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.
At 30-14, the Celtics sit perched at 4th place in the Eastern Conference in what has become a tight race for the 2-6 seeds as only 2 games separate the 2nd place Miami Heat/Toronto Raptors from the 6th place Philadelphia 76ers. Before the season, there weren’t high expectations around the league for the Celtics as this seemed like a bit of a transition year after the debacle that was the Kyrie Irving Experiment. The Celtics have had different ideas for this season and it’s been quite the ride through 44 games. How have they been able to do it? Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal listed a plethora of stats that can help paint the picture.
+11.1 net rating for Jayson Tatum: The third-year forward has always ranked among the top Celtics when it comes to his plus/minus during his brief NBA career. His impact has risen to a different level this season however, as he has the fifth-best net rating in the entire NBA for a player that is averaging over 20 minutes per game and is not on the Bucks.
While net rating has it’s shortcomings, the fact that Tatum is at a +11.1 is a testament to his play and improvement from last season. He’s been able to make his mark wether he’s scoring or not and this development has been key to the Celtics’ success. He’s arguably been their best wing defender and his assist numbers are at a career high (2.9 apg). He’s becoming an all-around star and it’s a huge reason why he may join Kemba Walker in the All-Star game.
20.0 points per game for Jaylen Brown: Outside of the Warriors superteam over the last couple of seasons, three 20-point scorers on one roster in the NBA has been a rarity over time. The Celtics have a legitimate shot of making it happen this season thanks to Brown’s efficiency. He’s been one of the most accurate high-volume wing shooters in the NBA, knocking down an absurd 56 percent of his two-point attempts while flirting with a career-high 39 percent from downtown.
When Jaylen Brown signed his 4-year $115 million dollar extension on October 21st, many scoffed at it. After a disappointing campaign last season it’s understandable that the shine he gained from the 2017-18 playoff run wore off. Once 2019-20 came around, he wasted no time as he’s taken the reigns and ran with them. He’s been everything the Celtics asked for and more this season as he’s also eyeballing an All-Star appearance. Although he may not get in this year, the fact that he’s even in the conversation is a success. His confidence is at another level and if this team is going to make a deep run they’re going to need Jaylen to keep on this torrid pace he’s set for himself.
3.7 assist to turnover ratio for Marcus Smart: It has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride from Smart from a shooting perspective amid a host of injuries and an eye infection that kept him out of the lineup for weeks. However, Smart’s feel as a playmaking guard for this group continues to improve in year six of his career.
Another Celtic that has really come into his own on offense has been Marcus Smart. In the past he’s always been a willing passer with too many tricks up his sleeve to count. The difference this season has been his decision making as it’s improved tenfold. He runs the offense so well and probably knows it the best out of the group as he’s been in Brad Stevens’ system since 2014. The Celtics have their swiss army knife with Smart and while he’s usually known around the league for his defense, his passing has been invaluable.
15.9 rebounds per 36 minutes for Enes Kanter: The 6-foot-10 center has been one of the best rebounders in the NBA throughout his career, but he’s reaching new heights in Boston on that front. His 15.9 rebounds per 36 minutes is the highest mark of his career and put him atop the NBA in offensive rebounding rate for those playing over 10 minutes per game.
2.4 blocks per 36 minutes for Daniel Theis: The Celtics have the fourth-best defense in the NBA despite losing two of their defensive anchors last season in Al Horford and Aron Baynes. While some improved defense on the wings has been essential, there may be no bigger surprise on the roster than the defensive impact Theis has made in the middle.
I decided to lump these two together as they’ve both had a positive effect on what has been a thin front-court rotation all season. While they lost Horford and Baynes, they’ve also only had Robert Williams for 19 games. He played a big role while he was healthy and his absence left the Celtics with a billion question marks up front. Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis have answered those questions as in tandem they’ve been able to provide the Celtics with all they need: rim protection and rebounding. While they still might need to make a move before the playoffs, these two have anchored the front lines and deserve kudos for their contributions thus far.
44.6 percent shooting for Kemba Walker: The adjustment to Boston couldn’t have gone much better for the All-Star point guard through 44 games, as Walker is shooting the ball better than ever despite taking more 3s than ever. His usage has taken a slight downturn, but the best part of Walker’s improved shooting has come with improved shot selection and spacing around the rim.
81 percent shooting for Gordon Hayward inside of three feet: Amid the injuries and debate about Hayward’s future with the team, the former All-Star is putting together one of the most efficient offensive seasons of his career.
A theme last season was that there were too many mouths to feed and everybody just wanted their own meal. This season however, the Celtics are moving the ball and have been incredibly efficient. Two guys to look to for that are both Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward. They’ve been able to do their thing on less shots than they had in the past and it’s been a welcoming development. They’ve averaged 5.0 (team high) and 4.1 assists per game respectively as well in what’s been a promising first half for the two max guys on this team. If the two max guys on the team are going to sacrifice like this, it sets a great example for the young guys on the squad.
They still have a lot of work to do, but so far this season has been a slamming success. Hopefully they can take what they’ve done in the first half of the season and build on it. If they can, come playoff time, this team will have far more expectations than they did way back in training camp and a shot at a deep playoff run.
THE REST OF THE LINKS:
Boston Herald: Celtics thrive for split-second success