Skip to main content

A Case for the Small Ball Celtics


"Small ball" has been around for awhile, popularized by none other than former Celtic Don Nelson. Traditionally, this style of play has been associated with a plethora of threes, which is not a strength of this Celtics squad. Looking at the numbers, however, it seems that playing small ball could be a source of life for an offense that sputtered in it's two preseason games.

For the fore-knee-able future (looking at you, Kemba), Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum are going to be the offensive focal points for your 20-21 C's. Nominally, Smart will play the 1 or 2, Brown the 2 or 3, and Tatum the 3 or 4. Across the board, all 3 of these players have a healthier offensive contribution when moved up one digit position-wise - Smart at the 2, Brown at the 3, and Tatum at the 4. First, let's look at Smart 

Marcus Smart Position Splits
ASTD % = Percentage of makes that were assisted upon
% Freq at Rim = Percentage of shots taken at rim
% Freq from 3 = Percentage of shots taken from 3
% Fouled = Percentage of shots that drew a foul

Looking at the numbers, it's elementary where I want Marcus to play. When running the 2 spot, he's finishing plays rather than creating them, with over half his buckets coming off assists. Likewise, his distribution is a little better, with a slight uptick in shots at the rim and fewer 3 point attempts. And finally, he's drawing more shooting fouls, which are the easiest points in basketball. A Marcus Smart who is attacking closeouts and shooting catch and shoot threes - rather than isolating or trying to create for others - is the best version of Smart, and what we see more of when he plays the shooting guard spot. 

Next, Brown

Again, these numbers show a healthier offensive contribution. Brown is finishing more off assists, and increasing his free throw attempts. While the distribution of his attempts does not change, it is important to note that his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) goes up, from 55.1% to 56.3%, when moving down a position. So, while JB is taking similar shots, he's much more efficient, likely due to easier catch and shoot/drive opportunities with the smaller lineup. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jayson Tatum

These are undoubtedly the most astonishing splits amongst the group. Look at the assisted percentage - that is like going from prime, post-Shaq, do-it-myself Kobe (04-05, 34%) to 34 year old Paul Pierce (11-12, 57%) during Rajon Rondo's All-NBA season, where Rondo averaged nearly 12 APG. I don't know how it's possible to oscillate this far, but here we are. Further down the line, Tatum's numbers look improved as well. More shots at the rim, less threes, and more free throws are music to frustrated fans' ears, and Tatum gives us exactly that from the 4 spot. 

As has been proven time and again, isolation is not a key to success at the NBA level. No matter your skill level, team basketball will always conquer. Even the "Hampton Five" Warriors, who had one of the greatest accumulations of talent the league has ever seen, were in the bottom half of isolation frequency during their last title run (per These numbers show that the potential of the small ball C's to generate more assists and shots at the basket - instead of the senseless threes we've grown accustomed to - should be taken advantage of. Ainge has spent a lot of resources on point guards, whether it be Kemba and Teague in free agency or Pritchard and Waters in the draft, and we should be utilizing those assets to turbocharge our best players, especially during Walker's absence.

*All stats from unless otherwise noted*


Popular posts from this blog

Sign the Petition! Let's honor Tommy Heinsohn

  No longtime Celtics fan can watch games this year without a somewhat heavy heart. For the last 50 plus years, we have been blessed as a franchise to have Tommy Heinsohn, Mr. Celtic himself, as a part of the organization. Whether it be as a player, coach, or commentator, Tommy has been an instrumental figure for the green, and his presence is missed on every broadcast. Nobody embodied what it meant to be a Celtic more than Tommy, and I know I miss his energy and ferocity every time Scal claims the refs "made the right call" against the Cs. While Tommy obviously belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Celtics, he is often overlooked in his place among the greats of NBA history. Looking back upon his life, one would be hard pressed to find someone with a bigger impact on NBA basketball than Mr. Celtic. For those who are unfamiliar, let's do a quick review. Tommy is one of 2 people to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach (the other being the indomitable Len

We may be glad Danny Ainge rolled the dice on Theis

Frankly, I was not sure if Danny Ainge would ink Daniel Theis to a new deal, but it looks like a good move. Theis is signed for two years at a total of $10 million, with the second year non-guaranteed. With the departure of big men Al Horford and Aron Baynes, rolling the dice on Theis could work very well. In his first season in Boston, Daniel just kept improving. For the pre-All-Star stretch, he averaged 14.5 minutes/Game, 5.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG while shooting 52% on field goals and 30% on treys. Post-All-Star his minutes increased to 18.4 per game, his points to 7.8/game and his boards to 5.3/game. And he shot 68% on field goals and 40% on 3-pointers. Then a meniscus tear shut him down. His minutes and production took a hit last season, in part most likely due to lagging recovery from the injury. Right now he is playing on German's entry in the FIBA World Cup. In a game versus The Czech Rebublic, he scored 17 points, grabbed six rebounds, passed off for three assists and blocked tw

What Jeff Teague can bring to the Celtics offense

Bringing in Jeff Teague as some guard depth this year could end up being a monumental move for this year's Celtics team. Teague is a well respected veteran in the league, and having gone to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 with the Atlanta Hawks, knows what it takes to win tough games. Here's a brief look at why I think Jeff will be a great fit with the C's Every Celtics fan loves Marcus Smart , due to everything he brings to the table, from the defensive intensity to scoring outbursts. For all the good things he does, Marcus excels off ball, and can have his effectiveness diminished when he is forced to be a primary ball handler. He is often pigeon-holed into that role with the second unit (or when Kemba is out), and Teague's addition will hopefully allow him to play more off-ball and maximize his abilities.  At the deadline last year, Teague was traded to the Atlanta Hawks to play alongside Trae Young. His usage rate and effectiveness dipped considerably, as he