Despite losing Gordon Hayward for the year (we think) and overturning more than half the roster this past offseason, the Boston Celtics are on pace to win 57 games and contend for the Eastern Conference’s top playoff seed.
Head coach Brad Stevens isn’t impressed.
Brad Stevens: I’ve said all along that I don’t think we’re quite as good as our record. And I think we have to get a lot better. I still feel that way. After a tough week, sometimes it makes you take even more of a hard look at it.
There is not a lot of margin between being good and being really good. We’re not really good yet. But I think if we really hone in here we have a chance to play better.
Like it or not Celtics faithful, Stevens has a point.
Indeed, Boston’s defense is impressive. It remains the best in the league, in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. But this team needs another big-time shot-maker, both during the middle and down the stretch of games. Kyrie Irving is really the only one who can face-up and get a bucket from scratch—and defenses know it.
Al Horford can be trusted in a pinch, but he’s not an attacker. He’s an expert passer from the post, who can pump-fake defenders from the free-throw line and attack the basket. He is not, however, a ball-handling maestro.
One or both of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will get there someday. But we’re talking about a rookie and sophomore, respectively. They cannot be counted on to play the pseudo-alpha in the playoffs—or even right now. And the Celtics’ offense has suffered accordingly. They’re 29th in points scored per 100 possessions since Christmas Day. Also, according to Cleaning The Glass, their current record projection is outperforming their point differential by nearly five wins.
So, yes, Stevens has a point. The Celtics are good. Better than good. But they’re not great. Not yet.