The Brad Stevens led Boston Celtics at 15-17 have undoubtedly been the most disappointing team in the NBA. After starting 8-3 atop the Eastern Conference, the C’s have been spiraling downhill and there are many concerns right now. Contact tracing put a jack in the C’s hot start this season and the injury to the heart and soul of the team, Marcus Smart doesn’t help. But when every team has their rosters shaken up every game due to unprecedented Covid protocols there is no excuse.
Defense, a calling card for the organization, continues to fall short of expectation. The C’s tonight gave up 127 points to the Hawks and let Danillo Gallinari hit 10 out of 12 threes. A lot of the blame has been put on the inefficient and inconsistent play of Kemba Walker. Walker’s 17 points on 35% shooting this season is underwhelming but he still isn’t even able to play back to backs. With the talent on this team they should not be sub .500 and although not the only problem, Brad Stevens is having his worse campaign as head coach so far.
Celtics fans have become accustomed to Stevens’ marvelous out of bounds plays and mastermind chess moves that gave the team an edge in most games. In his eight years as head man Stevens has become known as one of the best coaches in the NBA. A north of .500 career record and trips to the Eastern Conference Finals 3 out of the last 4 years rightfully gives Stevens that title. But in 32 games Beantown fans have scratched their heads at Stevens more than they ever have and here’s why.
Brad Stevens this season has gone to the two big man lineup featuring Daniel Theis and Tristian Thompson. Aside from the last few games the two together are an abysmal match according to advanced stats and are worse to the eye when teams run pick and roll. Even when you think the paint wouldn’t be a problem defensively with two bigs, it still is. Thompson isn’t athletic enough to consistently block or contest shots in the paint at the center position.
Theis on the other hand, while athletic, is undersized. Going bigger isn’t the problem considering the C’s got manhandled in last year’s bubble by Bam Adebayo but it’s how and when. Stretches where a team scores 10 straight points in the paint happens often and nothing is done. In times we need him most Brad refuses to put in the teams most athletic player and best rim protector, Robert Williams.
The Timelord Factor
Williams, also known as Timelord, has flashed his potential enough times this season to garner more playing time. In only 15 minutes per game he leads the team in blocks, and is third in rebounding. Williams is a whopping 9th in the entire NBA in PER. In the 5 games he has played over 20 minutes this season the team is 4-1. In his career when playing 20+ they are 9-2. Averaging nine points, 10 boards, 2.4 blocks and 2.2 steals in those games Williams gives the C’s another dimension. He shoots 80.6% in those games because his uber athleticism makes him one of the best lob threats in the league. On defense he has some more learning to do but he is easily the teams greatest presence in the paint. His per 36 stats show a gaudy 14.8 ppg and 13.1 reb double double.
Oh and 3.2 rejections with 2.3 steals.
So you’re probably wondering looking at these numbers, why is he only playing limited minutes? To be completely honest no one knows. He had hip problems last season and some ticky tack injuries this season but he is healthy. The times he should be in he is not and it’s frustrating as a fan. Rookie Aaron Nesmith‘s playing time took a leap last week but he is being used incorrectly. Nesmith has shown surprising athletic ability but his greatest attribute is his three point shooting. Which takes me to my next problem with Brad Stevens.
The offense at times is unwatchable. Celtic teams under Stevens in past years, except 2018-2019, were predicated on ball movement and collective effort. I can tell you with 100% certainty that is not the case this season. Boston ranks 28th in the league in assists and the only time plays are ran are out of timeouts. 90% of the Celtics offense so far this season is high pick roll. With players like Tatum, Brown and Kemba that wouldn’t sound that bad, but they can’t always be on the floor. The team goes cold in the 3rd and 4th quarter the majority of games and there is no action being ran to get a good shot if no timeout is called.
Nesmith is arguably the teams best catch and shoot player and he is not ran off down screens. Having Tatum and Brown in doesn’t mean you have to call plays every time down, they are good enough to get their own shots if needed, but when they’re sitting it’s bad.
The Bench Dilemma
When Brown and Tatum are on the court together the C’s outscore opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions. When Brown is off? The Celtics are outscored by 3. When Tatum is off? The Celtics are outscored by 5. Now these numbers can just shed light to the fact the C’s don’t have any other reliable scorers, which is true. But if only Stevens ran offense that catered to the bench players like Nesmith, Williams (Robert) and Pritchard they could produce more. For example, Jeff Teague plays 17.8 minutes per game and doesn’t play every game. When he does play he is the bench point guard and goes isolation 17.2% of the time. That is 11th in the league and higher than players like Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant, just to name a few.
Setting double screens for Nesmith to come off when he comes in gets him an easy look at a three. It gets players moving and if he hits it that’s a big confidence booster for the rest of the game. Pritchard and Rob Williams have already built chemistry in the pick and roll that action should headline the bench. When the ball is moving and the team is just not hitting open shots that’s a bummer but acceptable. More often than not the C’s end up taking contested shots because the ball sticks and of course the bench isn’t hitting those. They aren’t as talented as Tatum or Brown. A move definitely can be made to get better bench scorers but they won’t have the ability of the Jays. So Stevens should be focused on getting the offense flowing into sets more so with the bench unit.
Brad Stevens is in no way shape or form, to me, on the hot seat. With that being said pressure is on him more than ever to lead this team to where they should be.