We’re almost 2 months into the season and The Boston Celtics are still sitting comfortably with the 1st seed in the East and best overall record in the NBA. No one can deny how good they’ve been thus far. They have undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the NBA, and some of the best young talents in the league that looks to keep growing. Factor in their dynamin-veteran center and #1 ranked defense and this team’s potential is unlimited… so why is Kyrie Irving getting so much praise?
Kyrie has been nothing short of spectacular this season, he’s the Celtics leading scorer and their 4th quarter closer. He’s putting up a cool 23ppg and 5apg on the season while being one of the clutchest players in the league. He’s got some of the filthiest handles you’ll ever see and currently has the Celtics with a 22-5 record on the season, yet somehow I find myself holding back from giving Irving too much gratitude.
Narrative has played a large role in all the hype surrounding Kyrie Irving this season. Think about it. All the talk in the offseason was centered around Kyrie’s departure from Cleveland and how much he wanted to be ‘the man’. “Kyrie can’t carry a team on his own…”Kyrie can’t win without LeBron….Kyrie will never make the playoffs” With every little thing Irving does, it’s that much more magnified now that he’s not playing alongside the man that won him his first ring.
The media is eating this up. It’s truly comical to think a team that just finished 1st in the East and went to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago couldn’t be in the same position this season by swapping star point guards with their rival team.
That brings me to my next point. Didn’t we see this same scenario last season with Isaiah Thomas in Kyrie Irving’s exact same situation? Why is Kyrie getting so much more praise than Isaiah was? Am I really the only one that could’ve seen this coming? It’s the same team with the same system. Sure, Celtics lost two key pieces in Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley but they’ve well made up for it with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, who are actually proving to be the better players.
Jayson Tatum is more than likely going to finish top 3 in Rookie of The Year voting. The kid can flat out ball! He’s tallying 14 points a game to go along and 5.5 rebounds with insane shooting splits of 50/51/82. That 51% from beyond the arc is currently #1 in the entire NBA. He’s also 10th in true shooting percentage at 64%, higher than Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, and 13th in effective field goal percentage with 59%. Oh, and did I mention he’s only 19 years old?
As you can see from the comparison, Tatum this year has been far better than Crowder last year in nearly every department while playing less minutes.
Now let’s discuss Jaylen Brown, who many have as a Most Improved Player of The Year candidate. The 2nd year guard is really coming alive this season and he’s taken his game to a whole nother level. He’s upped his PPG by nearly 10 points, from 6.6 a game to 14.8, rebounds from 2.8 to 5.9, 3P% from 34% to a whopping 40%. He’s also averaging 1 steal a contest and is one of the better defensive players we have in the league.
While Avery Bradley was slightly better last season than Jaylen Brown is this season, it’s nothing to worry about considering Brown is only in his 2nd season and playing less minutes.
I’m sure by now you’ve often heard that although Kyrie may be the best player on the team, Al Horford is unanimously the most important player for the Boston Celtics. Brace yourselves. Not only does the potential DPOY lead the Celtics in rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, defensive win shares, and plus-minus but he also leads the team in assists with 5.4, which has him top 20 in that category among the rest of the league.
His rankings across the rest of the league are downright silly.
5th in defensive rating
5th in defensive win shares
5th in defensive box plus-minus
7th in EFG%
8th in plus-minus
9th in win shares
12th in 3PT%
12 in TS%
15th in FG%
15th in offensive rating
Below is a comparison of Horford’s on/off court impact compared to Kyrie’s.
Kyrie owes a lot of the success to the brilliance of Brad Stevens and his #1 ranked defense. Unlike last season where a majority of the Celtics success came from the Isaiah Thomas led offense that finished 8th in offensive rating, this season’s victories are in large part to their defense. With scrappy defenders like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford the Celtics have a league best defensive rating of 101.6, where as last season they ranked 13th with a 109.1 rating.
If that wasn’t enough defense for you then how’s this, the Celtics are allowing just 97.5 points per game, a league best. In this same stretch they’re forcing opponents into shooting 43% from the floor and 33% from three. Just to give you an idea of how dominant their defense has been, they held the #1 offensive-juggernaut Golden State Warriors to their lowest scoring output of the season of just 88 points.
The Boston Celtics are a team capable of competing night in and night out whether its Kyrie playing the point or even Shane Larkin filling the void. They’ve shown evidence of this when they went 2-0 without Kyrie in the lineup, they secured wins over the Hornets and Raptors. You can do all things through Brad Stevens and as long as he’s the one steering the wheel, this team will do just fine.
Clearly, the Celtics are a team that are built for success. Despite the 23 points and late game heroics, there’s really not much about Kyrie to be chanting “MVP!” when he’s at the free throw line. Maybe we should be saving those chants for Al Horford or Brad Stevens?
- All stats courtesy of ESPN.com, Basketball-reference and NBA.com.