Overall Team Performance
The Celtics offense was not an extremely high-volume offense, but they were able to play an efficient style of basketball. A top-5 team in the NBA this year, they only ranked 11th in but saw success due to an impressive 112.9 offensive rating which was good enough for 5th in the NBA. They werenít an extremely fast paced team, ranking in the bottom half of the league, but were able to impose their will on the opposition.
Boston very effective when it came to the offensive boards and rebounding overall ranking in the top ten in both categories. To go along with their ability to attack the glass, they also played a mistake free brand of basketball, which is on par for a Brad Stevens led team. The Celtics were able to limit turnovers to just under 14 per game which ranked 7th in the NBA.
The combination of effective offensive rebounding and minimizing giveaways allowed a middle of the road shooting team (in terms of percentages) to capitalize on their offensive opportunities. The Celtics were pretty unremarkable in terms of offensive shot making and sharing the basketball.
They ranked 18th in the NBA in field goal percentage shooting 46% from the field. The Celtics were an extremely isolation-oriented team with 6.8% of their possessions being isolation sets (T-7 the most in the NBA). Jayson Tatum played a large part in this with over 15% of his possessions coming out of isolation. This isolation heavy offense resulted in stagnant ball movement at times which is indicative of them only ranking in the bottom 6 of the league in assists per game (22.8 per game). They made up for this by being a fairly effective team from beyond the arc shooting just over 36% from 3-point land.
Key Individual Performance
The Celtics relied on a small nucleus of players for the bulk of their offensive output. They had four 20+ point scorers in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylon Brown as well as a returning Gordon Hayward who averaged just over 17 points a game.
Tatum and Brown both made huge leaps this year which paid dividends for Boston. These two had true breakout years and had a combined increase of 15 points from last year. These big scoring jumps also came with increases in shooting percentages specifically for Brown. Tatum kept his field goal percentage steady from last year while boosting his 3-point percentages to 40%. Brown on the other hand made huge strides raising his FG% from 46% to 49% and his 3P% from 34 to 38%.
Along with the aforementioned great player development, Boston replaced the whole Irvingís departure created with Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward returning to the player we came to know in Utah. Walker didnít put up as gaudy numbers as Kyrie, but he was more or less just as effective and came without the chemistry issues that seem to follow Irving. Hayward was able to put together a huge bounce back year boosting his scoring to 17 points per game (a 6-point increase from the previous year) to go along with a career high in FG% and rebounds.
This core provided most of the heavy lifting on the offensive side but there were some other notable contributors that deserve some praise. First off, Marcus Smart was able to put up a career high of 13.5 points per game while shooting a respectable 35% from deep and matching his career high in assists. Smart still can bolster his offensive profile by consistently keeping his shooting percentages where they were this year.
Their two primary bigs, Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, were able to fill the void that Horford left at least offensively. They both were able to average 8+ points per game, 2+ offensive rebounds per game, and shot over 56% from the field. The Celtics offensive wasnít elite, but it was certainly effective. There are areas they should look to improve on for next, but their elite defense is why they were a top team this year which I will get into below.
Overall Team Performance
The Celtics were without a doubt one of the best defensive teams in basketball this season. They combined high level defenders with great team defense under Brad Stevens which allowed them to often neutralize other teams game plans.
Boston's elite defense is evident when watching them play and is seen through virtually every metric. They ranked in the top 5 in defensive rating (4th), opponents points per game (2nd), least opponents assists (2nd), opponents field goal percentage (4th), and opponents 3-point percentage (3rd). To expound more on these impressive rankings, they limited opposing teams to 106.8 points per game, 22 assists per game, 44% from the field, and 34% from deep.
These metrics clearly show just how dominant their defensive performance was this year. On top of limiting the oppositions overall scoring and efficiency they were also able to create turnovers and effect shots. The Celtics recorded over 8 steals per game, 5.6 blocks per game, and forced their opponents to commit just over 15 turnovers per game. They rank in the top-10 in all of three of these categories.
Key Individual Performances
The Celtics defensive performance was indicative of great teamwork and schemes, but they also have several elite defenders. Defensive metrics can be iffy the Celtics had four player rank in the top-35 players for defensive win shares. The players who were among the leaders in defensive win shares were Tatum (9th), †Smart (18th), Hayward (20th), and Brown (33rd).
Another metric that showed just how effective these Boston defenders were is individual defensive rating. All four of the players that were on the leaderboard for win shares were also in the top-50 for defensive rating. Along with those for Daniel Theis was also amongst the league leaders in defensive rating. Theis was the highest rated Celtic at 16th with a rating of 104.8 which is how many points a player allows per 100 possessions.
Along with these more advanced metrics, many Celtics were also adept at creating steals and blocking shots. Smart (1.6), Tatum (1.4), and Brown (1.1) all averaged a steal a game while Theis averaged over a block per contest.
One player that made a great impact on the defensive end in limited was Robert Williams. Over only 21 games, and just 14 minutes per game, Williams was able to block over a shot per game and record just under a steal per game (.9 SPG).
Overall the Celtics drew a lot of success from being a legit top-3 defensive team in the NBA. Itís worth noting that this was even with Kanter who was a remarkably poor defender especially in the pick and roll as well as Walker who is not exactly a premier defender.
Over the past seven-year Brad Stevens has firmly established himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA. He has spent all seven of those seasons in Boston and has only had two losing seasons (including a 40-42 season) coming in his first two years. After those two losing seasons Stevens has now led the Celtics to what would be 5 straight playoff berths including back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals appearances.
Stevens has led the Celtics to productive seasons through his motion offense and has had consistently good defense teams. This year is just more proof that he is a great coach at the highest level. With the emergence of Tatum and Brown, this season has also showed that he truly can develop young while also winning at the same time.
Stevens is still only 43-years old and he led this Celtics team to what has been somewhat of a bounce back year after the way the ended the previous year. I expect Stevens to stay in Boston for the foreseeable future and donít see why the Celtics would move on from him anytime soon.
Where do the Celtics go from here?
This question is open ended and for good reason. The Celtics have made great strides this year and will should have every key player returning next year. This begs the question where do they go from here?
I believe the Celtics have the ability to beat the Bucks and Raptors but doing so is another story. The Celtics wonít really have any wiggle room when it comes to the salary cap if Hayward and Kanter opt into their deals. They steal do have a plethora of draft capital over the next two years which they could use for depth, use to move up in the draft, or flip to improve a need. They shouldnít be afraid to go into next year with more or less the same roster and hope for further development, but it will be interesting to see how general manager Danny Ainge attacks this offseason.
5 Roster Questions
Q: Will Gordon Hayward accept his player option for the 2020-2021 season?
A: Gordon Hayward got back to his all-star caliber play that we became accustom to in Utah, but it is still questionable if he is worth the $34 million price tag. Unfortunately for the Celtics the decision is not up to them. Hayward has a player option for next season which will be the final year of his deal.
It will be very unlikely that Hayward turns down that massive payday which isnít necessarily a bad thing. As I said previously Hayward's play was improved this year and I believe the Celtics will be comfortable paying his large salary for just one more season and then revisiting negotiations when his deal runs out after next season.
Q: Can the Celtics work out an extension with Jayson Tatum before he hits free agency (after next season)?
A: This question is one that wonít necessarily take effect into after next season. Jayson Tatum still will be under contract through the 2020-2021 season but will become a restricted free agency in the offseason. It is clear that the Celtics should try and work out an extension with Tatum before he hits free agency similarly to how they did with Jaylen Brown.
A: Obviously, this is easier said than done, especially after Brownís breakout season this year, but it should be a priority in my opinion. The Celtics will have time to do so especially based off the fact they most likely will not be too busy in free agency this offseason. The Celtics won't have to worry about cap space either with Hayward's deal coming off the books by the time Tatumís extension would begin but this might make it more difficult to resign Hayward.
Q: What are the Celtics biggest needs?
A: The Celtics overall are a pretty complete and well-rounded team but there is always room for improvement if they want to beat the likes of the Bucks, Lakers, etc. As I have mentioned before and will again in the next question, Boston most likely will not how much salary room to work with but will have draft capital. If both Hayward and Kanter opt-in to their deals for next season, then the list of needs gets even smaller. One hole that should be filled is the backup point guard role. Brad Wanamaker filled that role this year, but I believe that the Celtics can and will find in upgrade for the spot off the bench behind Kemba Walker.
Q: Who are some potential free agent targets?
A: As you could tell by my answer to the last question, I expect the Celtics to pick up another point guard or combo guard either through free agency or the draft. If the elect to do so through free agency some possible options would be Jeff Teague, Rajon Rondo, Shabazz Napier, Reggie Jackson or the return of Brad Wanamaker. I think Teague would be a great fit if they are able to make the money work.
There has also been rumors of late that Tristan Thompson would be willing to take a cheap one-year deal to join the Celtics. I think this would be a great fit and would give Boston an upgrade over Kanter and clearly Thompson would offer a much more †reliable defensive presence at the 5. If Thompson does end up in Boston, I would expect Kanter to be playing somewhere else.
Q: What will the Celtics do with their 4-picks in the 2020 draft?
A: Danny Ainge has become a master at stockpiling picks and this year is no exception. The Celtics will have 3 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick in the 2020 draft. Their 1st round picks as of now will be the 17th (from Memphis), 26th (their own), and the 30th (from Milwaukee). I think it would be wise of them to try and package these picks to try and move up or acquire an established (and potential cheap player). The 2020 draft is not a very deep one and the Celtics already have good depth so I believe their best use of these.