clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Celtics need balance

Boston has had wild swings with their offensive and defensive ratings.

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After a blistering hot start to the season, the Boston Celtics have found themselves stuttering. Their offense has gone from an unstoppable form of nature to a boiler without a pilot light.

Yet, on the other side of the floor, Boston’s defense has rediscovered its identity from last season and is slowly producing some stellar performances. Unfortunately, when your offense and defense are passing each other going opposite directions like ships in the night, there is clearly a disconnect between one side of the court and another.

I’m a big believer in accepting your flaws and finding a balance. There’s no point being a top-5 defense if your offense is lingering in the bottom-10. Similarly, if you can’t stop your opponent from scoring, being a top offensive team in the league is only going to get you so far.

There is far more value in being a team that resides in the top-10 or top-8 of both offensive and defensive ratings than dominating in one particular area whilst being below average in another. Yet, that's exactly what we’ve seen from the Celtics this season. First, their offense was supercharged, and now, their defense is what’s keeping them afloat.

Take the Atlanta Hawks for example, who ended the 2021-22 regular season with a 2nd placed offensive rating of 115.4 and a 26th-ranked defensive rating of 113.7. Once the post-season rolled around, the Hawks were out of the playoffs in the first round.

You can learn a similar lesson from the New York Knicks, who, throughout the 2020-21 season, built their successes on defense, ending the regular season with the 4th ranked defensive rating in the league but languished 22nd for offensive rating. The following off-season, their front office made the move to add more firepower in the hope of striking a balance. Instead, the Knicks regressed defensively (11th), and were marginally worse on offense (23).

My point is, constructing a roster that is capable on both sides of the floor is an incredibly difficult feat to achieve. Yet, at present, the Celtics have all the necessary pieces to be a juggernaut across the board, but for whatever reason, they’ve only been able to hone in on one area at a time.

Let’s take a look at how Boston’s offensive and defensive rating has changed month by month since the season got underway in October.

Celtics ORTG + DRTG By Month

Month Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
Month Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
October 2022 116.9 (5th) 114.5 (22nd) 2.4 (11th)
November 2022 123.3 (1st) 111.6 (15th) 11.6 (1st)
December 2022 110.9 (27th) 107.2 (2nd) 3.7 (5th)
January 2023 114.7 (19th) 112.1 (8th) 2.5 (11th)
Season so far 116.6 (4th) 110.6 (4th) 6.1 (1st)
Celtics ORTG + DRTG By Month NBA Stats

Boston’s offense has been declining since November, ranking 27th in December, and 19th in January, while their defense has become a focal point of their identity once again, sitting in the top-10 for the past two months.

Of course, when you have such productive swings, it skews the data points for the season — especially when you’re only just over the halfway mark, which is why the Celtics currently sit 4th in both offense and defense. Yet, what happens if their offense continues its current trend? Can their success in the opening months keep them inside of the top-10 for the remainder of the basketball calendar, and does it even matter once the playoffs roll around? After all, post-season basketball is essentially a potential 28-game season, and usually less.

Still, if the Celtics are laser-focused on their chances of obtaining a championship this season, they’re going to need to make some compromises. Does their defense regress slightly so that their offense can return to the glory of November? Or do they re-work their offensive sets to require less pace and revert back to some of the deliberate half-court actions Ime Udoka found such tangible success with last season?

Or are we simply seeing an imbalance due to Marcus Smart's injury, Jaylen Brown’s missed time, and reintegrating Robert Williams back into the starting lineup? After all, in basketball, as in life, things are fluid and, as such, fluctuate on a consistent basis.

One thing is for certain, though — the stats sheet might look like Boston has balance between their offense and defense, but the truth is, they’re on a see-saw of success, and until they can find some middle ground, we’re going to continue seeing these swings in performance.

Luckily, the All-Star break will provide the team with some much-needed rest and the coaching staff with an opportunity to trawl through the film in an attempt to steady the ship.

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

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog