying. One of my good friends, who finished 10 minutes before me, was already waiting at the bar. His welcoming but exhausted nod was all I needed as I grabbed the stool next to him. The euphoria and relief of the first beer after that exam is in the top-10 of moments of my life. Pure relief.
I imagine the bench, and especially Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard, had a similar feeling about midway through the fourth quarter Wednesday night. Both guys have had to scratch and claw their way into NBA careers, and they were coming off one of the worst quarters of basketball they’ve played in green. Redemption, and they did it together.
We also got nice minutes from Oshae Brissett and Svi Mykhailiuk, who only have their general size in common, but otherwise are complete basketball opposites. Svi hit a shot that I could have sworn was going behind the backboard.
And then he almost brought the whole house down.
If he finished that, my kid was waking up, and he sleeps two floors above where I watch the games.
Brissett did what he’s quickly becoming a fan favorite for: flying around, creating chaos, and doing all the dirty work. He won’t blow you away with his skill level, but he will contribute positively all the same. The bench didn’t just need that showing, the fans did too. The fellas are cooking, and I can’t wait for next game.