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It’s been a brutal season for the Boston Celtics, hammered again by injuries and COVID-related absences, struggling to keep themselves in the playoff picture and dealing with some apparent chemistry issues that have bubbled up more than once.
There are myriad issues but the most glaring has been the inconsistency of their two stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both are still putting up huge numbers but have seen their shooting efficiency drop from last season in several key areas. All this has combined to create an offense that hasn’t really been able to establish a rhythm around a lack of synchronicity between these two primary initiators.
The Celtics beat the Pacers in overtime last night, powered by a combined 50 points from Brown and Tatum. But they also combined to take 47 shots, hit just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc and finish with more turnovers (8, all for Tatum) than assists (7). The duo is still creating offense but they’re having to grind it out in a way that makes clear how hard they’re pressing.
The Celtics are currently 24th in offensive efficiency, averaging just 108.1 points per 100 possessions. They’ve managed an even more discouraging 105.9 points per 100 possessions in the minutes Tatum and Brown have been on the floor together. The roster is not quite as deep with skill players as it has been in years past, putting more pressure on that duo. And with players shuffling in and out of the lineup and several new roster additions there haven’t been as many opportunities to build familiarity. But Brown and Tatum have played together for five seasons and their personal on-court chemistry seems a bit off.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum aren’t working together the way they have in the past
Both players are more scorer than facilitator, but they’ve had no trouble setting themselves up in past seasons. This year, Tatum has assisted Brown 18 times; Brown has recorded just 7 assists back to Tatum. They’ve been on the floor together for 1140 possessions which works out to a ratio of just 2.11 “inter-assists” per 100 possessions, an enormous drop-off from the past two seasons.
It should come as no surprise then that both players have been shooting worse when sharing the floor, as opposed to when they’ve been on the floor together. This has been a fairly consistent pattern for Tatum over the years but it’s a new trend for Brown.
It’s not clear if it’s a symptom or part of the actual problem but both isolations have been on the rise for both players and, with the addition of Dennis Schroder, there seems to be a lot more stagnation in general. Last year, 7.8 percent of the team’s possessions were used in isolations. This year, that’s climbed to 9.1 percent, fourth-highest in the league, with Tatum (5.2), Schroder (2.8) and Brown (1.9) all ranking in the top-50 in the league in isolations per game.
There are enough other variables at play that the Celtics could reasonably chalk these struggles up to a new coach, new teammates and the ongoing challenges of keeping their core healthy and available. But if the Celtics wanted to shake things up and explore a big swing at the NBA trade deadline, there is at least an argument to be made that this pairing may not be workable as the offensive engine for a championship contender.
Wayne Ellington is chasing an obscure bit of statistical history
In 580 minutes this season, Wayne Ellington has attempted 143 shots from beyond the arc and just 14 2-pointers. That works out to a 3-point rate of 0.911. The previous high mark in NBA history, for a player with at least 1000 minutes played, was Davis Bertans for the Wizards last season at 0.895. If you slash the minute requirement to 500, Gary Clark’s 2018-19 campaign and 0.914 3-point rate for the Houston Rockets jumps ahead but Ellington seems likely to play nearly twice as many minutes as Clark this season and is within striking distance of his mark either way.
Ellington has always been a 3-point specialist but playing off LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis has pushed him towards the extreme. His career 3-point rate coming into this season was 0.570. It’s been ticking up over the past few seasons but he’s in position this year to enter his name into a dusty corner of the NBA record books.
Other NBA stories:
Jabari Smith is making a move to surpass Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero as the No. 1 prospect on most 2022 NBA Draft Big Boards.
The Fred VanVleet All-Star case just keeps getting stronger and stronger.