The Boston Celtics have gotten off to a 1-1 start in the 2016-17 NBA season, defeating the Brooklyn Nets at home and falling to the Chicago Bulls on the road.
There was some good and some bad, as expected for a team with new pieces playing on a back-to-back to open up the year.
But what were they key takeaways from the Celtics’ first two games of the season?
Let’s break them down.
Isaiah Thomas Already Looks More Efficient
One of the main things I talked about coming into this season was that Isaiah Thomas would probably have a more efficient year and would get better looks due to the addition of Al Horford.
So far, that has happened, as Thomas had made 17 of his first 29 shots and is averaging 14.5 field goal attempts per game as opposed to the 16.9 he tallied last year.
The sample size is ridiculously small, but Thomas certainly looks much more comfortable in this offense, as he doesn’t have to force shots and try to do all of the scoring by himself.
It’s not just because of Horford, either. Boston’s offense is improved as a whole, and keep in mind that this was coming without Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart, both of whom are nursing respective injuries.
So far, Thomas’ shots are coming within the flow of the offense, and that’s a great sign.
Good Ball Movement
One of the main reasons for the Celtics’ stagnant offense in 2015-16 was that the ball didn’t move. That had a lot to do with the fact that Boston did not exactly have a lot of options offensively, but regardless, things look much different this time around.
This was more noticeable against the Nets than the Bulls, but the C’s have been moving the rock very well, and that was also the case during the preseason. There is much less dribbling and much more crisp passing, finding open shooters in corners and cutters diving toward the rim.
It just seems like the Celtics are running actual offensive sets this year and, for lack of a better phrase, actually know what they are doing. If Boston can maintain this all season long, it is going to enjoy a solid amount of offensive success.
Jaylen Brown Is Not So Raw
I did not expect Jaylen Brown to make much of an impact early on in the year. I figured he’d be very raw, as he did not look like one of the more NBA-ready prospects coming out of college. At least not on the offensive end, anyway.
Well, so far, I couldn’t be more wrong.
Brown has taken advantage of Smart’s absence by showing Brad Stevens that he deserves a regular spot in the rotation, showing more fluidity on offense that anyone could have anticipated. The rookie looks incredibly confident out there and is clearly not afraid of the moment. He had a key turnover late in the game against the Bulls, but we can chalk that up as a rookie mistake.
If Brown is this good this early on, one can only imagine how nasty he might become a little further down the line. This was a big — and nice — surprise.
Poor Three-Point Defense
Perhaps the oddest development over the Celtics’ first two games has been their propensity for giving up wide-open three-pointers. We saw it against Brooklyn (15 triples) and on Thursday night against Chicago (11 treys). A lot of these long-range attempts were especially clean, and that played a rather large role in Boston’s loss at the United Center.
What I have noticed is that the C’s are doing a lot of doubling and over-helping, paying a little too much attention to slashers and trying to trap ball handlers. This is resulting in a lot of open looks from the perimeter, and it certainly stung against the Bulls.
More than likely, this is something Stevens will point out in the film room and clean up, but it is going to develop into a concern if it isn’t addressed quickly. The Celtics need to start trusting their one-on-one defense more and stop with the constant double-teams.
Boston got killed on the glass in Chicago, losing the battle of the boards 55-36. This was something many expected for the C’s this season, as Horford is not the greatest rebounder in the world and the Celtics lost their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger.
Still, losing by 19 on the glass is something else.
Now, to be fair, a lot of the offensive rebounds (18) the Celtics surrendered against the Bulls were the result of long, unlucky caroms that happened to find the hands of a Chicago player, but you can’t pin the entire disparity on bad luck.
Rebounding is something that could be an issue for Boston all season long, and while rebounding is not viewed as imperative as in years past (just ask those LeBron James-led Miami Heat teams), it can still lose you a game here and there.
Horford and Amir Johnson combined for eight rebounds on Thursday night. That is unacceptable.