Buying or Selling Boston Celtics' Most Surprising Stats After NBA's First Month
By no means have they shocked the world, as they are still a losing team, well below .500. As new head coach Brad Stevens said, they haven't lit the world ablaze just yet.
Still, there are bits and pieces to be taken away from these first 20 games and given a closer look. Are these statistics sustainable for a team like Boston, or are they anomalies that will soon pass as the year wears on?
A .400 winning percentage, which Boston has now, would round up to a 33-49 full-season record. That is hardly anything to write home about. Should the Atlantic Division and parts of the Eastern Conference begin figuring themselves out, Boston would seem to slink back into the cellar, though Rajon Rondo's impending return could also give them the jolt to maintain competitiveness.
With the current state of their immediate competition, it is still easy arguing to buy or sell Boston's season as a whole. When we break it down further, to the pieces that make up that season, buying and selling can get really interesting.
Is the Defense This Good?
The Boston Celtics are allowing the sixth-fewest points in the NBA this season at 96.8.
That number is nearly even with what last year's team gave up Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. Unfortunately, this may not be a product of Boston's schemes and defensive talents, but merely a league-wide trend. When the Celtics allowed 96.7 points per game last year, it was only good for No. 12 in the NBA.
Early in the basketball season, offenses can tend to wildly outplay defenses. Eventually injuries will take their toll and defenses will start to catch up. There are 18 teams scoring better than 99 points per game right now, a crazy figure. However, looking into more advanced numbers, Boston continues to impress.
Many put Boston's pace of play as an explanation for skewed numbers, but really they are about a possession per game slower than league average, per Basketball Reference. They allow 103.8 points per 100 possessions, not a great number in a vacuum, but a good number for this season.
Brad Stevens clearly knows what he is doing and has some of the horses to get it done on the floor. The Celtics are the league's best team at defending the three right now, allowing opponents just a 32.8 percent clip from downtown.
The league has been erratic for the first quarter of the season, but the Celtics are going along with it right now. Despite obvious weaknesses on the interior and a fouling problem, they are holding their own defensively and staying in most games. This defense isn't historically suffocating, but they are getting the job done.
Is Courtney Lee Valuable?
Courtney Lee's first season in Boston was a downright disappointment.
He simply didn't seem to fit in or feel comfortable with Boston's offense, which led to some overreactions to his contract and other abilities. Looking back on it, the numbers weren't that bad, but more was expected.
This year, it does seem like Lee is doing things he used to. He is shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc, playing stand-up perimeter defense and slashing to the basket on offense.
Overall, Lee is simply averaging 7.8 points per game, the same number as last season, but is doing so in 8.1 less minutes of court time each night. Lee has become a valuable weapon for Brad Stevens off the bench for spurts here and there. In this role, Lee is allowed to play a little more freely with loose restrictions on ball movement and set plays.
A major component to that style is that Boston doesn't have a ball-dominating guard playing big minutes right now. Jordan Crawford is the primary handler, but it is still no comparison to what Rajon Rondo does. When he comes back, I'm not sure Lee is allowed to maintain the current style.
He doesn't move without the ball particularly well, and it definitely showed in his struggles last season. If he continues to hit catch-and-shoot threes, there is a spot for him on a team with weak range, but don't expect much of an increase in production.
What Do We Make of Jordan Crawford's Season?
Putting Jordan Crawford's first quarter of the season into perspective isn't an easy thing. He has been fantastic, given expectations entering the season and past performance.
Offensively, Crawford is posting 112 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference. That is a full 15 points better than his best previous season. His effective field-goal percentage is also up over 50 percent for the first time in his career and his assist percentage is up to 30 percent. That isn't a Rajon Rondo number, but a career-best for Crawford.
Perhaps the most remarkable advanced number on Crawford this season is that his usage rate is way down, per Basketball Reference. He is using just 21.4 percent of Boston's plays while on the floor, yet is having the greatest impact of his career.
That signals to something deeper than just a good shooting or passing season thus far. It shows that Crawford has indeed been changed in some way. The gunner mentality and heat-check 29-footers won't ever go away, but Crawford has made a conscious decision to help Boston in other ways this season.
Those numbers and his increasingly good play are making it harder and harder to sell this hot Crawford start. Knowing full well that a Rondo return could push him the wrong way back into a reserve low-percentage shot taker, this is a tentative buy.
Are Jared Sullinger's Numbers This Garnettian?
Boston Celtics television play-by-play man Mike Gorman quoted a stat in the recent Milwaukee Bucks game that made one thought pop into my mind: Kevin Garnett.
The stat was Jared Sullinger's plus/minus numbers for the season. Per SportingCharts.com, Sullinger is a plus-52 on the season. In the grand scheme of the NBA, that isn't a wildly impressive number. But looking deeper, you can see just how important Sullinger has been to the Celtics maintaining competitiveness.
The next highest Celtic on that list is MarShon Brooks at plus-four. Brooks has played a total of 41 minutes this season, but no other teammate is in the positive.
Sullinger is on the court nightly with a starting lineup including Jordan Crawford (minus-18), Avery Bradley (minus-58) and Jeff Green (minus-27). Frontcourt mates Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani are sporting a minus-50 and minus-55, respectively.
Garnett posted a plus-111 last season and plus-269 the year before. Sullinger was a plus-42 as a rookie. He has a long way to go, especially if this winds up a losing team. Still, this is just another impressive feather in his cap this season. We can only believe that he will continue improving.
Is Recent Stretch Sustainable?
The Boston Celtics had a four-game winning streak earlier this season. However, that was proved to be mildly fluky.
Instead, their recent six-game stretch stands to tell us more about how they are playing and improving this season. Over the past six games, the Celtics have a point differential of plus-46, outscoring opponents 597-551. They are 4-2 over that stretch and have been in every game.
More so than any individual statistics, this is the mark that must be bought if one believes the Celtics are for real yet. This recent stretch has put them in position to earn the No. 4 seed if the Eastern Conference playoffs began at the time of this printing.
Unfortunately, when we dig a little deeper, this competition can almost be disproved as easily as that early-season streak. Two games against the NBA-worst Milwaukee Bucks isn't impressive. Nor is beating the 6-12 Cleveland Cavaliers and sticking with the Marc Gasol-less Memphis Grizzlies at home.
The light to shine here is that the Celtics simply won't be facing the level of competition desired to earn respect all that often. The further we move along into this 2013-14 season, playing in the Atlantic Division is becoming a gift. Boston has played just one of their 16 scheduled games against divisional rivals so far.
However, Brad Stevens' words must be kept in mind. An 8-12 record isn't much to be proud of, no matter where it gets you in the standings.