Written By: Vinny, @sailboatstudios
Reasons for the Celtics recent struggles are many. For one If was expected Jayson Tatum would hit the rookie wall one of these days; the grind of an NBA schedule is harsh on a rookie. Tatum’s played well past the thirty-seven games he worked in his lone season at Duke. In the first 37 games Tatum splits were a Rookie of the Year worthy 51.5/50/82.4%, averaging 14 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.6 Stocks (Blocks + Steals); since then: 42.1/30.3/82.5% splits, 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 Stocks. Add to the exhaustion, defense was never Tatum’s calling card, the Warriors on both occasions showed his vulnerability on zipper action and one-on-one situations.
As a team the Celtics hit their stride after October 24th, the team catapulted to No. 1 in defense posting a league-leading 101.1 DRtg; the Spurs, for the entire season, are second with 104.74. Opponents eFG% was at 48.6, well-below the league-average of 52.1%; opponent’s three-point percentage went capped out at 33.9%; compared to the league-average of 36.1%. This was why people tagged Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, until recently. The loss of Gordon Hayward didn’t only limit their offense severely, Irving and Horford together can only up Boston’s ORtg to 108, not even close to elite level, it also cost Boston a solid defender on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown is still too skinny to guard many athletic wings (Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo); Jayson Tatum is too young; Terry Rozier is undersized; and you can only scheme around these hinderances so many times until you finally get beat.
Soon the cracks started to show. Smart creating a laceration in his hand after punching a picture frame, derailed Boston’s elite defense to somewhere just below league-average. While a 105.2 DRtg, since the loss to the Lakers, isn’t horrible, the 240 points given up at home to Cleveland and the L.A Clippers right before the All-Star Break is. We can point to the simple subtraction of Smart, one of the best on-ball and team-defenders in the NBA, as the cause for this gigantic step back, but the pieces seemingly were in place to prevent the Celtics from missing Smart. The Clippers, Raptors and Cavaliers, scoring 361 points in the three games played against the Celtics, neither of them (besides Cleveland) didn’t have a body to bully starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown or even Tatum. Yet, they still ran rough-shot over the worn down Celtics. Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and the aforementioned, high-effort Rozier were healthy for all those games. In all reality, this shouldn’t have happened. It’s not crazy to suggest all the Celtics need is some downtime to return to their previous form.
But even if that’s not the solution, it may lay on the bench, twenty-seven-year old center Greg Monroe’s been a solid 5 points, 5 rebounds per game in the four contests he’s suited up in green, since joining the team a week before All-Star Break. After logging in nearly twenty-minutes in his debut against Washington, his time dwindled to 10, 11 and 9 minutes in the final three-games. In those very games, established big forward/center Daniel Theis played nearly 28, 17, 11 and 10 minutes, seeing as he’s a better fit for the modern NBA and was on a good run since December 31st, 56.1%, 40.7% from three, and an offensive rating of 126.
But the following opponents for Boston are exactly why Ainge signed Monroe, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Charlotte, and Chicago. Teams with an established center and Monroe played and had some success against in the past. Like former teammate Andre Drummond, the nine games played Monroe hit 56%, averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 stocks. Traditional back to the basket centers like Robin Lopez, Enes Kanter, Cody Zeller, Dwight Howard and Jonas Valanciunas are the ideal matchups for Monroe; even though Theis on his best night could create more havoc. But the slow-moving Monroe still proved his worth in a game against the Wizards, a team who’s frontcourt consists of Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahimi, Monroe snagged 6 boards and 5 points in the overtime victory.
Like Terry Rozier when Smart was sidelined was the most important two-week stretch of his career, defining his role in the rotation as a trustworthy contributor; Monroe can earn the same if he produces in five of the next six games after All-Star Break comes to a close.