The Boston Celtics, who many believe are the favorites to reach the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference, have not started off the season as expected.
It is extremely early, but the C’s are 3-2 on the young season with losses coming at the hands of the rival Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic. Aside from an 18-point victory on opening night over the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston’s two other wins have been by a combined eight points, with both games coming down to the wire.
Boston entered the season with the majority of the roster from last season intact, but with the return of Gordon Hayward, the team has been trying to figure out how to fit all the pieces together. Early-season hiccups may be expected as the C’s attempt to determine their rotation. But there definitely are things they must improve on if they’re going to live up to the lofty expectations.
Here are four improvements that need to be made if the Celtics are to have any shot of playing for an 18th banner in June.
4. Defensive Pressure and Turnovers
This isn’t the biggest problem, but it could be helpful. The Celtics are averaging a meager 6.4 steals per game as opposed to 7.4 last year. And while they’re still sporting the best defensive rating in the NBA at 96.6 points per 100 possessions, if they were able to get one or two more steals each game, it could lead to easy buckets to help open up the offense a little bit.
3. Get to the Free Throw Line
The Celtics actually are shooting pretty well from the charity stripe (76.8 percent), but have had trouble getting there. Boston is ranked 27th in free throw attempts per game this season with only 19.8 attempts per game. This isn’t a large drop-off from last year, when they ranked 20th, but could be a sign that the C’s are settling for too many difficult outside shots rather than driving to the rim.
2. Determine the Rotation
The Celtics are one of the deepest teams in the league, so the allocation of minutes is exceptionally difficult. Hayward’s injury last season led to expanded roles for players such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum much earlier than expected. As Hayward gets integrated back into the offense, making sure the young guys and veterans get minutes is difficult. Coach Brad Stevens has done a good job thus far splitting up the minutes between the starters while still giving the reserves plenty of time. Moving forward, will Stevens stay with a small ball starting lineup or will someone like Aron Baynes eventually see a role in the starting lineup?
1. 3-Point Shooting
Surprisingly, the Celtics have been one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league. Boston is ranked 27th beyond the arc, a massive falloff after finishing second last year. They are shooting 31.8 percent from deep this season, compared to 37.7 percent last season. This is bound to improve, as almost the entire 2017-18 roster has returned and also now features Gordon Hayward, a career 36.8 percent 3-point shooter. Multiple guys have been shooting uncharacteristically poorly, especially point guard Kyrie Irving, who is shooting just 21.4 percent from downtown. The C’s eventually should shoot themselves out of this slump — and they’re going to need to if they want any chance of making it out of the East.
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