On behalf of reasonable basketball fans all over New England, I’d like to thank the Celtics for hitting the mute button on the alarmists yowling about all that was wrong after their 1-2 start. It’s nice to be able to watch a good basketball team in peace.
Now, I’m not saying they’re sailing to the NBA Finals, or even a fourth appearance in the Eastern Conference finals in five seasons. They have their recurring annoyances and aggravations. Does every other game have to come down to the last shot? Can’t they mix in a 19-point win once in a while? I get my fix of anxiety in plenty of other places, thanks.
But they are in a good place, and it’s getting better. They’re 6-3 and 1½ games back of the Sixers in the conference standings. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been superb on the court and even better away from it. Brad Stevens is experimenting with all sorts of lineups and giving young players a chance to show what they can do. (I may have written off Carsen Edwards too soon.)
The brain trust can afford to be cautious with Kemba Walker, and when he returns, there is little doubt he’ll recognize the new pecking order and continue to be a superb teammate and scoring option. And the trade exception acquired in the Gordon Hayward deal is the enticing prize yet to be revealed.
Much of what has worked for the Celtics this season is familiar. Some of it is not. Here are a few thoughts on the new players on this year’s roster.
· Tristan Thompson: As advertised, right? Not that he should be much of a mystery after nine seasons with the Cavs, which included 16 postseason games against the Celtics.
He’s averaging a team-best 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 offensive rebounds per game, sets a mean screen, switches well on defense, and seems to be a great teammate. I could do without watching him put the ball on the floor and try to create his own shot, but hey, even Perk wanted shots back in the day.
He’s the second player from the Kardashian Cinematic Universe to play for the Celtics, and like Kris Humphries, he seems like a genuinely good guy.
· Jeff Teague: Sheesh, he has some weird numbers so far. He’s a career 44.4 percent shooter, and 35.8 percent from 3-point territory. Through seven games (he’s currently out with an ankle injury), he’s shooting 33 percent from the field but 58.3 percent from 3-point territory. Imagine those numbers will start moving toward each other.
I really like having him on this team. At 32, he is inconsistent, but he has a clever change-of-pace game (he used to drive Avery Bradley nuts in his younger days), throws in a nifty floater once in a while, and seems to be another who falls into the Great Teammate category. Watch Teague when Payton Pritchard comes off the court during a break in the action. He’s constantly offering a pat on the back and a word of advice.
· Payton Pritchard: Danny Ainge must love having an Oregon kid come in and dazzle right away. When Pritchard was drafted with the 26th overall pick, I thought we’d see him in Maine quite a bit, lighting up the G-League. It’s pretty clear now he wouldn’t have spent a second with the Red Claws even if they had a team this season.
I’m not suggesting he’s going to be an All-Star, but he’s going to have a long career of being a good player on good teams, and I can’t recall being more enthused by a Celtics rookie since Rajon Rondo electrified during the 2006 preseason … or perhaps it even goes all the way back to Joe Johnson’s enticing start in 2001.
Those who were unfamiliar with Pritchard probably figured the Celtics were drafting the basketball version of Brock Holt — a scrappy, limited dude who seemed to overachieve. But those familiar with what he did at Oregon knew he’d be much more. Can’t say anyone had him winning games with put-back offensive rebounds nine games into his career, though.
· Aaron Nesmith: With no summer ball and an abbreviated preseason, his struggles shouldn’t be that surprising, though it does make Pritchard’s immediate contributions all the more impressive.
Pritchard was a four-year college player, though, while Nesmith played two years at Vanderbilt, and took a huge leap forward as a sophomore when his scoring average went from 11 to 23 ppg.
Even though he was the higher pick, it should have been expected that his learning curve would be steeper. He needs further immersion in Brad Stevens’s defensive principles; right now he’s like an Algebra 1 student trying to make sense of an unsolved math problem on a hallway chalkboard at MIT.
He plays hard and he recovers fast after he makes a mistake. His shot will come around once he lets it fly without pause, though I have to admit, I assumed someone who shot 52 percent from 3 in college last season would have more classic form. Klay Thompson he is not.
· Robert Williams. I know, he’s not a new player on the roster. But he’s a new player, you know, and I want to acknowledge that, because his improvement might be the key to the entire season.
He is shooting 77.4 percent from the field, and has become a little less reckless while pursuing blocked shots defensively, and it’s nice to have someone who can get an easy bucket at the rim a few times per game.
Per 36 minutes, he is averaging 14.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks. Stevens needs to make sure he gets at least 20 minutes per game, and probably more (he’s currently averaging 16.4).
At some point, Ainge will get credit for taking him with the 27th pick in 2018, right? Oh, and his name is officially Time Lord. If you refer to Williams, I’ll assume you mean Grant.
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