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Preseason overreaction to the Celtics offense


The good news? The Celtics are back. After a long 2 and a half months with the bitter taste of an Eastern Conference Finals loss, we finally were able to watch some Celtics basketball last night. I'll never complain about that

The bad news? It's just the preseason. After the most unprecedented season in NBA history, the 20-21 season promises to be strange as well. Some teams haven't played a competitive game in over 9 months, while the Lakers and Heat finished play about 2 months ago. Also, a shortened training camp for everyone never helps, especially rookies trying to find their footing in the league. The beginning of this season is going to be a roller coaster for every team, not just the Celtics.

Regardless, let's take a look at some numbers from the C's game against Philly last night. Yes, this is an incredibly small sample size, and yes, it's still the preseason, so everything here should be taken with a pound of salt, but let's work with what we have.

The Value of Paint Touches

The Achilles' heel for this Celtics team is the wing 3 point shot. Despite the MVPs and scoring titles, James Harden's step-back game has yet to get Houston to the Finals, proving once again that ball movement and team offense are key to championship teams. During the 19-20 regular season, Boston scored 0.96 Points per Isolation possession, tied for 3rd best in the league (per In the playoffs, however, that rate plummeted to 0.66, which would have been dead last during the regular season. Isolation is a death sentence for this team, especially against tough, set defenses in the playoffs. 

With Hayward gone and Kemba injured, Brown and Tatum are going to be the focal point of the offense both now and long term. For this team to succeed at the highest levels, both of them must drastically improve their ability to facilitate for their teammates. Perhaps the easiest way for them to do so is to emphasize getting to the paint, where their gravity as scorers will warp the defense and open up opportunities for others.

Whether it be post ups, pick and rolls, cuts, or isolations, getting our two primary scorers into the paint will be a recipe for success. With this in mind, I went back and looked at the success of each of their paint touches. Tatum got the ball in the paint 10 times last night, resulting in 12 points, for an average of 1.2 points per paint touch. 

Similarly, Brown got the ball in the paint 8 times resulting in 7 points (should have been 9 if JB doesn't try to make SportsCenter with a dunk), for an average of 0.875 points per paint touch. Anything above 1 point per possession is ideal - Kemba scored 1.04 points per pick and roll possession last year (per - so these numbers are encouraging for the C's. Again, this is the first preseason game after a shortened offseason, so don't put too much stock into the numbers yet. It will be something to keep an eye on going forward, however, especially in the early parts of the season.

A Team in Transition?

Transition offense is by far the easiest way to score points, as any coach or statistic will tell you. It is simply easier to score before the defense can get set. The Celtics are an excellent defensive team, which affords them a good amount of transition chances. One thing I liked about last night's game was their willingness to push the pace off of defensive rebounds - 43.3% of defensive rebounds led to a transition play last night, compared to 27.9% during the regular season last year,, and only 18.3% in the playoffs (per Although it's only the first preseason game, I'm encouraged by the pace the C's played with, as it should bode well for their offense throughout the season. In such a strange year with so little time for preparation and practice, the more chances for an easy transition bucket, the better. 

Odds and Ends

A few other random notes from the game (check out Tom's 10 takeaways here).

  • The competition for wing minutes should be interesting to watch. Without Hayward, there's space to fill on the wing
    • Semi Ojeleye (somehow still only 26) looked decent last night. Always competes, and made good decisions with the basketball, which has been his downfall in the past. If he can consistently shoot the 3, he'd be a good fit
    • Javonte Green got the start, and provided his usual athletic chaos. I think there's a place for him on the roster, but I'm not sure if he brings enough on the offensive end.
    • Aaron Nesmith looked solid in his first real action in over a year. He played with reckless abandon, crashing boards and defending viciously, which was good to see after a foot injury cut short his college career. He didn't shoot too well, but his next shot mentality should do him well
    • I think Romeo Langford is the wildcard here. Hasn't been able to stay on the court, but the coaching staff raves about him. Hopefully can get and stay healthy this year
  • Grant Williams' playmaking chops are severely underrated. He made some nifty plays last night, including this keep on a faked dribble handoff

    and an unbelievable one handed kick out to Payton Pritchard in the 4th quarter. I'd love to see Grant have the ball in his hands as much as possible. Great playmaking big men can unlock all sorts of things for an offense - look at Jokic in Denver, or Draymond Green in Golden State.



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