There’s nothing more fun NBA-wise than watching the Celtics win. But, watching the Bucks lose and the Lakers implode is right up there. Meanwhile, the Celtics, despite a recent blip to Oklahoma City, are basically rolling. The vibes are good, the bench is playing well, and Jayson Tatum gave us a little flash of what his defense might look like in the playoffs. Things could certainly be worse. Let’s get into it.
Stat of the Week: 2.7 assists per 36 minutes
Going deep into the stat bag for this one. When the middle of the season hits, even the blog bois need to start digging deep. And this one is 10,000 leagues under the screen (I apologize for the terrible pun, but not really). In Kornet’s last 7 games (4 from before his injury and three after), he’s averaging a healthy 2.7 assists per 36 minutes. That is up nearly an entire assist from his season per 36 average. Has he turned into Nikola Jokic? Not yet, but there’s still time.
I think more importantly than the raw assist number is how much more comfortable Kornet has recently looked getting involved in the offense. Early in the year it felt like the only time Kornet faced the Celtics’ basket was when he was playing defense. For instance, here he is catching in the high post against the vaunted Wizards defense. He promptly turns it over with a lazy pass.
It just felt like there was an uncomfortability (not a word, but I’m going with it) to his offensive game that’s largely dissipated. His touches are up from 15.5 to 23.7 per game in this recent stretch, which is a significant jump partially explained by an uptick in minutes from about 15 to 21.5. Luke isn’t the first player to get more minutes, more touches, and start to feel more comfortable (this is when I should roll the Aaron Nesmith tape).
The primary way the Cs are getting Luke involved is in the handoff game. He sets excellent screens and generally makes the right decisions. Here he is creating an open 3 for Jaylen Brown off a little pitch back.
In this one, he’s working the handoff game with Tatum, but realizes there’s no advantage. Instead, he reverses with a dribble and generates a wide open three for Jrue Holiday.
It’s a part of Kornet’s game that’s always been lurking behind the curtain, but never truly taken advantage of. Recently, though, Mazzulla has done a great job of using Luke’s ability to read the game, set hard screens, and whip a pass around to generate offense. At times, Luke is operating as almost an offensive hub for the bench units. A safe outlet that you can toss the ball to, run really fast next to him, and trust that he will make the right play. We are seeing the emergence of Luke the Hub.
Xs and OOOohhhhhsss: Tatum’s off ball movement
This isn’t going to be an earthshattering take: Jayson Tatum has a lot of offensive weapons. One underrated aspect is his off-ball movement. When he decides to do it, he’s extremely good at reading the defense and making the right cut. Sometimes it’s a cut all the way to the rim for a dunk, like this play here.
He’s got excellent instincts for pace and space. It’s not always the right decision to cut as hard as you possibly can. Sometimes you need to wade into the water slowly and wait for the waves to break.
More commonly, though, he’s cutting or moving to post up position. As he’s grown physically and mentally, he’s better equipped to get to his spots, and then hold his ground once he’s arrived.
Combine that with his new and improved post game (although I’d argue his work before the post up is part of the reason he’s gotten so good), and you’ve got a very dangerous off-ball player.
Which brings us to the downside. Probably the biggest issue with Tatum’s off-ball movement is that he simply doesn’t do it enough. Part of that is, understandably, for fatigue reasons. There are very few guys in the NBA that can fly off screens and cut non-stop for an entire season, and it’s generally limited to guards like Steph Curry, Rip Hamilton, and JJ Redick. Tatum is not one of those guys, but like everything, there’s a balance. JT doesn’t have to be Steph Curry, but he should probably move more than he does.
Non-basketball Stuff of the Week: some losses just don’t matter
Please note, I’m writing this before Thursday night’s game.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very good basketball team, so are the Boston Celtics. When you play a very good team, on the road, and they shoot almost 50% from three (OKC ended at 45%, but that was with a few misses in that 4th quarter Celtics run), you probably aren’t going to win that game. And that’s ok.
If this reads like a maniac trying to convince himself of something, that’s probably because it is. I hate when the Celtics lose, but I also need to continually tell myself that they weren’t going to win out the rest of the season. If there’s any type of loss that is truly ok, if there’s any type of loss that isn’t a referendum on whether this team is championship caliber or not, it’s the loss Tuesday night. Sometimes you just get got, and Shai and the Thunder got the Celtics pretty good.