Versatility is the Celtics’ best weapon

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As NBC Boston’s Brian Scalabrine mentioned on a current broadcast, “the Boston Celtics are embarrassing the NBA.”

They’ve received 5 video games in a row in dominating trend, beating their opponents by a mean of 21.6 factors an evening. Three of these squads are playoff groups, too – the Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz. That is greater than only a current fad, although. Boston has been dominating the NBA because the begin of the brand new yr.

The Celtics’ protection has been essentially the most talked about cause behind their in-season turnaround, nevertheless it goes past that. Sure, their protection is elite, nevertheless it’s their versatility that makes this group so particular. And that versatility extends to each side of the ground.

Boston’s protection has held opponents to 100.7 factors per recreation because the begin of 2022, 2.5 factors higher than the second-best mark within the league. There are loads of elements that go into this – Robert Williams’ function as a free security, Marcus Good’s point-of-attack-defense, Al Horford as a secondary shot-blocker – however the Celtics’ general versatility is what makes their defensive engine purr.

Ime Udoka, for essentially the most half, runs a seven-man rotation consisting of Good, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Horford, Robert Williams, Derrick White, and Grant Williams. Payton Pritchard and Daniel Theis are working their method into the rotation on a extra constant foundation, too.

He was criticized for this early on within the season, however now after giving it a while, it’s clear that this was the plan all alongside. Boston runs a lineup the place each single participant is totally able to guarding (*virtually) each place.

(*The “virtually” is reserved for Pritchard, who most likely shouldn’t be guarding large males within the publish.)

Basketball Index places this versatility into statistical type with a stat that measures how usually sure gamers guard every place on the court docket. They then take these percentages and boil them down into one quantity that represents how versatile of a defender every participant is – positional versatility. Right here’s how Boston’s prime seven guys rating:

  • Grant Williams – 87.5
  • Jayson Tatum – 84.4
  • Jaylen Brown 83.6
  • Marcus Good – 79.3
  • Derrick White – 75.3
  • Robert Williams – 73.1
  • Al Horford – 69.8

To place these numbers into perspective, Mikal Bridges scores a 78.8, Draymond Inexperienced scores a 75.5, Giannis Antetokounmpo scores a 69.4, and Bam Adebayo scores a 68.0 this season.

Now, Boston’s numbers are a bit inflated due to the model of protection they play, as Udoka has them swap virtually every little thing. However the truth that the Celtics have the most effective protection within the league utilizing a system that requires everybody to protect each different place reveals how gifted the cogs within the machine are.

Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics

Picture by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Pictures

Whereas Boston’s defensive versatility stands out essentially the most due to how dominant their protection has been, their offensive versatility has been spectacular as effectively. Not solely can every participant within the lineup defend all 5 positions, however they will additionally do some little bit of every little thing on the offensive facet of the ground.

The Celtics had been closely criticized for his or her lackluster offense firstly of the season, however because the begin of 2022, they’ve a top-five offense within the NBA (116.7 ORtg). This consists of the fourth-best discipline objective share (48.0 p.c) and the fifth-best three-point share (36.9 p.c). They’re even a top-ten group in the case of assists (25.8).

Clearly, Tatum is the crux of the offense. His playmaking enhancements have labored wonders for the Celtics. However everyone round him has begun making enhancements in that regard as effectively.

Good and White are the Celtics’ main and secondary ball-handlers, however each Horford and Robert Williams are greater than snug passing out of the publish as effectively. Even Grant Williams has made enhancements driving in opposition to closeouts and making the proper reads.

As talked about, the Celtics rank ninth in assists (25.8) because the begin of the brand new yr, in addition to first in secondary assists (4.4) and ninth in help factors created (65.8). All people of their seven-man lineup is totally able to making the proper learn, giving opposing groups complications when attempting to protect them. In the event that they put an excessive amount of stress on any participant, they’re totally able to passing out and discovering the open man.

This versatility extends to past the three-point line, too. Outdoors of Robert Williams, everyone in Boston’s rotation can shoot it from deep. White has clearly struggled as of late, however he’s greater than snug letting it fly, and earlier than this season, he was a 35.7 p.c shooter for his profession.

Outdoors of White, Horford has been scorching, Grant Williams is likely one of the most effective shooters within the NBA, and Good has shot 38.8 p.c because the begin of 2022. Pritchard’s shot can be beginning to come round. He’s 19-of-30 (63.3 p.c) from deep in his final 5 video games. For a group that was knocked for his or her lack of shooters firstly of the season, they’ve been knock down shooters because the new yr.

Boston’s core rotation is filled with gamers who’re greater than able to making the proper learn or pulling up from three themselves. That’s with out even mentioning the everlasting lob risk that’s Robert Williams. There’s no weak hyperlink on the offensive facet of the ball, a luxurious that numerous contending groups should not have.

The flexibility that the Celtics possess on each side of the ball is nightmare gas for opponents. They’ve the defensive expertise to change every little thing, denying opposing gamers any area to work, and the offensive expertise to work across the NBA’s prime defenses, passing out of double groups and spacing the ground to perfection.

With solely 9 video games left within the common season, the Celtics have lastly come into their very own. Their versatility on protection is main the cost, and their versatility on offense is quietly tearing via defenses. That’s been the important thing to their success.

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