The Celtics officially have completed 1/8th of their abbreviated regular season and find themselves just 1.5 games behind the top spot in the NBA. Let's take a closer look at their play so far to find some surprising (both good and bad) developments during the 2020-21 campaign.
39.4 percent 3-point shooting (4th in NBA): This was a clear point of emphasis in some roster moves entering this season, particularly with the drafting of Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard along with the signing of a capable 3-point shooter point guard in Jeff Teague. However, none of those players (besides Teague) have factored into Boston’s red-hot shooting start. Nesmith is only hitting 22 percent of his 3s in very limited minutes while Pritchard is slightly below average so far from deep (34.8 percent) over his first nine games. Daniel Theis (20 percent) has had a nightmare start from distance as well, which begs the question: How exactly are the C’s shooting so well as a team?
Answer: Six different Celtics are shooting above 40 percent from 3-point range nine games into the regular season. Some of those names are not surprises (Tatum, Brown), but other bench players are taking great advantage of their open looks from the perimeter. Semi Ojeleye (42.9 percent) and Grant Williams (41.2 percent) are consistently knocking in a 3 every game, as is the red-hot Teague (58.3 percent) before his ankle injury. A limited sample size for all those reserves is a good indication those numbers will be trending down in the weeks to come.
However, Boston’s high-volume shooters have been sustaining a high percentage despite a sizable output. Marcus Smart (40.5 percent), Jaylen Brown (41.2 percent) and Jayson Tatum (45.1 percent) are all attempting at least five 3s a game, with Tatum taking nearly 40 percent of his shot attempts (7.9) from beyond the arc. As a team, the C’s aren’t taking nearly as many 3s (10 percent decrease compared to last year) but they are clearly taking better ones early based on these percentages, which has helped translate into a top-10 offense.
Celtics rank first in offensive rebounding rate: The days of Doc Rivers abandoning the offensive glass in order to maximize transition defense are long gone. Instead, Brad Stevens and his coaching staff are committing to an aggressive mentality for second chance opportunities during the team’s 6-3 start. Boston is grabbing an offensive rebound on one of every four misses so far, leaning heavily on the terrific work of Tristan Thompson (4.9 offensive rebounds/36 minutes) and Rob Williams (5.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes) to create extra looks. Those guys have been two of the best in the league in this area for a couple of years now and both are showing no signs of slowing down on that front.
However, it’s not just the trees who are chipping in on the glass. Bigger forwards like Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye have been extremely aggressive crashing from the corners in order to secure offensive rebounds when they are left open by their man. Before his absence this past week, Javonte Green was a factor on the offensive glass as well thanks to his springy athleticism that allows him to corral long rebounds as well. For a team that doesn’t have as many scoring weapons as usual to begin this season, this has been a good strategy to try to produce some easy points around the rim.
Jaylen Brown has a 16.6 percent assist rate: Passing had been the clear weak spot in Jaylen Brown’s game during the