The Current State of the Boston Celtics


The Celtics began the season on an absolute tear.

After losing their first two games of the year, the C’s went on a 16-game winning streak and won 22 of 24 games.

However, since that time period, the Celtics have gone just 3-3 and “dropped” to 25-7.

Although this team is still the top seed in the East and has the third-best record in the NBA, the Celtics have been inconsistent offensively all season long, not just in the last six games.

Now it is catching up to them.

Bench Scoring

Although the Celtics have the best defensive rating in the league, they rank just 19th in the league in scoring at 103.6 points per game, according to NBA stats.

It is particularly striking for a team to be 25-7 with an offensive ranking in the bottom half of the league. It shows how good the Celtics are on the defensive side of the court. 

So, what’s the problem? 

First, we have to discuss the bench.

Everyone is talking about the bench problems for this team, and it has been an issue all season. The Celtics typically perform very well in the first quarter but struggle in the second quarter.

The Celtics average 26.2 points in the first quarter, which is 16th in the league, but only score 23.9 points in the second quarter, which is good for 29th in the league, according to Team Rankings.

As many media members have noted, one major reason for this disparity is the lack of bench scoring.

The Celtics bench averages just 30.3 points per game, which is 23rd among NBA teams, according to Hoop Stats.

The end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter is when the second unit for teams typically play, and that is when the Celtics often lose their rhythm offensively.

This was especially apparent in the Celtics’ last two games against the Jazz and the Grizzlies. In both games, the Celtics got off to great starts in the first quarter but had terrible second quarters.

On Saturday night against the Grizzlies, the Celtics had a 31-12 lead after the first quarter. However, in the second quarter, the Grizzlies second unit changed the tempo of the game and were able to claw their way back.

The bench struggles make sense given the Celtics roster. Just take a look at their second unit options: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, Marcus Morris (hurt at the moment), Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader.

There is not one guy on that list that you can count on consistently to score. One could argue that Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier or Marcus Morris have been productive off the bench. But look at their numbers this season.

Morris, Rozier, and Smart are shooting 41, 38, and 32 percent from the floor respectively.

That is not good.

Morris is known as a guy who can consistently score, but he has not looked comfortable so far in a Celtics uniform. In fact, he looks like the one player who just does not have a role or fit in chemistry wise on this team.

He is the type of guy that, if you played pick-up basketball with him, he is going to get his shots up regardless of the players on the court. Even when he misses, he keeps shooting.

In addition, Rozier and Smart (rarely) have had some good games offensively, but not enough consistently to rely on either player.

However, because the Celtics do not have a lot of depth, they have had to rely on Rozier, Smart, and Morris to take a lot of shots in the second unit.

This is a problem and explains the Celtics' struggles to score.

Take a look at the shot attempts for Boston's players this season along with their corresponding shooting percentages from the field.

Kyrie Irving: 18.0 shots/game, 49 percent

Jaylen Brown: 11.4 shots/game, 47 percent

Al Horford: 10.6 shots/game, 54 percent

Marcus Morris: 10.3 shots/game, 41 percent

Marcus Smart: 9.3 shots/game, 32 percent

Jayson Tatum: 9.1 shots/game, 50 percent

Terry Rozier: 8.4 shots/game, 38 percent

Can you spot the outliers???

Morris, Smart, and Rozier.

The Celtics do not have a lot of bench talent, and someone has to take the shots in the second unit. In fact, I want Rozier to be aggressive and attack the hoop, and Morris needs to shoot if he is coming off the bench.

But with that said, the shot distribution on this team needs to change.

So, what can we do about this?

Brad Stevens 

Brad Stevens knows that bench scoring has been an issue for this team. To counteract this problem, Stevens has attempted to mix and match lineups. He has tried taking Tatum out early in the first quarter to play with the bench in the second quarter.

Stevens did this in the beginning of the season and he has done it lately. However, after Tatum had a terrible game against the Jazz, scoring seven points on 1-of-6 shooting, Brad went away from this strategy on Saturday night against the Grizzlies.

Against Memphis, Stevens tried playing Horford with the second unit. But Horford was not aggressive enough and did not make the scoring impact that Stevens needed with that group.

Brad has tried going with bigger lineups. He has gone with smaller lineups. Stevens has even attempted four-guard lineups with no true center. 

Although he is trying different lineups, Stevens still deserves criticism for allowing the current shot distribution for this team. There is no excuse for Marcus Smart taking more shots than Jason Tatum or shooting at about the same rate as Al Horford.

Message to Marcus Smart: Stop shooting so much.

Please.

Rajon Rondo was annoying to watch when he was with the Celtics. He often did not shoot enough and he would get "assist happy" during the games. Rondo would even avoid taking layups sometimes to rack up his assist stats. He is the first guy I ever watched who was a selfish passer.

In short, he was often infuriating to watch.

However, one thing you have to acknowledge about Rondo is that he recognized that he was not a great outside shooter and, therefore, did not shoot.

In Rondo’s nine-year career with the Celtics, he shot around 46 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Why was his field goal percentage at such a solid rate for a guy who was not a good shooter?

Because he only took high percentage shots.

Smart is shooting 32 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range. Unless the shot clock is running down or we need a desperate 3-pointer which Marcus somehow always makes, Smart needs to take a note out of Rondo’s book and stop shooting so much.

Smart is a better shooter than Rondo. But the numbers are the numbers and, at a certain point, we need to acknowledge that Smart should shoot higher-percentage looks.

He is actually very good in the post. Stay in the post, Marcus.

The frustrating thing about Smart is that he has a good-looking shot. I am not saying he can’t ever shoot. He has had some streaky games. In addition, his inability to shoot looks more mental than physical. This is clear when he makes the hard shots and misses wide open ones. When he thinks about it, they are not going through the net.

But whatever the reason for Smart’s lack of scoring success, it does not matter. He is simply a liability on the floor offensively.

It is the head coach’s job to make sure his players play the right way. Stevens and the Celtics players clearly do not care that Smart keeps shooting. In fact, they seem to encourage him to keep firing them up.

This is a mistake.

Al Horford 

If Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris take fewer shots, who will take the additional looks?

How about Al Horford.

Al Horford needs to shoot more. He just has to. Especially when other players like Tatum or Brown are struggling, he needs to step up. Horford and Irving are the superstars on this team, and they need Al to be an aggressive scorer every single game, not just from time to time. He is the most efficient player on the court and yet, he is in the middle of the pack in shot attempts per game on this team.

This is also on Brad Stevens. He needs to tell Al to be more aggressive.

Horford needs to change his mentality from a playmaker to a scorer. Obviously, he is a great player, and if you read my article on Horford, he is having a fantastic season. In addition, he should still make his teammates around him better.

But for this team to be great, Al needs to shoot more, just like Kyrie does. The Celtics don’t have Gordon Hayward, and they need Al to be the number two scorer to Irving every single game.

When Horford gets the ball in the post, his first thought should not be to kick it out to a shooter. It should be to go up strong.

To begin games, the Celtics often run their first play for Al Horford, just like Doc Rivers used to run the first play of the game for KG. The reason that Doc used to do this with Garnett was that it was a very high percentage look and they wanted to get KG going because Garnett often did not shoot enough.

The same can be said for Horford. You see it time and time again. Horford gets the ball in the post, he gets a man on his back, and instead of facing the basket and making an aggressive move, he often kicks it out to Rozier or Smart or some other guard who is shooting a lower percentage.

If Kyrie or Tatum or Brown are wide open and Horford is swarmed, kick it out. Otherwise, be aggressive, make a post move, and score.

Tatum & Brown

Tatum and Brown also need to be more aggressive. Both players have been inconsistent of late. One game Tatum looks great, the next he looks passive and out of the game mentally.

The same can be said for Brown.

Jaylen Brown has been looking more like a soft, Jeff Green-type player recently than the superstar I think he can and should be. He needs to shoot more and he needs to get back to that mentality of constantly attacking the rim.

Are you noticing a theme? There needs to be a mental shift on the offensive side of the ball for many of the players on this team. Some players are too aggressive, while others are not aggressive enough.

Basketball is not rocket science. You want the players on your team who shoot the highest percentage to shoot the most. You want the players who do not shoot as well to shoot less.

If that means mixing and matching lineups so certain players get more looks, go for it. If it means yelling at Horford every time he passes it under the hoop, then so be it. If it means changing the substitution patterns and creating plays to get Tatum or Horford or Brown more attempts with the second unit, then do it.

But it’s Brad’s job as head coach to make sure that, every possession, the right guys are taking the right shots.

Obviously, it’s all within the flow of the offense and there should still be “Celtics basketball.” The Celtics play at their best when they have excellent ball movement. But right now, the best shooters on the team should not be taking the same amount of shots as the worst shooters.

The Celtics are still 25-7. They are just in a tough stretch, which happens in the NBA. It is important not to overreact to any specific games by players or the team as a whole.

The C’s will most likely go on a big run again, and we will probably see another Marcus Smart shooting performance where he magically makes six in a row.

But although the Celtics are the top team in the East, they have some offensive problems that need to be fixed if they want any shot at competing against LeBron and the Cavs in the playoffs.

And the next time you see Al Horford pass up a dunk to kick it out for a Marcus Smart missed 3-pointer, know that I will be yelling at the television.

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