The Boston Celtics entered the season as clear-cut favorites in the Eastern Conference, and 2nd only to the Warriors to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. The burden of expectations has worn on this young team, as the squad sits at 6th place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-8 record. How concerned should we be with these results as the season progresses?
Boston Celtics fans and analysts alike are growing uneasy with where this team is at through 18 games of play. Are these feelings of discontent reasonable, or is there a bit of a case of over dramatization in play here?
At surface level, the play of this team reasonably merits some unrest. The Celtics are ranked 24th in the NBA in points per game (105.8) and 27th In shooting percentage (47.2%). They take over 36 three pointers per contest, yet rank in the bottom 33% of the league in three-point percentage (34.5%).
To really paint a solid picture of just how poor the Celtics offense has been, let’s take it a step further. The team ranks 26th in the league in offensive efficiency (likely due to their absurdly high three-point attempt rate) and sit next to dead last in free throws attempted, with 19.4 per contest. Lastly, their 39.6 points in the paint per contest is the lowest of any team in the league.
This indicates a severe lack of aggression, and an unwillingness to attack the pain in favor of jacking up long-range shots. Outside of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, this roster has lacked in aggressive to the rim guys, which, in turn, has damaged the offensive efficiency of this team.
Boston has particularly struggled to get going on offense early on in contests. Their 49 point average in the first half of games ranks dead last in the NBA. Being aggressive early is vital to setting the tone for the rest of the game, and failing to do so lets the opposition build confidence as the match progresses.
The Celtics have the talent on paper to put up major offensive numbers, but their lack of urgency (particularly in the first 24 minutes) has been detrimental to their success. The dysfunction on the offensive side of the ball starts with major stretches of time without quality ball movement, often leading to settling for long, contested jumpers late in the shot clock. Swinging the ball around the perimeter is good to get the defense off-balance, but failing to attack the paint off of the movement comes as an assist to the opposition.
Being aggressive early and often breaks down the defense and allows for higher quality scoring opportunities. Boston does a fine job of being on the attack late in games, but fails to do so for the full 48 minutes, which translates to the poor offensive numbers we are seeing from the team.
Can the Celtics figure it out?
This is a Celtics team one year removed from a long postseason run that saw the franchise fall just one win shy of reaching the NBA Finals. With the return of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving it was expected that the team would go through some growing pains. Sure, not many expected it to be this rough, but it is still early. Gordon Hayward is nowhere close to 100%. Kyrie needed a well-timed haircut to get cooking, Tatum has regressed a bit from an efficiency standpoint, and Jaylen Brown is currently in his own head so bad he could be replaced in the starting lineup. Throw on a side of chemistry growing pains and you have yourself a team sitting at .500 and in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.
But will these troubles persist? Not likely. Why? The sheer talent level on this roster is too great for this team to fail. Couple the talent with one of the best and brightest coaches the NBA has to offer, and this team will be competitive. Don’t make a mistake about that.
Since the acquisition of Coach Brad Stevens the Celtics have spent the majority of their focus on defense. With the aid of management, the franchise has put together a defensive powerhouse. The team finished last season as the number one ranked team in basketball defensively, and currently sit at number two behind Indiana in defensive efficiency. In fact, Boston’s defense is so good that despite the plethora of offensive woes the team still boasts a +2.4 average scoring margin of victory.
To quote the great Bear Bryant; “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” From a defensive standpoint this Celtics team is built to win. The offense will get there as the season rolls along and the team learns to better utilize the implementation of Gordon Hayward. Expect Boston to be contending for a championship come playoff time.
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