In between the hours and hours I spend over the course of my day watching Celts highlights and killing time day dreaming of how awesome it's going to be once they are finally back in our lives, there are two sides to every coin. While it's certainly more fun to just focus on the positives and think of reasons why the Celts could be poised for a deep playoff run, there are legit concerns that an unbiased blogger like myself cannot ignore. For all we know there are things we could see happen that result in an early playoff exit, which even with this weird time and weird return in Orlando would still be a massive underachievement. You thought last year was bad? If this team gets bounced early in the first round of in 5 games again in the second round, it's what I would call a disaster scenario. When you've had the type of season we've seen and are top 5 in both offense and defense loaded with young talent, you should make a run.
But if we're going to be honest about this team, they are not perfect. There are things that could potentially be a problem once things are back and I felt like talking about what keeps me up at night on a daily basis. This is just a list of 5 because I know nobody actually likes to read, so these are the most important to me.
1. How they respond to Kemba being trapped?
Let's just assume Kemba is at 100% health (which is an entirely separate concern). I'm fairly confident that if there's one thing you can expect it's that opposing defenses are going to trap Kemba pretty frequently as soon as he crosses mid court. It's what defenses did with Isaiah all the damn time during their early playoff runs. Think of a team like PHI who has their fair share of long perimeter defenders. The best way to stall this offense is to take the ball out of Kemba's hands early and force other people to make quick decisions. Now we've seen instances where Kemba is a bit turnover prone when defenses do this, but it also presents a couple more challenges
- Forces Jaylen/Tatum/Hayward to be playmakers. This isn't as much of an issue since Hayward is an elite playmaker, but Jaylen and Tatum are still pretty raw when it comes to these situations. Better for sure, but it's not something I would consider a true strength just yet.
- Let's say they break the trap and swing the ball quickly for an open catch and shoot opportunity. Well here are the catch & shoot numbers of some guys on the roster
Jaylen Brown: 42/41%
Jayson Tatum: 39/38%
Kemba Walker: 41/41%
Marcus Smart: 32/31%
Gordon Hayward: 40/43%
I'll be interested to see in an effort to prevent this type of defense we see someone like Gordon play a lot more point guard while the starting unit is out there. For one I trust his playmaking and decision making, and that also allows Kemba to play more off ball where he's one of the best catch and shoot outside shooters on the team.
2. How will they handle the paint?
In one of the bigger surprises of this entire season is how well the Celts have defended the paint. Did you know they are 3rd in the NBA in opponents points in the paint? Only MIL and TOR are better. This is interesting when it comes to both ends. On the defensive end, are they going to be able to handle defending potential bigs like Embiid/Horford and then Ibaka/Gasol and if they make it that far, the MIL bigs.
The Bucks have the 4th most points in the paint on the offensive end, with TOR coming in at 18th and PHI 19th. But in a playoff series, especially after the hiatus, it's not crazy to think that post offense is going to be crucial. We know there are certain types of bigs that Daniel Theis struggles with, so how will their depth of Robert Williams and Kanter hold up? Timelord is the big question, if he can hold his own for short stints I think that helps, but my guess is we'll see a lot of perfectly timed double teams from the weakside in an effort to force turnovers
On the offensive side, this team could very well be matched up with teams that own the paint. TOR and MIL are the best in the business and I dunno if you've noticed but between Kemba/Jaylen/Tatum, slashing and attacking the rim is a big part of this team's offense. This is a team that LOVES missing layups, so yeah I'd say how they perform at the rim and in the paint is going to be pretty crucial to their success.
3. What version of Hayward will we get?
There have been stretches of this season where Hayward has looked like pre-injury Hayward and it makes this team virtually unstoppable. There are also stretches where he just goes to the corner and stands there, not moving without the ball, not engaged, more like a very expensive decoy. When Hayward is aggressive and is searching for his shot, he makes the starting unit almost impossible to defend. But when he's passive and is more reactionary, he does more harm than good. Whether it's not trusting his foot, or maybe being hurt, the version of Hayward that we get is going to be really important.
If it's someone like Oct/Nov Hayward, well not we're cooking. If it's someone like December Hayward well that's a different story.
4. Will they finally get to the FT line?
If there is one universal achilles heel for this team, it's the fact that they never get to the line. Despite all that slashing by their wings and guards, their FT attempt rate is mostly dogshit. They went into the break 18th in the league, but if you trim that down to teams currently in the top 8 of each conference, only PHI/MEM/DEN/IND are worse. Part of that I feel like is injury related and someone like Embiid/Simmons missing so much time, but for this team it's for sure an issue.
This matter because in the playoffs, everything slows down. You need to be able to get to the FT line for free points since in theory defenses should be more stingy since everyone will be actually trying. In their deep playoff run in 2017-2018 they finished 5th in FTA during the playoffs. Last year that dipped to 8th.
The good news is both Tatum/Jaylen/Hayward saw their FTr improve this year compared to last. The big question is what will happen with Hayward who saw his FTr drop from 29% to only 18% this year. That's why I go back to which version of Hayward we get. If he is aggressive and is able to actually get to the line, that's going to be very valuable.
5. Will they be able to shoot?
Given the talent on this roster you never really think that shooting will be all that big of a deal right? Wrong. It's a very big deal. As someone who watches every single second of this team play, I can admit that their inconsistency shooting the basketball is an issue. This is a team that somehow has a top 5 offense despite being 18th in FG% and 13th in 3P%. How many times have we seen this team start 2-18 or something terrible like that? Or get into the second quarter and not make a single basket for the first 7 minutes of the quarter? Too often.
As a team, on what NBA.com considers "open" looks, the Celts shoot 34.5% on threes which is 15th in the league. We've seen Kemba go extremely cold and not be able to buy a bucket. We all live with the Marcus Smart experience and how up and down his shooting can be. If there isn't a part of you that isn't even slightly concerned about how this team will shoot in a playoff series you're just in denial. You don't really know what you're going to get from night to night other than the fact that there will 100% be a stretch of play that makes you want to gouge your eyes out.
Maybe I'm the only person on the planet who thinks about this stuff with games still 52 days away, but this is the only way I know how to live. It's both a blessing and a curse. I think part of it is some of the hype this team is starting to get as we approach July, but I can't sit here and pretend that this isn't a team with flaws that could potentially be their downfall. My hope is that if I speak out them and put that shit out into the universe, somehow the team will see them and make sure they are addressed as they ramp back up. Probably not, but it's worth a shot.