clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Three leaf clover: Joe deserves more credit, Luke the finisher, and Jaylen the passer

Luke Kornet is doing his job offensively, Jaylen Brown has started to move the rock, and Joe Mazzulla deserves more respect.

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Back after a short 1-week hiatus as I was “enjoying” time away for Thanksgiving with my wife’s side of the family. Nothing like watching the Celtics on my cell phone without sound while nodding to conversations I’m totally listening to. I’m a terrible relative. Onward to the fun stuff.

Stat of the week: 85.7 FG%

Third bigs generally aren’t asked to do a whole lot, sort of like me while Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared. For the last few seasons, the Celtics have been a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the deep bench big man. Between Al Horford’s occasional rests, Robert Williams’ unfortunate injury history, and Kristaps Porzingis very minor injury that I’m absolutely not worried about (everything is fine right? RIGHT???), the third big on the Celtics has outsized importance.

Enter Luke Kornet. Luke, to put it politely, struggled to start the season. He looked hesitant on both ends, getting bullied defensively and hardly looking at the rim on offense. Well, that lull for Luke is over. He’s playing your standard “be very large” defense, altering shots and playing within the scheme. He’s holding opponents to around 12% worse from the floor when he’s defending shots within 9 feet.

But offensively, is where Luke is starting to show his best. He’s an extremely good screen setter, regularly creating space in the pick-and-roll for ball handlers or busting coverages on pin downs. Just as importantly, Luke has turned himself into a very good, albeit low volume, finisher around the rim. That 85.7% field goal percentage is how accurate Luke is from less than 5 feet. Oh, it also leads the league.

Luke has soft hands on the catch and knows his limitations. He doesn’t ever force anything around the rim, and he’s regularly there to clean up misses.

Probably most encouraging is his improvement as a roll man in the pick-and-roll.

With KP out, Luke has risen to the occasion — let’s hope he keeps flying.

Xs and Oohhhhhhs: Jaylen the passer

Sometimes you can see the game start to make sense for a player in real time. After initially struggling to find his place on this new look Celtics team, it seems like Jaylen Brown might be making sense of things. Where it’s really started to show is his passing game.

Over the last four games (which includes that disaster of an Orlando game), Jaylen is averaging the following (parenthesis is average for the year):

  • 4.8 assists (3.6)
  • 10 potential assists (6.9)
  • 14 assist points created (9.8)
  • 2.3 turnovers (2.4)

This isn’t just hot shooting off Jaylen’s passes either; he’s averaging the same assist to pass ratio during this 4-game sample. What’s happening is that he’s passing more. On the season, he averages 27.8 passes a game and that’s risen to 36.3 — an extremely encouraging increase of over 8 more passes per game.

Is he passing to open guys and creating something out of nothing like Chris Paul? No, but who cares? What this shows is a subtle change of mindset. Jaylen’s embracing the amount of defensive attention he attracts, and instead of working to score in spite of it, he’s working with it and making the simple, smart play. Here are a few examples:

Jaylen gets the swing, one hard dribble middle to draw in Alex Caruso and then he hits Pritchard for an open three. How many times in his career has he put that on the deck multiple times just to end up in a turnover? A lot of times. Smart, simple basketball.

Similar play here. Posts up Zach Lavine (who should be ashamed of himself after that performance) and draws two. Doesn’t force a shot up, just finds an open Derrick White one pass away. It’s not rocket surgery, but it’s an incredibly effective way to play hoops.

Here’s a few more examples of Jaylen refusing to force the issue and instead finding open shooters:

This is the version of Jaylen Brown that will supercharge the Celtics. He has the ability and skill to become an even higher level of player, and while it might come at the cost of some of his scoring, $300 million makes that sacrifice just a little bit easier.

Non-basketball stuff of the week: Joe Mazzulla deserves more credit

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Joe recently, especially after this tweet dropped:

While I certainly don’t think Joe is one of the best coaches in NBA history, and there’s obviously a lot of context that goes into this stat, it is still very impressive. There seems to be a lot of things that people take issue with regarding Joe, timeouts being the most obvious (I personally do not ascribe to this criticism and understand why Joe operates the way he does). And that’s fine, it’s the life of an NBA coach.

What I do find frustrating is that there is very little equal and opposite reaction. Mazzulla has, largely, fixed the issues that plagued the team last season. Yes, the offense isn’t perfect right now, but it’s showing signs of improvement, and it is inarguably more diverse. The Celtics were 17th in the NBA in 3-point percentage going into the Bulls game, which rose to 14th after it. Despite being an average to below average shooting team on the season, they lead the NBA in wins and are top-10 in offensive rating (9th) and defensive rating (2nd).

Can you imagine how terrible last year’s offense would have been if they shot this poorly (they were 6th last year)? The problem with the offense last season wasn’t the number of threes, it was that if the threes weren’t falling, they didn’t have a Plan B. Now? Their three-point shooting is still extremely important, but it is one of the foundational pieces of their offense, not the foundational piece of their offense. They can go to a variety of post up, isolation, and cutting options up and down the roster.

While Joe has reconfigured the offense (and it’s come with some growing pains), he’s turned this team into a defensive juggernaut. I wrote recently about all the different looks Joe is throwing at teams, and the creative way he’s using Jrue Holiday. These are the types of things the very best coaches in the NBA do to gain an edge and put their players in optimal positions. Joe may not be perfect, but he’s trending in the right direction in his sophomore season on the bench. And it’s about time we started giving him some credit for it.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog