Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
“Gordon definitely helps and adds to this team, but when I’m out or he’s out, we’ve got to continue to move the ball and stuff like that,” Brown said. “I think what makes us dangerous is that we all can do the same things, you know, pass the ball, make the right reads. I’m getting a lot better at it. Jayson’s getting a lot better at it. Gordon’s REALLY good at it, and he’s proven.
“We can learn from him, so in turn we can do some of the same stuff that he can do. And maybe we can get him some easy ones.”
“Gordon, he’s such a playmaker, man,” said Walker. “You know, he always makes the right plays. He’s super good, man, at just reading defenders and just getting rid of the basketball at the perfect times. He’s a really good playmaker. I think that’s one of the underrated things about him actually. He just knows how to play the game, and he’s super smart.
Your periodic reminder that there were guys—and I’m not naming names, but they were well-respected C’s fans, not just the usual crowd of hysterics—who were talking about the C’s needing to do a soft rebuild and the difficulty of unloading Gordon Hayward’s contract over the summer.
The funny thing about all this is that it turns out the C’s have, with Kemba, what we all hoped they would have with Kyrie last season.
It really is that simple. And that pretty.
Yesterday, Ben Mark pointed out in the dump that Walker, Brown, Tatum and Hayward can all initiate the offense from above the three point line. And you can add Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis to that list as well.
One of the chief advantages of this versatility is that it allows Boston to put the other team’s defense in awkward spots.
Although zone defenses are a rare sight in the NBA, the rather derivative PNR offenses run by most of the league mean that defensive configurations are fairly consistent. You, the defender, may not be set up in a 3-2 zone, patrolling the same patch of parquet every time the other team has the ball. But, odds are, you’re going to be playing in roughly the same area–strong side or weak side–making roughly the same rotations, and so forth.
Because the Celtics have unusual players capable of initiating offense from the top of the key, they can put defenders into awkward situations—either by drawing them into parts of the court they’re not used to defending, or by switching them onto players they’re not used to defending. Here’s a classic example from the Mavericks game:
It would be nice if the clip showed the entire possession, because the C’s managed to shift themselves into three exploitable mismatches, and we can only see the results here. As the clip starts, Jaylen Brown is being guarded by Dwight Powell a 6′-10″ center, who is basically conceding a three point shot in order to close off the driving lane. Kemba Walker crosses in front of Brown, screening his short pass to Theis. Walker is being defended by Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6-7″ power forward, and under the basket, Jayson Tatum is being defended by 6′-5″ Tim Hardaway, Jr.
After dumping the ball to Theis, Brown takes off for the weak side corner, and loses Powell under the basket. If Hardaway had done a better job contesting Tatum’s drive, Tatum would’ve been able to pass the ball out to Jaylen for a wide open corner three. A third option, Kemba Walker, would’ve been a bit more difficult to reach, being behind the ball, but he was being rather lackadaisically guarded by Finney-Smith, and would’ve been in a prime position for a catch-and-shoot three if Powell had closed out aggressively forcing Tatum to pick up his dribble.
As it is, Tatum has drawn Hardaway, Jr. into the low post, far from his comfort-zone, and when Tatum heads back up to the top of the key, Hardaway is a step behind, and Porzingis doesn’t know what to do.
Theis sets a beautiful screen. But it works in part because Hardaway was in an unfamiliar part of the court, and didn’t anticipate Tatum’s next move. As a result, he gives Theis time to set a screen, and thus he has to pick a side of the screen to work around. Hardaway also has to pick a side because Porzingis is lost without a map. Theis is working behind the three point line, and Kristaps doesn’t like being that far away from the basket.
In order to defend that possession better, Porzingis needs to stick closer to Theis putting him in position to shut off one of Tatum’s driving lanes. If he does that, Hardaway can close off the other, forcing Tatum to wait for the offense to re-set.
Instead, the play is over as soon as Tatum gets a step on Hardaway. By the time he gets the ball from Theis, he has separation from Hardaway, one player wide open (Brown), and another player with a very exploitable mismatch (Walker).
What Tatum needs to do here is make the right decision. With a clear path to the basket, a layup is a higher value shot than a corner three. Walker is Tatum’s fallback if he has to pick up his dribble and can’t back down his defender. Tatum makes the right decision and the C’s pick up another two points.
Now, Gordon Hayward wasn’t in that play—in fact, he wasn’t even available for that game. But Hayward makes the Celtics even more versatile. With Tatum, Hayward and Brown, you have three players who can work effectively almost anywhere on the court. It’s not just a question of figuring out how to stop three offensive threats, it’s a question of figuring out how to stop three threats that can drive, create and move without the ball.
The other advantage of having so many versatile players is that Stevens can keep at least two of them on the court for much of the game. The knock against the Celtics is that they’re not a tall team, but there may not be a team in the league that is better at creating and exploiting mismatches.
The rest of the links: