Buying or Selling Celtics' Biggest Early-Season Trends

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Buying or Selling Celtics' Biggest Early-Season Trends

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The Boston Celtics' path to open the 2021-22 NBA season has followed the frustrating one-step-forward, one-step-back formula.

    They haven't had a winning or losing streak longer than three games, and they've only had one three-game stretch of each.

    The offense can erupt, or it can land below 90 points. The defense can suffocate opponents or struggle to keep them off the scoreboard. Injuries have been an issue, but inconsistency has been a bigger one.

    How can anyone make heads or tails of this team? Great question, but we'll take a stab by buying or selling three early-season trends.

Trend: The Defense Is Becoming Elite

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Verdict: Buy

    Perhaps the biggest challenge for Ime Udoka in his first go-round as Celtics skipper is to return this defense to the Association's elite ranks after last season's disappointing 13th-place finish, per

    That's why alarm bells blared around Boston when six of the club's first seven opponents scored 115-plus points. At the time, the Celtics were buried in 27th in defensive efficiency.

    Entering Wednesday, Boston had the league's fifth-best defense since. Given the personnel—particularly in the starting lineup—this is much more in line with expectations, and therefore easily trusted.

    Boston still has some areas to clean up—the West Coast trip has started as a defensive disaster—but a team with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III can and should dominate that end.

Trend: Jayson Tatum Can't Find His Shot

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Verdict: Sell

    Once Tatum forced his way into a featured role a few seasons back, he wasted little time establishing himself as one of the league's top scoring threats.

    First, he served up a cool 23.4 points per night on 45.0/40.3/81.2 shooting in 2019-20. He followed that up by increasing his output to 26.4 points per contest with a similarly efficient 45.9/38.6/86.8.

    The volume remains present, as he's sitting on a top-10 scoring average (25.5 a night, tied with Luka Doncic), but Tatum's typical efficiency is nowhere to be found. His 41.3 field-goal percentage and 33.5 percent splash rate are both by far the worst of his career.

    What gives? Probably nothing worth worrying about. Tatum is too talented not to turn this around, and he might already have the process started. Over his last four outings, his stats have skyrocketed to 32.0 points on 51.2/43.8/90.3 shooting.

Trend: Jayson Tatum Plays Better Without Jaylen Brown

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    Verdict: Hard sell

    Something has been notably absent from Tatum's recent heater: Jaylen Brown, who can't quite get a nagging hamstring issue under control.

    That perhaps raises the question of whether this is a coincidence or something more. Given the previous questions about their ability to coexist and the overlapping nature of their games, it's at least worth exploring.

    Based solely on this season's statistics, Tatum has fared better without Brown, and it's not close. With Brown, Tatum has averaged 19.4 points per 36 minutes on 36.4/23.1/76.2 shooting, per Without Brown, those numbers have ballooned to 28.2 points per 36 minutes with a 43.5/36.9/85.1 slash line. Staggering stuff, right?

    Actually, things might not be as they appear. First, Brown made most of his appearances early in the season, when Tatum's shooting woes were at their worst. Second, their on-court data extends beyond this campaign. Go back just to last season, and Tatum was a more efficient shooter at every level with Brown on the floor.

    You can maybe debate whether they are the perfect co-stars for one another—neither is a particularly proficient playmaker—but they can clearly wreak havoc together.