Through 10 games, the new-look Celtics have acclimated rather quickly together. It hasn’t always been perfect, but the numbers don’t lie – Boston’s offense is already one of the best in the league.
With the roster overhaul in the offseason bringing Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday into the fold, there was an inevitable learning curve for the new-look Celtics.
Let’s be clear – they are still in the process of feeling each other out and building cohesion. However, that process seems to be coming along a bit faster than fans may have anticipated.
An easy indicator of that is Boston’s ball movement. Though the Celtics’ offense has been fantastic most of the year, ball movement wasn’t necessarily a factor in the early stages, as the Celtics' offense mainly consisted of attacking mismatches and letting the talent do the work.
The Celtics entered Friday night’s game against the Nets 25th in the league in assists per game (23.7) and 29th in passes per game. In their latest three-game home stand, the Celtics totaled 86 assists, averaging 28.6, sixth most over that span.
High assist numbers have correlated to success for the Celtics. Dating back to last season, the Celtics are now 18-2 when recording 30+ assists.
The Celtics have found success in their ball movement recently due to two of Joe Mazzulla’s favorite things – Spacing and screening.
“That’s like the most important thing. It’s beautiful,” Mazzulla said when discussing spacing and screening following his team’s 117-94 win over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night.
In a way, the rising ball movement numbers show that the team is starting to figure it out, but more indirectly, it shows the team is beginning to grow comfortable in the offense.
With the talent the Celtics have, hunting mismatches is naturally going to be a piece of their offense. Boston simply has too many dangerous scorers to cover effectively at once. Some nights, Boston will be able to overpower their opponents with matchup advantages. On other nights, the ball will need to be flying around more freely.
“It [the ball movement] can’t be the Minnesota game, but I do think it’s not going to be pass, pass, pass all the time,” Mazzulla said. “It just has to be making sure we play together and we take what the defense gives us.”
For the Celtics, it will all be about finding that balance. A balance Mazzulla has been pleased with so far.
“I’m comfortable with our shot distribution, the balance of what we’re getting, and our frequency too, whether it’s post-ups, post-isolations, playing free flow and catch-and-shoot threes. I do like the distribution of shots we’re getting,” the bench boss said. “I think it’s a healthy balance. During certain points of the season, you’ll have to lean more towards one than the other.”
Through 10 games, the Celtics have posted a 119.5 offensive rating, good for fourth best in the NBA. Boston has found a lot of success in their actions in the half-court, where they have posted a 121.1 offensive rating, according to Cleaning The Glass.
One development that has helped the Celtics find success in the half-court is their ability to post-up.
“I think this year, what we have that we didn’t last year is we go to our post-up,” Mazzulla said.
The Celtics are posting up on 7.5% of possessions, third most in the NBA, averaging 1.20 points per possession (second most in the NBA). The Celtics’ 7.5% frequency in the post is a significant jump from last year’s 2.8% (23rd in the league). The C's are scoring at a 60.7% frequency on post-ups this season, third best in the NBA.
Boston’s success in the post starts with Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis.
The 6-foot-8 Tatum (who looks taller than that) noted on media day that he had put on 12 pounds over the offseason, and he has put that size to work, utilizing the post, something he has been working on with assistant coach Sam Cassell.
Through the first 10 games, Tatum is posting up 11.9% of the time, a significant jump from 5.1% a season ago. The 25-year-old has scored 36 points in the post, averaging 1.24 points per possession. Tatum is shooting 63.2% on post-up possessions, eighth-best in the NBA. The three-time All-NBA selection is also getting to the line 37.9% of post-ups, the second-highest rate in the league behind just Rudy Gobert.
As for Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 big man ranks second in the league in points per possession in the post (1.61), posting up 15.3% of the time. Porzingis is shooting 78.6% on post touches, second highest in the league, getting to the line 34.8% of the time (fourth best).
Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday are both capable in the post as well.
The post-up has emerged as a nice addition to the Celtics' offensive arsenal, becoming a real weapon for the C’s, creating more scoring opportunities and diversifying their scoring attack.