Ranking Celtics' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2021

Ranking Celtics' Biggest Strengths Through 2 Months

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics have spent the first two months of the 2021-22 NBA season waiting on their breakthrough.

    The waiting continues.

    Wednesday night's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers pushed the Shamrocks' record to an even .500: 16 wins and 16 losses. They have yet to have a winning or losing streak stretch longer than three games.

    Boston has talent, but it hasn't always been available and hasn't always meshed the way it could. The team's season, just as it was last term, is defined more by frustration than anything.

    Amid the maddening inconsistency, though, some strengths have risen to the surface. We're here to spotlight and rank the top three.

3. Isolation Offense

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    Boston Globe/Getty Images

    There might be an audible groan sounding out of New England for this situation since Boston's embrace of iso-ball can lead to some stagnant play and unsightly possessions when the one-on-one game isn't working.

    But there's a reason the Celtics run more isolations than every team other than the Brooklyn Nets, per NBA.com. Boston has players who can put up points in these situations.

    Between Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schroder alone, the C's boast three scorers who can catch fire against anyone. With that trio leading the charge, the team has gotten 9.9 points per game on isolations alone, a total that, again, trails only the Nets.

    It isn't always the most visually appealing play style, but it can be highly effective. Think of it this way: Boston has one of the Association's highest averages of isolation points despite a down season from Tatum and underwhelming shooting rates from Schroder. Get those two on track, and isolation offense could emerge as the club's greatest strength.

2. Free-Throw Volume and Efficiency

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    While Tatum and Brown haven't been hurting for offense in recent years, it has always felt like they were leaving points on the board by not earning more trips to the foul line.

    Given their handles, strength and finishing, you would think they would be magnets for whistles, but foul calls haven't been heard often enough.

    That's changing this season. Tatum and Brown are averaging career highs in free throws made and attempted. Since each spots a 75-plus percent conversion rate at the charity stripe, the uptick has added a not insignificant amount of scoring to this attack.

    With the All-Stars leading the charge, the Celtics are up to first in free throws made (17.4 per game), fifth in free throws attempted (21.5) and fourth in free-throw accuracy (80.8 percent).

1. Defensive Ceiling

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    When the Celtics have Tatum and Brown on top of their games—or even one rolling alongside a red-hot Schroder—they can overwhelm their opponents with offense.

    But look at the structure of this squad. It was built to win with defense.

    The Celtics haven't always dominated that end this season, but they have shown the capacity to do so. In fact, going back to Nov. 3—the game just after their players-only meeting—they have had the NBA's fourth-best defense.

    And still, it doesn't seem like we have seen the best from this bunch. There isn't a defensive weak link in the opening lineup of Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and Al Horford. They can also bring some pesky stoppers off the bench.

    If Boston can summon its defensive dominance on a more regular basis, this club could have the kind of campaign its fans have long awaited.