Celtics' Top Takeaways from 1st Month of 2021-22 NBA Season
The Boston Celtics aren't who we thought they were.
Maybe they are who we should have expected them to be, though.
Despite changes to the front office, coaching staff and roster, this club's nucleus largely remains intact. The same players who contributed to last season's disappointing .500 finish are playing large roles in the 7-8 start to the 2021-22 NBA season.
The Celtics can be better, but they are by no means guaranteed to climb. Let's get to the top takeaways from the first month of the campaign.
This Team Needs More Shooting
The Celtics might be built to their best work on defense, but they shouldn't be this starved for scoring.
In theory, all five starters can move the ball, four of them can space the floor and two of them, All-Star swings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, should be unguardable. The second unit, meanwhile, should feature several ignitable spark plugs.
In reality, Boston too often finds itself in dire need of buckets. The Shamrocks are buried at 23rd in offensive efficiency. They average just 0.6 points more per 100 possessions than a New Orleans Pelicans team that has played nearly half of its games without Brandon Ingram and all of them without Zion Williamson.
It's brutal, and it almost all stems from a lack of shooting. Boston sits just 23rd in field-goal percentage (43.9) and 26th from three-point range. The Celtics have players who should be shooting better than they are—Tatum, Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith chief among them—but they might have to look outside of their roster to correct this issue.
Defense Will Carry Them
The Celtics have the personnel to play elite defense.
That's what made their start to the season so confusing. Early on, they were bleeding buckets at an alarming rate. Six of their first seven opponents scored at least 115 points. During that stretch, Boston was 27th in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com.
The Celtics apparently flipped the switch immediately after that. They held their next two opponents south of 80 points and have only allowed 100-plus points in three of the eight games since. They have skyrocketed to second in defensive efficiency during this stretch.
"We've been building on it and I feel like that's our identity," Al Horford told reporters. "Tough defensive team. I know we are going to make it hard on people, and I feel like that has to be our identity because that's going to put us in position to be able to win games night in and night out."
Boston's offense will have its moments, but defense will drive this team's success.
Jayson Tatum Must Be More Aggressive
Tatum spent the past two seasons establishing himself as one of the NBA's premier point-producers, which has made his sluggish start to this campaign so perplexing.
His raw point totals are still there (24.2 per game), but his efficiency has torpedoed. He has never shot worse than 45 percent from the field. He's at 39.6 right now. His three-point percentage tells a similar tale, as his clip (32.5) lags beneath his previous rate by nearly five full percentage points (37.3).
History says this slump won't last, but Tatum can hasten his escape from it by upping his aggressiveness and changing his shot profile. His average shot distance is up to a career-high 15.1 feet, per Basketball Reference, and the percent of his shots coming within three feet of the basket is down to a career-low 19.2. His 4.8 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes are his fewest in three seasons.
He is shrinking his own margin for error by upping the difficulty of his jumpers and not getting himself enough freebies. With the handles to dust defenders and the bounce to finish drives above the rim, he should put his head down and enter attack mode more often. That just might be the thing that gets him going.