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Boston’s Big 3

The Celtics join the list of title contenders with three All-Stars entering their prime.

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

Even with the new collective bargaining agreement forcing front offices to count pennies and balance their books, Big 3s will still be contending for championships next season. Out west, the Suns will field Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal. If James Harden has his way, the Clippers could add him to Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. There’s also Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Chris Paul and Draymond Green vying to be the third wheel. In the East, trios are a little more rare. Miami is still trying to get Damian Lillard to join Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Milwaukee kept their championship threesome of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday intact.

And then there’s Boston. They’ve had a Big 3 before. Point guards have cycled through TD Garden to play next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but it was Marcus Smart who, in the end, took them further than Isaiah Thomas or Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker ever did.

He wasn’t the most dynamic point guard, but as a starter under Ime Udoka and Joe Mazzulla, Smart was solid for the Celtics. Per Second Spectrum tracking stats at NBA Stats, he registered the most potential assists per game at 10.7 last season and 10.2 the year before. That doesn’t rank him amongst high usage PG’s; Tyrese Haliburton, Trae Young, and James Harden averaged 19.8, 17.2, and 17.1 respectively. However, he was a reliable ball handler in his final two seasons in Boston.

However, those stats are indicative of a system quarterback, not exactly a playmaker. Usage rate shows a clearer picture of where the Celtics offense was generated last season. Tatum and Brown checked in at 31.9% and 30.7% respectively, the only pair of teammates that both rank in the top-15 of the league. Behind them were Brogdon at 22.3%, Smart 17.6%, and White 17.4%. It’s not an unexpected workload for two young stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Luka Doncic all hover around 37%.

By creating a new Big Three in Boston, that’ll lessen the burden in hopes of accentuating what Tatum and Brown do best. In Washington last year, the Wizards’ responsibilities broke down like this: Beal (28.8%), Kuzma (27.3%), and Porzingis (27.2%). The trio played only 35 games together, but put up relatively strong numbers as a threesome: a 116.2 offensive rating and a 112.8 defensive rating through 740 minutes. That’s right up there Horford-Tatum-Brown (118.2 OffRtg, 111.7 DefRtg, 1213 minutes) and Smart-Tatum-Brown (118.2 OffRtg, 113.3 DefRtg, 1134 minutes).

CelticsBlog has written extensively about what a Porzingis-Tatum-Brown:

And as President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens has reiterated time and time again, “I think that it’s very obvious, we’ve got a great core of players that people will want to play with and want to be around, and we just have to find accentuators, people that accentuate that group. And we’ve talked about that in the past. And I thought (on) last year’s team, we had a lot of that. And I think as we sit here right now with who we have under contract and what our potential avenues are, I think we’ll be able to have that again.”

For Brown, that could translate to more catch-and-shoot and fewer pull-ups threes. Consider this: next to Porzingis, nearly 7 of Kuzma’s 8 three-pointers a night were either considered open or wide open; 1 out of every 3 that Brown shot was under duress.

For Tatum, fewer isolations in his diet would make him a more efficient player. If the offense bogs down, they can throw it to Porzingis in the post. He was fourth in the NBA in post touch points behind Nikola Jokic, Embiid, and Anthony Davis; with the Celtics so perimeter-oriented last season, adding that dimension will only make them more dangerous all over the court.

What Mazzulla might be hoping for is a more synergistic, democratic style of offense. Less dribbles, more passing. With three offensive hubs on the floor, defenses will pool in one direction (or two) and somebody will be open. What makes Porzingis’ addition so intoxicating, particularly next to the Jays, is that all three of them are three-level scorers. Add to them a pair of capable 20-point scorers in Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon plus a rock-solid contributor in Al Horford and the x-factor of Robert Williams, and really, it doesn’t feel like just a Big 3 anymore.

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