Yesterday Was About The Celtics Finally Picking A Style And Then Finding Ways To Maximize It

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Yesterday was a little nuts. We went from people complaining days ahead of the deadline that the Celt wouldn't do anything, Wyc should sell, blah blah blah to the exact opposite. Same old stuff we usually hear every deadline. We woke up today with Brad making three separate trades, moving a total of 7 players on his roster. That's basically half. Not exactly doing nothing.

A lot of the talk immediately after was what the plan was. Did this make them better? What was Brad thinking? Those are all valid questions that anyone would ask after the type of movement we saw. After the initial rush wore off yesterday, I sat my ass down and I really thought about it. I read the tea leaves. I closed my eyes and put myself into Brad's brain. 

The result? I see his and Ime's vision. I get it. I know that might not be the case with everyone, so I am going to walk you through it. That is my gift to you so you can also see the vision. This is going to be a long and twisted road so try and keep up.

Go back to last June, when Brad first took the job and traded Kemba. What did he say? 

“The ability to make our wings better,” Stevens said, “is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them.”

Since then every chance he's had, we've heard Brad talk about how the singular focus of whatever this team does is to maximize their best players. It's not like that is some revolutionary concept, but it is an important distinction to remember when you then start to get into this deadline activity. 

It took this team 56 games to form an identity. A little longer than maybe you hoped, but it's very clear what that identity is. I think heading into the deadline many were nervous that their good play would prevent them from doing anything substantial. In reality, all it did was confirm that it was time to pick a style. What is that style? A versatile, defensive minded team that plays with good pace and good ball movement. That's the type of basketball that when this team plays, they fulfill their potential. That's pretty important. 

So, now that a play style has been chosen, the deadline was all about finding players who now fit that style of play. Before we get into that part, it's important to see how Brad most likely ended up with that decision, and it goes back further than just the last 6 games. When Ime first took over, what was one of the first things he said?

Does that Ime quote sound like a specific team right now? Here's how it relates to their deadline moves. Passing. Let's start there. It cannot be stressed enough how important passing is to the foundation of this team's success. The proof is in the numbers really. When the Celtics have 20 or more assists in a game, they are 27-18. When they have 19 or fewer they are 4-7.  Finding ways to add additional passing and playmaking is a good way to ensure you break that 20 assist number. What is one thing every single Celtics fan despises? When this team falls into bad isolation habits. Think of the better teams in the NBA right now. What do they all have in common? They move the ball. They play unselfish basketball. For the first 56 games we saw a mix of the two. There were times where there would be good ball movement, and times where the ball would stick. Often times that's simply a result of the style of player we saw on the floor.

When you think of Dennis, you think of a shifty, ball dominant scoring guard. Instant offense, but someone that is more of a shot creator than a playmaking ball mover. For him to get his buckets, he has to dribble. Things slow down. There were certainly times it worked, times where he carried the offense, so it's not a is Dennis was a bad player. But again, go back to what Brad said

“The ability to make our wings better,” Stevens said, “is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them.”

Once the Celts made the choice to go with a more defensive minded/ball movement style, it was clear they had to change that point guard spot. That replacement is now Derrick White

Here's the thing in the NBA. If you want to get something, you have to give something. Was it maybe a little pricey? Depends on how you view what went out the door. But here's what I also know. We know what life looks like when they don't trade a pick in the 20s for talent. They draft it, it sits on the bench in most cases and doesn't really make an impact. At least with how this roster is currently constructed. Brad lived through that plan as a coach. To bring in a player with 4 guaranteed years who is only 27, your going to have to give up at least a 1st round pick. When it comes to the pick swap, this sent a lot of people over the edge and I get it, but you also have to think this through.

What's the worst case scenario? That both Tatum and Brown leave right? You would want that 2028 pick if that was the case. But here's the thing. If Brown were to ask out, do you think the team lets him walk for nothing? The same thing with Tatum the next year. If he wants out, do you think they get nothing in return? Two young guys entering their prime? They probably bring back a decent return. Chances are that team is better than the 2028 Spurs. Then look at the other side. Let's say they both stay long term. You can pretty much guarantee that pick swap won't happen. So if you're Brad, you're OK with throwing that in because it helps fit your chosen style NOW, while still giving you options moving forward. Remember, Brad loves flexibility.

So back to the plan. If you're unloading JRich and Dennis, it now forces a rebalancing of your second unit. You're losing a 40% three point shooter in Richardson, so how do you address that. It's pretty obvious that at this stage of his career, Payton Pritchard is best suited as an off ball guard and floor spacer. He's up to 37% on the season from three, (39% career) and look at his shot chart

Now apply this to real game scenarios. It's safe to assume that in second unit lineups we'll see one of the Jays, one of the starting bigs, and then White/Pritchard/Grant. We know teams are going to double the shit out of Tatum because that's their only hope. What need to happen then? Quick decisions and quick ball movement to open shooters. Now, Tatum is going to pass out of a double to Derrick White, who is not a ball stopper. He's a playmaker. The defense rotates, and now we see someone like Pritchard with an open three. Here's why that's significant.

In catch & shoot situations, Pritchard shoots 37.7% from three. On "open" threes he's shooting 40% and on "wide open" threes he's shooting 37.7%. Those numbers are almost identical to the career year JRich was having shooting the ball in those same situations. When Pritchard is asked to be a floor spacer/shooter and not a primary ball handler/creator, he thrives. This way, not only have the Celts inserted a bigger, defensive minded playmaking point guard which is a type of player we know fits this system, but they also shouldn't be losing too much shooting in what were those Richardson minutes because Pritchard is just as good off ball.

I talked about how we all hate isolation and everyone with eyes can see this team plays better when the ball moves. Well, yesterday was an important step in removing that from our lives

Again, this isn't to say guys like Dennis/JRich are bad. It's a style choice. One way to ensure you continue to play the way we are playing, with high energy and unselfish basketball, is to remove heavy iso players. Then, with the player you brought in, he actually is better in isolation when he does do it! That's something every single Celtics fan should be behind. Every metric out there says the Celtics are better when they move the ball. Bringing in two players that will help you do just that is a good thing.

When it comes to the Theis piece, again, think of the chosen play style. Defense first, ball moving players. Think of what Brad said

“The ability to make our wings better,” Stevens said, “is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them.”

We know Theis fits with Tatum/Brown. We know he makes them better and can play big moments if he has to. But I also ask you to think of a playoff series. There is now no need to rely on Enes's defense. Instead, you get a much better P&R defender, a much more versatile defender that can guard multiple positions and someone who knows how the keep the ball moving and isn't a black hole offensively. Let's say Rob or Al find themselves in foul trouble in a playoff series. Do you feel better about having Theis as that 3rd or 4th big compared to Enes? How could you not? With the White trade backup point guard was no longer a need, so they chose to flip Dennis and end of bench filler for a position of need and a player who now fits the new style. Seems like a good swap for a guy leaving anyway.

In a playoff series, you now as a group become much more versatile. As a bit of a smaller player, Dennis was going to be targeted on defense. We know this because we see it every year. The issue was you could never really play Dennis/Pritchard at the same time in a playoff series because who are they going to guard? Now, you can slide White and/Smart in lineups next to Pritchard to help defensively, especially in P&R/the switch everything scheme. The best defense in the NBA got better and more versatile with these moves, which is very important once you get to the playoffs. 

BUT, and I want to make this VERY clear, there is big time risk involved with this plan. What we saw yesterday in no way solved their most glaring issue, which is acquiring some proven shooting. Instead, they are now taking a massive leap of faith in unproven and unknown players like Pritchard/Nesmith/Hauser. You can focus on the buyout market if you want, but that's never where I feel good about putting all my eggs. You get someone, great. But it's clear that Brad is relying on the hope that there is legit shooting among that trio and that with more consistent run, that shooting comes around. You can't talk about the positives from yesterday without acknowledging it. We've seen plenty of times this year what a lack of shooting can do. It has lost them games they had no business losing, and it's not like Pritchard/Nesmith/Hauser weren't on the roster before yesterday. 

The question then becomes, is this chosen style worth that risk? To get there you had to unload your top two bench scorers for pieces that fit this new puzzle. We see the results of when the Celts play this way, and they are great. That tells me Brad was comfortable in rolling the dice.

You'll hear a lot of "they swapped JRich for White, that's a downgrade! How are they better?" but that's missing the point entirely in my opinion. This wasn't just a player swap. This was a style swap. The Celts identified the style of play that brings them the best odds of success, and then they went out and maximized it given the assets they had available. They picked a style of again

“The ability to make our wings better,” Stevens said, “is going to be a huge part of the people that will be around them.”

and added players who do just that. You have to step back and look at the entire picture, and once you do you can see why Brad made the moves he did. Whether or not it works out is what we're going to find out. It's impossible to say if they are better or worse right now. They are different. And in the ways they are different are things that have been proven to be successful so far this season. 

So while initially there was concern that how well the Celts were playing would prevent anything from happening, what actually ended up happening was it solidified their plan. It confirmed what path they had to pursue and what players fit that new mold. I know this because Brad literally just told us this morning

In essence, Brad found complimentary pieces that fit a version of basketball we all LOVE to see, and with that comes a certain amount of risk when it comes to their biggest need. We'll see how the next few days shake out in terms of buyout guys, but at least now we know the plan and the vision. Now it's time to keep climbing.