Wrapping up our two-part sequence setting 2024 objectives for the Boston Celtics, we’re again to debate the crew’s core rotation. You possibly can see our resolutions for the deep finish of the bench right here.
Payton Pritchard: Recreation-to-game consistency
As somebody who has been on the decrease finish of evaluations of Payton Pritchard, I really feel he’s had a strong sufficient season. After a troublesome couple weeks to begin the yr, he’s recording career-highs in scoring (7.9 PPG) and assists (3.0) whereas incomes probably the most minutes (20.9 MPG) he’s seen in his younger profession. Pritchard performs onerous, places in effort and stays a shooter that defenses need to account for.
However whereas we’ve seen what Pritchard might be at his finest, I don’t suppose we’ve seen that type of influence evening in and evening out. He’s been slightly streaky. On the season, he’s recorded 13 video games with double-digit scoring totals, however he’s by no means achieved that feat greater than twice in a row. Because the full-fledged third guard on this crew, it could possibly’t be chalked as much as an absence of alternative anymore. He’s getting the alternatives he’s requested for.
It feels as if, when Pritchard units foot on the court docket, the Celtics can’t know precisely what they’re going to get. It’s as doubtless that he shoots 2-for-8 as it’s 4-for-8, which is a much bigger swing than it seems like for somebody with this type of utilization. There’s all the time going to be variance with a participant that primarily shoots threes, however even on a cumulative stage, it seems like he’s leaving fruit on the tree there too. He’s taking pictures 36% from deep over the previous two seasons, a far cry from the 40% marks of his first two. Each little bit issues for a crew at this stage.
For Pritchard, video games just like the Celtics’ December 20 win over Sacramento (20 factors, 6-of-12 taking pictures) are all the time welcome, however won’t ever be the norm. It’s unreasonable to carry him to that type of normal. That stated, I want to see just a little extra of, say, November 22’s win over Milwaukee (10 factors, 4-of-7 taking pictures) on his ledger, and that’s not an excessive amount of to ask for a participant in his place.
Al Horford: Defeat Father Time in single fight
The addition of Kristaps Porzingis provides the Celtics the uncommon luxurious of not needing Al Horford. After years of counting on Horford to anchor their frontcourt and supply essential contributions on each the offensive and defensive ends of the ground, for as soon as, they’ve one other established massive man who can contribute at a star stage. Porzingis has been a terrific pickup for this crew to this point, and having the ability to scale down 37-year-old Horford’s position will not be an insignificant cause why.
However whilst you could not want Horford, you actually need him. He’s nonetheless a phenomenally efficient defender who brings practically 20 years of NBA expertise to the desk, and he’s nonetheless able to stepping as much as carry the load from time to time, even when not each single recreation at this level. He’s taking pictures 40% from three for the second consecutive season, and when he rejoins the beginning lineup to fill a gap, he’s averaging 9 factors, 8 rebounds and three assists per recreation. That’s exceptional manufacturing for a 37-year-old — not each getting old star might be LeBron James.
Including Porzingis, an All-Star expertise in his prime, could have elevated Boston’s ceiling, however Horford — as all the time — raises their flooring. This run goes to finish for him sometime, however the longer he can fend off that finish, the higher. He’s poised to be a helpful contributor this postseason. All we are able to ask is that he casts down Father Time yet another time — not less than.
Jrue Vacation: Declare extra offensive accountability (when known as for)
Everybody within the core rotation of this Celtics crew has accepted a discount in utilization this season. It’s the truth of taking part in on a crew as loaded with top-level expertise as this one is. There’s just one basketball to go round, and everybody wants to regulate to one another to compensate for that reality. It’s a dynamic that sank the Kyrie Irving/Gordon Hayward period of this crew, and one which will permit this iteration to fly.
Amongst that context, no person on this crew has sacrificed extra, on a person stage, than Jrue Vacation. That’s the truth of going from being the third possibility on a contender to the fourth-or-sometimes-fifth. After scoring 19.3 factors per recreation on a 25% utilization charge in his ultimate yr with the Bucks, these numbers have dropped to 13.9 and 17.2 this yr (not factoring within the Spurs win). That may be a sharp drop, and one which requires an admirable stage of unselfishness.
Within the Celtics’ final two video games, we’ve gotten a glimpse at that New Orleans/Milwaukee model of Vacation. He scored 22 factors within the street win over Toronto — his career-high with the crew — and matched it within the house victory in opposition to San Antonio. It’s clear that the high-volume, top-scorer model of Vacation continues to be in there, and he’s been exceptionally sleek in accepting the lowered alternative to indicate it. Because the season wears on and the Celtics undoubtedly face extra video games with out items of their rotation, he’ll actually get extra alternatives to step up. Video games like this might wind up being extremely helpful in serving to the Celtics safe the highest seed when season’s finish comes round.
Derrick White: Defeat the Curse of JJ Redick
Derrick White has as soon as once more appeared on JJ Redick’s podcast, and as soon as once more seems to have fallen right into a hunch instantly afterwards. Final yr, after a chat with Redick that included White studying the definition of Imposter Syndrome, he fell right into a December hunch that noticed him file simply 37% taking pictures from the sector and 23% from behind the three-point arc. This time round, White struggled via a five-game stretch through which he recorded 30% and 26% marks in the identical classes, earlier than rebounding to make eight threes in two video games in opposition to Houston and Toronto. JJ Redick is listening, certainly.
In all seriousness, although, it feels as if the air has gone out of White’s All-Star bid, just a little bit. It is a unhealthy time of yr to fall right into a hunch if you wish to be taking part in on All-Star Weekend. Although the entire of White’s work this season suggests that he’s a deserving decide for the showcase, in the end, the extra necessary factor is that he corrects his latest hunch as he did final season. If he does that, he’ll doubtless be making voters look silly by the point the Celtics embark into the postseason.
Kristaps Porzingis: Appropriate the three-point taking pictures
A small concern that has not but been a lot of an precise concern for this crew: Kristaps Porzingis is flirting with a career-low in three-point taking pictures. The Latvian unicorn is connecting on simply 32.7% of his makes an attempt from deep this season, above his 2021-22 mark of 31% with the Mavericks and Wizards however solidly beneath his 35.7% profession common.
This hasn’t effected his efficiency thus far, after all. The Celtics have taking pictures in spades on this roster, and Porzingis is totally shredding defenses contained in the arc, taking pictures 53% from the midrange, 60% from inside 10 ft and 80% on the rim. This has been his finest season by removed from two-point vary. There’s a spot for that, it doesn’t matter what. The already-three-point-heavy Celtics don’t wish to skew his shot profile additional to the perimeter and sacrifice considered one of their finest threats within the paint. Porzingis doesn’t want to vary the place he takes his pictures to assist, although. His three-point quantity is already the place you need it — nearly 5 makes an attempt per recreation. These pictures simply aren’t entering into fairly sufficient.
Unbelievable as it could sound, the Celtics’ offense has one other gear it could possibly unlock if their star heart’s threes begin to discover the underside of the web extra continuously. When push involves shove, that is an offense designed to play five-out. As soon as Porzingis begins to transform his deep makes an attempt at a charge extra befitting his ability as a shooter, this offense might stand to learn vastly.
Jaylen Brown: Appropriate the free throw taking pictures
Much like Porzingis, that is maybe a bit nitpicky within the context of what has in any other case been a really productive season for Jaylen Brown. He’s tailored properly to a modest discount in scoring quantity, whereas enhancing as a playmaker and performing extra persistently on protection — the standard guidelines for him, in different phrases, has already been addressed. Asking for something on high of that could be a bit grasping.
And but! It will be good to see some enchancment on the free throw line. Brown is taking pictures 73.5% from the charity stripe this season, which might be his worst mark in a season since 2019-20, his first full season as a starter. Regardless of being a dependable shooter from three and the midrange, Brown has by no means thrived on the free throw line. He was a sub-60% shooter for his first three seasons, and has settled in across the mid-70s since. That may be higher, particularly within the context of a crew that has had some expensive moments of ineptitude from the free throw line prior to now two seasons.
Brown is consistently pushing his boundaries as an NBA participant, discovering new and unprecedented avenues of enchancment in virtually each season he’s performed. If there’s anyone within the league able to taking a leap as a free throw shooter after eight years as a professional, it could be him.
Jayson Tatum: Dominate the playoffs
Final yr, we set the bar at MVP for Jayson Tatum. It’s onerous to go a lot increased than that. He could have in the end fallen in need of that aim, however a top-five end on the poll was a worthy breakthrough. The tougher tablet to swallow, I’m positive Tatum would agree, was actually the Celtics’ final demise to the Miami Warmth within the Japanese Convention Finals. So this time round, we set our sights to the postseason.
Tatum’s capacity to carry out within the shiny lights is simple. Anybody arguing in any other case is being disingenuous — you want solely have a look at his Recreation 7 file 51 factors in opposition to the Philadelphia 76ers to see that, saying nothing of his multitude of different playoff triumphs. There’s a cause why the Celtics have lived within the Japanese Convention Finals throughout this period of the franchise, and it begins with Tatum.
That stated, it’s honest to recommend that his efficiency has fizzled at instances. He wasn’t himself within the 2022 Finals in opposition to Golden State, struggling via a wrist damage that left him seemingly unable to complete on the rim, and he a number of oddly ineffective outings in final yr’s postseason earlier than a sprained ankle successfully ended Boston’s season in Recreation 7 of the Japanese Convention Finals in opposition to Miami. We haven’t essentially seen every thing click on for Tatum throughout a full postseason run, which, contemplating how good he’s been, is actually a reasonably encouraging thought.
Sustaining his physique will play into this as properly. The iron man mentality he performs with, his limitless need to be on the court docket in any respect prices, is admirable, however it could be working to his detriment at instances. The Celtics want Tatum to be his finest self this postseason, and that features bodily, as repulsive as the concept of resting to fix an damage may be to him. Playoff success is every thing this yr, and as all the time, that begins with Jayson Tatum.