With All-Star break right around the corner, the doldrums of the regular season are starting to set in and the warts start to show. Across the NBA, we have a good idea of where every team stands at this point.
However, with the 2022-23 Celtics enjoying their most recent victor in their historic rivalry with the Lakers, I can’t imagine a better moment to hit pause on the season and look back into the franchise’s storied history to take a look at where some other all-time great Celtics teams stood at this point. Let’s start with our current squad to get our baseline before we jump into the time machine.
All stats are for the first 50 games, prior to win over the Lakers on Saturday night
Offense: 117.8 PPG
Defense: 112.3 PPG
Off. Rtg: 117.5 (1st)
Def. Rtg: 112.0 (6th)
Net Rtg: +5.5 (1st)
The 2022-2023 Celtics are the quintessential modern basketball team. Led by two elite 2-way wings and a plethora of on and off-ball playmakers, this team is doing a great job of maximizing the roster and getting the most out of a group that SHOULD be putting up numbers like this.
You may look at their numbers and think that attempting almost 42 3’s a game as a team is a lot, but if you’re hitting them at a 37% clip, taking that many is a wonderful idea. This team has a simple formula: put guys on the floor who can shoot, defend, and make plays with the ball in their hands and your team will be good at basketball. Add in an MVP-level season from Jayson Tatum and an ALL-NBA level season from Jaylen Brown, and wham, you have the best record in basketball through 50 games. Simple, right?
Let’s hop into the time machine and look at a team that, for as good as the 22-23 team is, puts them to a bit of shame through 50 games.
Offense: 112.9 PPG
Defense: 104.9 PPG
Off. RTG: 111.8 (1st)
Def. RTG: 102.6 (1st)
Net RTG: +9.2 (1st)
My first observation being back in 1985-86 is that there are way more mustaches and way less scoring.
What you will also observe is that the ‘86 Celtics were an absolute monolith of the sport. 41-9 includes only 1 home loss and good god…look at that net rating. If you’re reading this article you probably watch basketball. If you watch basketball, you’ve probably realized the 22-23 Celtics are a very good basketball team, but their net rating is almost 4 full points worse…with a 3-point attempted rate of 47.2%! The 85-86 Celtics are at a 4.9%! Just an absurd basketball team. You don’t finish a season with 67 wins by accident. Enough with the disco and short-shorts, let’s jump to a more modern squad.
Offense: 99.8 PPG
Defense: 89.4 PPG
Off. Rtg: 110.2 (10)
Def. Rtg: 99.1 (1st)
Net Rtg: +11.1 (1st)
One of the best parts of basketball for me has always been the wild differences in play styles across eras. Those PPG and Opp. PPG stats look like they belong in the 1960-70’s. The Celtics defense rating of 99.1 is the Celtics 2nd lowest since 1977 and their Rel DRtg (defensive rating compared to the league) is -8.6, the 3rd lowest number in team history.
Offensively, this team doesn’t really rank anywhere important, but that’s not what this team is remembered for anyway. One interesting note is their 3PA-rate. 25.6% isn’t nearly as high as the modern age, but you can see even then that the league was moving further and further towards a 3-point focused future. They shot 38% from 3 as a team as well through 50 games while holding opponents to under 31% from 3 — a first taste of what an elite 3-and-D team can do.
Our adventure through time is nearly at its end, let’s finish off a little closer to home and look at where last year’s (eventual) Finals team was at the 50-game mark.
Offense: 107.7 PPG
Defense: 105.0 PPG
Off. Rtg: 110.8 (14)
Def. Rtg: 108.0 (13)
Net Rtg: +1.2 (14)
The 50-game mark is a wild place to drop into this team. This is riiiight before they really started taking over the NBA. In fact, they would go on a 9-game win streak from this point, win 15 of 18, and go 26-6 to finish the season.
But, at this point? They were still a middling team that couldn’t get out of their own way. This team reeked of average. Almost every offensive and defensive stat ranked somewhere between 9th-22nd in the NBA. Never too bad, but never all the good either. If anything, this team is not only a story of what happens when talent figures it out, but should show that things in basketball can flip on a dime. A great 50 games could lead to a horrible 32 games without proper maintenance and adjustments as much as a great final 32 games can lead to a Finals appearance.
Just to show how much it can flip, this Celtics team finished with a net rating of +7.5…they improved their next rating by over 6 points in 32 games. Some teams never even sniff a net rating of 6 let alone improve by that number in 30 games! A fascinating basketball team for a franchise with a history full of them, they fit right in.
The 2022-23 Celtics are a very good basketball team. Don’t let anyone tell you different. They have some flaws and some issues to work out, but not every all-time great team had everything figured out at this point. The Celtics rich history is littered with winners and losers that were at all different points 50 games in, so while the pressure is on for this team to find its way to Banner 18, it’s nice to see that this team even has a chance to get to the top.
And thankfully, with less mustaches.