DENVER — Shortly after the Boston Celtics landed in Denver on Sunday, around 5 or 6 p.m., Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown went to the Pepsi Center together to get some shots up.
Each member of the Celtics’ star-powered starting five has had moments of brilliance and difficult stretches, but Brown and Hayward have both needed a little time to work themselves into the lineup. Hayward is still getting comfortable in his return from a devastating ankle injury. Brown is adjusting to Hayward’s presence and dealing with his own foot problem (he said he expects to be available for Monday’s game).
Both are defensively versatile guard/wing hybrids who function well attacking mismatches, and both are perhaps being under-discussed as two of the most important parts of the Celtics machine.
“I think we’re just trying to build some chemistry,” Hayward said. “Figure out what each other’s strengths are on the court and try to maximize each other’s strengths.”
A quick glance at Brown’s numbers paint a picture of a player trying to figure out his place. After shooting 34 and 39.5 percent from three in his first two seasons, Brown is down to 30.3 percent in eight games so far. He’s scoring on just 43 percent of his shots around the rim, (12th percentile among wings, according to Cleaning the Glass), and his points have dropped from 14.5 per game to 11.
Brown knows he’s struggling, which may be part of the problem.
“I’m not even counting the misses, I’m counting the makes,” Brown said. “Focusing on that, because if you start focusing on misses, you start digging yourself into a hole. Just focus on the positive aspects of the game, and what you can do better. I call it an ‘Applaud Your Mistakes’ mentality. You come out there and look forward to the next play and keep going, rather than worrying about plays you missed or opportunities you missed, because then it’ll affect you during the game. So just come out and play basketball and think about the next play and be ready for the next one. …
“Nobody says anything when you make it. Hitting shots is key. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Brown, who hit 58 percent of his shots around the rim in his previous two seasons, certainly isn’t the only player struggling from the field. The Celtics have some head-scratching numbers for a team that was one stop away from winning its seventh straight game on Saturday. Boston is:
– Last in field-goal attempts at the rim.
– 25th in short mid-range shots.
– Fourth in inefficient long twos.
Two of the stars have been some of the biggest culprits. Jayson Tatum is the 100th percentile in long twos among all forwards — 32 percent of his shots come from that range, and he’s making just 31 percent of them. Marcus Morris, who has been one of the team’s most consistently excellent players, is in the 92nd percentile at 20 percent. Boston’s shot selection has been an issue.
“If you look at it, our threes aren’t the problem as much as our two-point shooting,” Brad Stevens said after Saturday’s loss to Indiana. “We’re not strong enough around the rim. Hopefully we can get better in that regard. Our two-point shooting is most concerning.”
Stevens expanded on Monday.
“We’re 30th in shooting twos, and last year we were not very good either,” Stevens said. “It’s got to be a continued commitment to shooting better ones and doing our best to get to the rim more. Whether that’s by rolls or drives or cuts or whatever the case may be, we just have to continue to get there more. That’s been an issue for us for the last 18 months. Prior to that, we were pretty good at that. So we just have to keep hammering on it, see if we can get a little bit better.”
Brown believes the shots will fall, and the numbers suggest he’s right. The positives regarding the Celtics’ offense are encouraging: Only two teams take more 3-point attempts, and the Celtics are 12th in percentage, which could certainly rise. As Boston continues to adjust to new roles, and as the offense continues to create wide open looks, percentages will probably keep rising. If that’s the case, Boston could raise its 27th-ranked points per possession and boost its sometimes-flailing offense.
That’s across the board, but perhaps especially for Brown.
“We haven’t been as consistent in finding that, but just staying with the course, staying with the process, not listening to the media, not listening to what everybody else is saying, just continue to play basketball,” Brown said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole entire life. I know how to hoop. It’s a different situation, but at the end of the day, it’s just basketball. So take the pressure off, just go out there and play, have fun, win games and ultimately that’s what matters. “