What we learned about the NBA, Celtics this first weekend ...
By A. Sherrod Blakely
You know the Boston Celtics had ideas of how their first post-Bubble season would start.
This is not what they had in mind.
Boston has dropped two of its first three games, which hasn’t happened since the 2017-2018 campaign which ended a Game 7 loss to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals to the LeBron James-led Cavaliers.
As the season went on, that team snuck up on folks because of how their unproven youngsters, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown specifically, kept getting better and better with time.
That’s not happening now.
As much as the narrative for many focuses on the roller coaster of a season that awaits them (isn’t that the narrative for every team? Just asking for a friend), that ignores the central issue that most fans have with this group led by Brad Stevens.
They should better than what we’re seeing.
Boston returns a 22-year-old All-Star in Jayson Tatum, flacked by a soon-to-be All-Star in Jaylen Brown who is just a year older. They add an inside presence in Tristan Thompson, the best rebounding, arguably the best undersized rebounding big man Stevens has had since coming to Boston.
Throw in Marcus Smart along with a vet like Jeff Teague and an impact rookie like Peyton Pritchard plus Robert Williams III and … the feeling is this team should be better than what we’ve seen thus far.
That said, here’s my A-List of issues after the Celtics’ first weekend of play
Should Jayson Tatum be the guy in the crunch?
There’s no question that when the balance of a game is up in the air for the Celtics, Boston wants the ball in the hands of Jayson Tatum.
It makes sense.
In this still-early NBA season, Tatum is shooting 44.4 percent from the field in “crunch” time compared to the team’s next-best clutch player, Jaylen Brown, who is shooting 33.3 percent.
The issue isn’t so much whether the ball should be in Tatum’s hands.
The larger issue comes down to what he does with it, in those moments.
Tatum has shown himself to be an exceptional perimeter scorer whose ball-handling skills allows him to get to lots of quality spots to take shots on the floor. And what we’ve seen thus far in his career, is teams trying a variety of defenses to try and limit him whether it’s double teams, box-and-ones or putting smaller defenders on him to force him to take more contested, long-range shots.
Tatum knows this which is why he has become more of a facilitator the last couple of years. He’s averaging 3.0 assists per game which would equal his career-high numbers passing the ball from last season.
But for Tatum to continue to elevate his game in the clutch, he has to – HAS TO – get to the free throw line more often.
Tatum averages 18.0 drives per game which ranks eighth in the NBA. He is the only player 6-foot-8 or taller ranked among the top 18 players in this category.
And yet he’s averaging just 1.3 free throw attempts this season.
Tatum is too talented a player and drives to the basket too often, to not get more trips to the line.
The fact that he is such a good shooter and has shown a desire to attack the rim more now than ever, look for his free throw attempts to increase overall but particularly in crunch time.
The time is now for Time Lord
Robert Williams III had some really good moments in Boston’s one-point loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
His stat line following the loss – 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting, four steals, four rebounds and two blocked shots - was what his growing legion of sycophants obsess over.
But the most impressive thing about that whole night, was how he harped on the mistakes he made, such as the defensive mix-up at the end of the game that allowed Domantas Sabonis to cruise in for a lay-up after he fouled him.
Those numbers Williams posted for the game were solid, which is why Brad Stevens leaned on him more so than Daniel Theis.
But in that critical moment of the game, when every second of every possession mattered, Williams didn’t get it done.
And that inconsistency is what more than anything else, keeps those who love him to death focused on his potential and not actual production in the game’s most critical moments.
Pritchard will be a key spark off Celtics bench
Like Robert Williams III, Peyton Pritchard put up some solid numbers for Boston in its 108-107 loss at Indiana. The rookie guard scored 13 points while making all five of his shot attempts which included a trio of 3-pointers.
The numbers are solid, but here’s where Pritchard has already separated himself from Williams and other young hopefuls on the Celtics roster who aren’t currently part of the team’s core group.
Pritchard, more than any non-starter on this Celtics team, oozes confidence of the likes you would not expect to see from someone just two games into their NBA career who wasn’t a high draft pick.
For those of us who saw him play at Oregon, what the world is seeing now in Boston, is what the good folks up in Eugene, Oregon saw for years.
Pritchard has this confident swagger about him that walks that all-too delicate line that avoids being cocky but leaves no doubt as to having a high, high level of confidence.
At this point, it’s not so much Pritchard’s shot-making that I like.
It’s the fact that he takes shots with confidence, showing little hesitation when opportunities to make plays for himself or others, presents itself.
That is what’s going to keep him in the rotation even after Kemba Walker returns. And while you can’t expect him to shoot the ball as well as he did against the Pacers on Sunday, it’s a given he’s going to play confidently which is not the norm for rookies taken near the end of the first round who more often than not are just hoping to stay on the active list.
OK, the first weekend of the NBA season has a tendency to produce teams that run in the lane of being fast-starters, or fraudulent fast-starters.
Right now there are four teams that have played more than one game and remain undefeated: Cleveland (3-0); Orlando (3-0); Indiana (3-0); and Atlanta (2-0).
Here you can vote on who is the best of the bunch: