3 Early Takeaways From the Boston Celtics Start to the Season

Boston+Celtics+Forward+Jayson+Tatum+prepares+to+take+a+free+throw+shot

Erik Drost via Creative Commons

Boston Celtics Forward Jayson Tatum prepares to take a free throw shot

Zachary LeBlanc, Writer

It’s been quite the start for the reigning Eastern Conference Champions. The Boston Celtics have shot out of the gate, picking up where they left off last season after a 3-1 start to the NBA season. Despite such a small sample size of games, it’s never too early to look at some early takeaways from the Celtics’ impressive start to the season.

Number 1. Jayson Tatum could find himself in the MVP conversation in April.

Jayson Tatum has been regarded as one of the NBA’s top talents for the past few years, however, Tatum has always seemed to up his level of play after the all-star break. Below are Jayson Tatum’s career stats at the start of the season in October and November, vs his stats after the all-star break

PRE ALL-STAR

October: 20.9PPG, 8.1RPG, 2.5APG

November: 18.2PPG, 6.3RPG, 2.3 Assist

POST-ALL-STAR

March: 22.3PPG, 6.1APG 3.7APG 

April: 24.5PPG, 7.4RPG 4.1APG

Although the MVP award is usually based on who can generate the most support later in the season, Tatum has previously failed to get himself into the conversation early in the year, usually leaving him off the voters ballots. Coming out of the all-star break, not only does Tatum’s average points per game increase, but his assist numbers make him a more complete offensive player. This season has been different for Tatum. He’s off to a historic start to the season scoring 130 points total through 4 games, shooting 56% from the field. 

When asked about the MVP conversation, Tatum calmly responded “I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. All I’m concerned about is getting back to the championship and getting over that hump.” Tatum may remain focused on getting back to the NBA finals, but there’s no doubt his stellar play and team success could land him in the MVP talks come April of 2023.

Number 2. The Celtics Offense Could Finish in the Top 5

The Boston Celtics calling card for years has been built on their defense. Even during the Brad Stevens and Doc Rivers days, the Celtics relied heavily on their defensive system. With Boston’s most impactful defender, Robert Williams, set to be out until the second half of the year, the Celtics will have to make up for the missing hole in the defense.

New interim Head coach Joe Mazzulla has had his eyes set on a new offensive play style for the Celtics. Mazzulla has stressed the importance of pushing the pace. Not only does pushing the ball down the court faster create more opportunities for transition baskets, but it also leads to mismatches and catches the defense off guard. 

2021-2022 Offensive Rating 114.4

2022-2023 Offensive Rating: 124.3

(NBA Offensive Rating is Calculated by a variety of stats to determine which team is the most effective and efficient offense in the NBA)

Boston’s +9.9 rating compared to last year stems from their quicker pace and has ranked them 1st overall in the NBA thus far. In their finals run last year, the Celtics’ offense would become stagnant at times due to the fact that they tried to hunt matchups in Jayson Tatum’s favor.

With the increased pace, these favorable matchups should come easier for Tatum by catching the defense off guard. This doesn’t only benefit Tatum. Point guards, like Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon have both done an excellent job finding open teammates up the court and have gotten the Celtics both open and free baskets.

Number 3. Despite Robert Williams’ Injury, The Celtics Current Big Man Rotation Can Hold Down the Fort. 

Robert Williams was a key player in Boston’s top-ranked defense last season. With Williams missing the first half of the season, many became concerned with how Boston would be able to fill the large void without him. 

Even former Celtic, 2008 NBA Champion and Defensive Player of the Year, Kevin Garnett left Boston out of his top 4 teams in the Eastern Conference because he was concerned with their lack of size and rim protection. With Williams out, plenty of minutes have been up for grabs and the Celtics have responded as a committee.

Noah Vonleh has emerged as the backup big and has been solid in his role. The former number 9 pick in the 2014 NBA draft played in China last season. Following the Celtics opening night win, Vonleh was questioned about his time playing professional basketball in China. “I feel like I’ve got a pretty good work ethic, but being out of there I was just wondering why and questioning certain things, but it just made me more motivated and made me work a lot harder. I ended up getting this opportunity here and just trying to make the most of it.”

Vonleh said his time in China made him hungrier for another opportunity in the NBA. Boston signed him to a training camp deal, and the Massachusetts native took advantage of the opportunity. Vonleh has been the first player off the bench for Boston this season and his stats might not be eye-popping, but head coach Joe Mazzulla said “He just does all of the little things for us. I think that’s where he can help us.” 

Blake Griffin has also seen some action for the Celtics. Griffin’s made the NBA all-star team 6 times and has 5 all NBA selections in his 13-year NBA career. Late in the third quarter in Boston’s matchup against Orlando on Saturday night, Griffin dove onto the court to grab a loose ball. The play energized the Celtics’ bench and is a representation of what Griffin brings to the table. Now in the latter end of his career, Griffin has made more of the “hustle plays” as he lead the NBA in charges drawn last season.

Other players such as Sam Hauser who is shooting excellently from 3-point range at 71.4% and the 7’2” big man Luke Kornet have seen an uptick in their minutes.

It’ll be near impossible for the Celtics to replicate Robert Williams production; however, their group effort off the bench could be just enough to keep the Celtics from missing Williams too much in their effort to once again return to the NBA finals.