Dissecting the Celtics’ Woes

It’s no secret that the Boston Celtics have been struggling mightily thus far, as they boast at a 1-2 record.

Failing to live up to the excitement and anticipation that the team brought with them to Cleveland on opening night. Gordon Hayward’s gruesome injury may not have helped, but even with the team in its present state, they’ve been extremely underwhelming. In a broad sense, it’s not as though the team is failing to fire on all cylinders. They’re seventh in rebounds per game, averaging 48 per contest, and holding teams to 100.7 points per game — good for twentieth in the league. So ostensibly speaking, they’re one of the ten best rebounding and defensive teams in the league. Ironically, where the offensive-minded lineup is struggling is offense.

In basketball’s current landscape, efficiency is something that statisticians and coaches alike reiterate religiously. Advanced shot charts and stat keeping aside, the merits of efficiency are obvious. Missing a shot, losing the offensive board, and having to recover defensively is far less reliable than making a shot and naturally moving into a half-court defense — especially when the game moves as fast as it currently does. Which brings me to the Celtics primary issue; their abysmally inefficient offense.

Kyrie Irving has only had one game of scoring above 47 percent from the field, and that was in the season opener where he only scored 22 points. On top of that, he’s yet to score 25 points, even boasting a 17 point performance on 28 percent in the Celtics’ home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now take that string of unremarkable performances and extrapolate it across the roster. Al Horford is averaging 38.2 percent from the field, Jaylen Brown 44.7 percent, Jayson Tatum 40.7 percent, Marcus Smart 31 percent. Aside from Terry Rozier (averaging 48.3 percent) and Aron Baynes (69.2 percent), that’s the Celtics entire eight-man rotation. Giving them a team average of 41.8 percent from the field, good for 24th in the league. What’s even worse is there pathetic three-point shooting, which ranks 20th in the league in three-point percentage despite being 12th in three-point attempts.  

To add insult to injury, the Celtics have been spectacular at spacing the floor, creating open lanes, and drawing fouls around the rim – ranking ninth in free-throw attempts per game. Yet rank last in free-throw percentage, shooting just 66.7 percent from behind the line. That degree of ineptitude is completely unacceptable, especially for a team that finished third in free-throw shooting last year, at 80.7 percent.

Luckily for Celtics fans, I think there are a number of caveats to consider before looking at those numbers and disregarding this season as a lost cause. First and foremost, something that Prime Time Sports Talk has preached all offseason long is how new the team is. Not only based on the alarming number of rookies(Tatum, Yabusele, Theis, Allen, Ojeyle, Nader, and Bird), but how new to one another they are. Only four players from last year’s roster returned this year. Understanding everyone’s shot pocket, what tools they can employ around the rim, making the right passes to rotate the defense… The chemistry and each player’s feel for the game will come with time. The second caveat is the fact that, invariably, those numbers will average themselves out. Whether they be Paul Bunyan lines like Giannis’ or underwhelming team performances like – well the Celtics – they’ll all eventually be reeled back into reality. I can’t promise that with time, the Celtics will become a bonafide rival of Cleveland, but I think they will invariably rebound and start looking like the Conference Finals caliber team we know them to be.

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