Only 20 games into the season, the Boston Celtics have been a disappointment to say the least. Sitting at 10-10 and 7th in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics simply haven’t played to the level we were expecting prior to the season. Now in the bottom half of the conference, the Celtics have put themselves in a hole considering the recent success of teams including the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. With plenty of season left, there’s time to figure it all out, but should we be legitimately worried about the team’s potential this season?
With a starting lineup composed of three former All-Stars and two young players with plenty of potential, the Celtics looked like the team to beat in the East. That hasn’t been the case as the Celtics have struggled to get everyone going in their lineup. Gordon Hayward is one of those players who has struggled to get going this season after coming off a season-ending injury last year. Through 18 games, Hayward is only averaging 10 points per game on 40% shooting, which doesn’t exactly help solve the Celtics’ shooting woes. Hayward is still getting comfortable with his new role and playing basketball again, but in order for the Celtics to establish themselves as a legitimate threat, his numbers must go up. Coming off the bench after some lineup changes, the former Butler star must become a reliable offensive threat off the bench should Brad Stevens decide to keep him out of the starting lineup going forward.
Hayward is not the only veteran who has had a difficult start to the season. Al Horford has also struggled to get it going, especially offensively. This season, Horford hasn’t reached 20 points in a game which is concerning for a max-player who was a vital part of the Celtics’ offense last season. The 32 year-old has also surprisingly struggled at the free throw line at a 65% clip, which doesn’t exactly help the Celtics late in games. He’s still been a factor on the defensive end, but with a struggling offense, the team will need him to step it up to make some improvement.
Collectively, the Celtics’ shot making hasn’t been the best which has led to their poor shooting numbers. Ranked 27th in the league shooting nearly 44% percent on field goals, the Celtics haven’t been an efficient group despite their firepower on offense. After a strong rookie campaign, Jayson Tatum hasn’t played with the same efficiency from last season. Part of it could be connected to his shot selection, which has been questionable at times. Tatum has attempted much more long mid-range shots this season, which isn’t the ideal shot to take. He isn’t the only one, but as one of the team’s top scoring options, shot selection is key in having success on offense.
The Celtics have also played “hero ball” recently late in games, which hasn’t fared well for the team. By using more isolation plays late in games, the Celtics aren’t exactly looking for the best shot, instead focusing on the match-up which isn’t the best idea to solve these issues offensively. With plenty of offensive weapons, going back to drawing up plays late in games is something we need to see more of. Stevens is one of the best in the league in calling plays, which the Celtics need more of. A lot of the team’s success last season revolved around ball movement and looking for the best shot, which is exactly what the Celtics need to get back to doing. It’s hard to move away from isolation plays with a player as dominant as Irving one on one, but if the Celtics’ offense is going to improve it starts with the shot selection and desire to creating high-percentage shots. The shot selection likely will improve as we move later into the season, but for now, with a struggling offense, Tatum, along with his teammates must begin to value their possessions with good shot selection.
Defensively, the Celtics have still performed as one of the best in the league, ranking first in defensive rating. This has been a bright spot in the team’s recent struggles as the team has needed strong defensive performances to stay in games. Despite their high rating, multiple players have had difficulty defending. One of those players is Kyrie Irving who has improved as a defender, but has still struggled at times matching up against opposing point guards. Tatum has also struggled specifically on close outs, which is something that can likely be fixed over the course of the season.
Luckily for the Celtics, these struggles are occurring early in the season rather than during their run to the playoffs. However, in order for the Celtics to establish themselves as championship contenders, they need more efficiency. It’s a little early to say they’re not going to figure it out and get back to being one of the top teams in the league, but we’re getting closer to pressing the panic button. A lot can change in a long NBA season, but the Celtics must figure it out sooner than later before they find themselves in a hole they can’t dig out of.