Ever since Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been the undisputed cornerstones of the franchise, the third star was always a guard, whether the star was Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or to a certain extent, Marcus Smart.
This year will be different. It’s still the two-man show, but the third star will be standing at 7’3 instead of 6’3.
You want your stars with the ball in their hands and having a player like Kristaps Porzingis will force both Brown and Tatum to have the ball more. With Smart now in Memphis and Derrick White running the offense, there will be plenty of times throughout the game where Tatum or Brown will bring the ball up the court.
When Kyrie was at the helm, the offense had to go through him and he demanded the ball, limiting the touches of younger versions of Tatum and Brown. In the 2017-18 season, Irving had 76.0 touches per game (29.9 of those touches occurring in the front court) for a total of 6.1 minutes (4.82 seconds per touch per game). The following season Irving had 76.8 touches (31.1 front court touches) for 5.5 minutes and 4.27 seconds per touch. Although Kyrie’s total time on the ball went down in the 2018-19 season his overall touches went up.
In contrast to Tatum’s rookie season, he averaged 42.7 touches having the ball in his hands for 1.8 minutes per game. Brown in the same season had 38.9 touches and had the ball for 1.5 minutes per game. In the 2018-19 season, Tatum’s touches increased to 45.6 touches a game (two minutes of total possession). On the other hand, Brown’s touches and total possession dropped from 38.9 to 31.8 and 1.5 to 1.2 minutes.
Obviously, both Brown and Tatum were very young in their NBA careers at the time, so it makes sense that Irving had the ball in his hands as often as he did. When Irving left, the Celtics signed another ball-dominant star in Kemba Walker. To be fair to Walker, he acknowledged and accepted his backseat role knowing it was going to be Brown and Tatum’s team. However, Walker still dominated the ball while he repped the green and white.
In Walker’s two seasons with the team, his touches went from 70.8 a game for a total time of possession of 5.9 minutes to 72.2 touches for a time of 5.6 minutes. In 2019-20, Tatum’s numbers were 68.1 with 3.4 minutes of possession. The following year his touches escalated to 77.7 while having the ball for 4.8 minutes a game. Brown’s touches also increased under Walker from 48.9 in 2019-20 for 2.2 minutes to 56.9 for 2.7 minutes.
Now, with one less ball handler on the roster, the Celtics should expect both Tatum’s (74.9 touches and 4.8 minutes in 2022-23) and Brown’s (64.0 touches and 3.7 minutes) touches and time of possession to rise. Smart averaged just under 60 touches a game. Naturally, both White and Brogdon’s touches will increase, but so will Tatum’s and Brown’s.
Last year, Tatum averaged 0.401 points per touch while Brown was more efficient scoring 0.416 per touch. In Walker’s last season with the Celtics, Tatum averaged 0.340 points per touch while Brown was at 0.433 points.
This past season on a Washington Wizards team, Porzingis was one of two stars behind Bradley Beal. The big man averaged 60.2 touches, but only had the ball in his hands for a total of 1.8 minutes. The Latvian averaged 0.68 dribbles per touch which translates to quick decision-making. Being 7’3 means that at times, he won’t even need to dribble to get his shot off.
So...what you're telling me is Kristaps Porzingis has gotten back to hitting the "I'm taller than you" shot and working to seal in the post/making quick decisions. I'm intrigued. pic.twitter.com/xQCbpR1dyT— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) March 29, 2023
Porzingis is an efficient catch-and-shoot scorer for a big man. In his last four years, he is averaging 7.4 points on 38.2% shooting from behind the arc. The Celtics can use him for pick-and-pops or if they just need him to stand in the corner on occasions, having someone like Kristaps gives the Jays a whole new weapon to utilize.
This a prime example of how Kristaps Porzingis' extended 3-point shooting range raises the ceiling of a half-court offense.— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) August 25, 2021
After the defense sends two to the ball against Luka Doncic, the closeout from the corner isn't enough to alter Porzingis' catch-and-shoot jumper. pic.twitter.com/z5xsMIeeC2
On the defensive side of the ball, teams would headhunt our star guards knowing they weren’t the best defenders in the past. Whether it was Irving, Walker, or even Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics always had to adjust its defense to account for them. With Smart gone, White is the new starter. Although Smart may be a better defender overall, White can hold his own as he made the All-Defense team this past season.
Porzingis brings more defensive solidity and makes the Celtics bigger in general. Both Smart and White are around the same height, but we’re now adding a 7’3 big man to the starting rotation which will help both on the offensive and defensive end. The Unicorn ranked fourth in the NBA in pick-and-roll defense allowing only 0.93 points per possession.
Porzingis in a drop will be a very useful tool for this Celtics defense pic.twitter.com/FenLpdIHEf— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) June 27, 2023
Porzingis gives Brown and Tatum something they haven’t had in their careers. The most similar player they had was Al Horford, but Porzingis is a taller and, to be frank, better player than Horford has been in the Brown-Tatum era. He could provide what the Jays have needed to get over the hump.