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One Thing Every Celtic Needs To Improve On Over The Stretch Run Of The Season

Alright so we have a ton of time to kill before we see our beloved Celtics play in a competitive basketball game. Friday may as well be 30 years from now. Even though we knew this break was coming, waking up today and knowing we weren't even close to seeing this team play ruined my morning. But what this time off has done is allow us to take a step back and look where this team is. On the surface things are pretty good and a scenario in which every single Celtics fan would have taken if you told them this would happen back in October. A 38-16 record, trail a top 2 seed by 1.5 games, won 11 of their last 13 with a majority of them against playoff teams, the 5th best offense, 3rd best defense, 3rd best net rating, 3rd best point differential, and four players playing at an All Star caliber level. Decent "first half" of the season I think we can all agree there/

But they are far from perfect. There are still flaws to this team that could ultimately do them in come the playoffs. There are still things that every player on the roster can do to improve over the second half of the season when given the opportunity. So given all this new time I now have, I went and found something for every player on the roster that I would love to see them improve over this stretch run, because it's things that will only help them come Spring. Let's get into it.

Jayson Tatum

We may as well start with their best player. That's right I said best player. Right now Jayson Tatum is playing the best basketball of his career. Everything seems to be clicking as he lights up even the best of the best in the entire league. However with that increased usage comes the importance that Jayson take care of then basketball. Just look at this current stretch, where Tatum's usage has jumped to 29.2% (highest on the team). He's also seen his TO% jump to 26.6%. That's up from his 24.1% on the season. That might seem like a lot, but if Tatum is going to be touching the ball even more at the end of games, then those extra TOs could come back to haunt him. 

This is even more important once we get to the playoffs, where not only does team defense go up a level, but opposing teams are most likely going to put their best defender on Tatum. How he is able to perform in those big moments is going to determine this team's season. Careless turnovers have to be limited. 

Kemba Walker

On the whole, Kemba's Celtics tenure has been even better than expected. Every area that we all hoped he would help in he has, this team's chemistry is the best we've seen in years, and he's producing at a level similar to what we got from Kyrie/Isaiah. If there was one thing I could point to for Kemba to improve over the second half, it's getting off to better starts. You wouldn't tell just by looking at his season averages, but Kemba really struggles in the first half of games, especially first quarters.

In first half's this season, Kemba is shooting 41.5/34%. We can't all agree that Tatum's efficiency is sneaky an issue and ignore that his first half splits are actually better than Kemba's. In first quarters Kemba's numbers are 40.7/35.6%. Too often are we seeing Kemba get off to slow starts against really good teams and it's happened enough where I'm not just going to dismiss it. Even a slight improvement in his efficiency is going to take a load of pressure off the rest of the starting five to start these games, the two Jays specifically. 

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen, much like Jayson, has taken a leap this season in a wide variety of areas. But you know what hasn't been as good that we really aren't talking all that much about? Jaylen's defense. He has his moments on that end, but on the whole over the first half of the year I would say it's been more a step back than a step forward. Compare his defense to the leap Tatum has taken. There's a difference you can clearly see. 

He's still biting on too many shot fakes. There are times where he struggles defending the perimeter which used to be his calling card. There are times he falls asleep on defense or the effort isn't always there. It's not a huge problem, but it's an area that could use some fine tuning before the playoffs get here.

Gordon Hayward

I had two for Hayward that I couldn't decide between. Part of me wanted to do his FT attempt rate, because that shit is way under what it was even last year and is the worst it's ever been in his career. That's the final step for him being Utah Hayward. The numbers and efficiency are there, but how he's getting to then line hasn't fully come back.

But when I think of Hayward's importance to this team down the stretch, there is an area that's more important for him to improve. His clutch shooting. 

So far on the season, Gordon Hayward is shooting just 35/50% in clutch situations and only has a 108 Ortg. The three point shooting is great, but most likely not sustainable. If Brad's rotations shorten in the playoffs, and we get a heavy dose of the Kemba/Jaylen/Jayson/Tatum/Theis lineup, Hayward is actually third of that group in clutch time FGA. When you swap Theis for Smart for the "Best 5" lineup, he moves slightly behind Smart. In a playoff series, I would think we want Hayward to be getting those shots.

So the fact that he's struggled with his clutch shooting is a bit concerning, mostly because Hayward is the X factor. Take Tatum for example, he's shooting 53/42% in the clutch, it's why he's the #1 clutch option. What will take this team up a level is if Hayward can be the #2 in that spot, over Kemba (37/42%). The way Hayward can get to the midrange and how good this offense looks when they play through him, that's the ace up the sleeve Brad has in a playoff series as long as Hayward's shooting comes through.

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Daniel Theis

Part of this may not be Theis' fault, but the dude has to figure out a way to defend without fouling. He leads the team in fouls per game at 3.4, that's crept up to 3.7 in 2020 and he is too important to the flexibility of this lineup to be in foul trouble. The Celts aren't exactly loaded with depth either so Theis' ability to stay on the floor is pretty crucial.

When your backup big is really only playable in certain matchups and your other backup big has a fucked up hip and is a huge question mark, Theis picking up cheap fouls here and there has to stop. He does get a tough whistle so it's not all his fault, but he has to quit the fouling.

Marcus Smart

We have all accepted the reality that we are on the Marcus Smart rollercoaster for life. You can't have the good without the bad and for every terrible three he takes he comes up with some game saving play or three and it's just how things will always be. But for Smart to make a real impact in the playoffs it's pretty clear where he needs to improve. His spot up shooting.

Think of the lineups we're going to see in the playoffs. Chances are Smart is going to be off ball a whole lot more an on ball. Especially when he plays in the "Best Five" lineup. Even outside of that Brad is going to stagger his playmakers so there is a primary ball handler on the floor at all times. SO far this season Smart gets a spot up shot on 28.5% of his possessions. He's averaging 0.85 per spot up possessions and is shooting just 29.8% on those type of shots. That's good for the 28th percentile in the entire league. In catch and shoot situations he's averaging 33/32%. 

We know Smart is never going to stop taking them, but anticipating how he'll be used offensively in a playoff series, he has to figure out his spot up/catch and shoot efficiency.

Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter has been great in his role so far this season. He comes in, gets a shit ton of offensive rebounds, provides some consistent post offense for the second unit, and even can have his moments defensively. There's just one problem that everyone with a brain knows about. The easiest way to play Kanter off the floor is to run P&R. It's his kryptonite. He can't defend it not matter what he tries. He gets into drop coverage and competent guards eat him alive. It's hard to find a stat that directly shows that, but I can tell you that Kanter allows 42.4% in the midrange and 38.3% in the paint (non restricted).

What I anticipate we're going to see is going to be very similar to what we saw during the Kelly Olynyk days. During Kanter minutes we are either going to see 

A) a high screen switch and clearout, requiring Kanter to cover a much quicker player in space

B) P&R where the guard keeps it and has any floater he wants 

So I need Kanter to figure his P&R defense out over these next handful of games. This team can't afford for Kanter to not be playable, but if he can't defend then there's no way Brad plays him. He'll go Grant.

Semi Ojeleye

On the season Semi has taken 129 FGA. Of those, 80 of them have been threes which is he making at a 39% clip. So what do I want to see improve? I want Semi to be able to recognize the moment and realize he doesn't have to shoot a three every time he touches it. How about instead maybe using your athleticism and getting to the line more? His FT attempt rate has dropped from 24% to 20% while his 3PAr has jumped from 56% to 62%. For a guy shooting 88% from the line this season, go to it more! 

Brad Wanamaker

Whether you like it or not, Brad Wanamaker is going to have a real role over the stretch run of this season. His role is pretty important given this team's bench scoring need, which is why there is one area of his game we need to see go up a level.

When he's in the game there's one thing Wanamaker loves to do, which is drive the basketball. It's great because when he gets fouled he's an automatic two from the line but when he doesn't get fouled, it's a bit of a disaster. His 37% shooting on drives is the third worst of any regular rotation player. Wanamaker doesn't really pass the ball once he makes the decision to drive, so the fact that he misses a whole lot sure isn't great. 

Grant Williams

Earlier in the season this 100% would have been Grant improving his outside shot, but he's basically a 40% shooter since his like 0-23 start so I have no issues there. When it comes to Grant I'd love to see him be better on the boards. We already get the intangible plays, we already get the three point shooting, but if Grant is going to be the only big man on then floor at times, he has to be better on the glass. Just a REB% of 8% that's far and away the worst of any rotation big, and it's especially apparent on the defensive glass. Grant only has a DREB% of 10% which is tough, especially since he usually plays in smaller lineups.

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Javonte Green

So per NBA.com tracking data, Javonte Green doesn't have any cutting statistics. That feels wrong but that's what the data shows. We haven't really seen him master the art of cutting without the ball. Most of his plays come with getting the ball and then driving, so I would like to see him actually convert some cutting plays. Especially if teams are going to go zone against the Celtics, that should be prime opportunity for Javonte to move without the ball and find weaknesses in the defense so he can get the ball and dunk on someone's head.

Romeo Langford

At this point anything Romeo gives you is found money, and now that he's started to get some actual minutes lately, if you look at what he's done so far in 2020 it gives you an idea of what type of player he may one day turn into. Defensively he already looks like he belongs in the NBA, and for all the questions about his shot, Romeo is shooting 57% in 2020. 

The goal for him in my opinion would just be continuing to work on his outside shot. We saw him hit some big fourth quarter threes before the break, and at this moment that's what his role is probably going to be. If this team is ever in a situation where Romeo is on the floor, he's going to have to be able to catch/shoot and knock down open looks. His 3P% in 2020 is at 33% which is "meh" and his spot up shooting this year is at 28.6/28.6% which ranks in the 19th percentile. Not great.

Robert Williams

Just play. That's it. I don't care how it looks, I don't care if there are struggles, just get on the floor and play. He does that, he'll be in a good spot for the Spring. My expectations are low, come in, protect the rim, move the ball, and catch lobs. He can do it, but Williams has to be on the court, which has been his biggest issue.

Carsen Edwards

This is pretty easy right? Whenever Carsen gets his opportunity, he has got to find that shooting stroke. His 32/30% are some of the worst percentages on the team, and in theory he was supposed to be the bench spark plug that Ainge could go to when he needed some instant offense. So far this season, it's been the exact opposite. It's why you see him getting DNP-CDs pretty much every night. That shot is in there somewhere, we just need to bring it out. 

Vincent Poirier

Everything? I dunno I don't really have a problem with Vinnie Sex Pants. He is what he is as the 15th man, it's been rough at times for him, but at the same time I feel like he plays a huge role in the team chemistry so it's a wash. I guess I would say in his limited opportunities, just look like an NBA player. Feels like a good start.

The second half of the year is going to be brutal. The Celts finish the season with the 12th hardest schedule, right behind TOR. Teams like MIA/PHI have some of the easiest closing schedules. The Celts are going to have to go up a level to finish in the position we all want, and if everyone addresses the fixes in this blog I see no reason why it can't happen.