It’s hard to know exactly where the Celtics stand right now, because nearly a week has passed since they last played a game. COVID-19 protocols halted their season, and it’s unclear what they will look like when play resumes, most likely Friday against the Magic.
But the first 10 games of this abbreviated 72-game season might have offered at least a few clues about the Celtics’ trajectory, so here are some early numbers that are both encouraging and troubling.
▪ Deceptive results?
Despite some injuries and early slippage, the Celtics entered Wednesday night with the best record in the Eastern Conference (7-3) and the second-best record in the NBA. But they are outscoring opponents by just 2 points per 100 possessions, the 12th-best net rating.
While the record is impressive, it might be a bit of fool’s gold. Three of the Celtics’ seven wins have come on game-winning shots with less than three seconds left. A few bad bounces in the other direction, and they could easily be 4-6.
▪ Dish it out
Boston’s 1.48 assist-to-turnover mark ranks just 24th in the NBA, but it should get a boost when Kemba Walker returns soon. Last season, the Celtics had five regular rotation players with an assist-to-turnover number above 2.0, and so far this year Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague are the only two players hitting that mark.
The Celtics are averaging 8.8 points per game in isolation situations, the second-highest average in the league, but they are scoring on just 36.4 percent of these plays, ranking 27th. Coach Brad Stevens probably would prefer to see more ball movement.
▪ Help for Tatum
The Celtics have a minus-8.8 net rating when Jayson Tatum is on the bench. Stevens generally likes to keep his top players at about 34 minutes per game during the regular season, so the results when Tatum sits will have to shoot up if Boston is going to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Tatum is expected to miss at least the next few games after recently testing positive for COVID-19.
▪ Second chances
The Celtics’ 30.3 offensive rebound percentage is tied for third in the NBA. It would be logical to assume this is the Tristan Thompson effect, and he has been his usual menacing self on the boards.
But Robert Williams has been the true star here. He has gobbled up 17.5 percent of Boston’s missed shots while he is on the floor, the best offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA among players who have appeared in at least five games.
The Celtics could do more to capitalize on these opportunities, though, as they rank just 15th in second-chance points per game.
▪ Get moving
Through 10 games, 10.7 percent of the Celtics’ field goal attempts have come with four seconds or less on the shot clock, fourth most in the league. This is not the preferred route, as evidenced by their 35.8 percent shooting in those situations.
▪ For starters
Much has been made of the struggles of the two-big-man starting lineup that features Thompson at center and Daniel Theis at power forward. That unit has a grisly minus-13.2 net rating. Stevens has stood by the group so far, insisting that there will be times it is needed, so it is worth experimenting with now.
When Thompson was ruled out because of COVID-19 contact tracing, it appeared that we would get an extended look at lineups featuring Theis as the starter, but the Celtics have had three games postponed, and Thompson could return soon.
This unit hasn’t provided the floor spacing that makes it easier for Tatum and Jaylen Brown to carve up defenses. Thompson hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer this year and Theis is shooting a career-worst 23.8 percent from beyond the arc.
▪ Semi shining
If Gordon Hayward had decided to return to Boston, Semi Ojeleye most likely would not have had his contract option picked up by the Celtics. But he has been an essential cog over the first few weeks, with the Celtics outscoring opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Ojeleye is mixing in career-best 40.7 percent 3-point shooting with sturdy defense.
▪ Go for two
The Celtics have been far less reliant on the 3-point shot. This season, 65 percent of their shots have been 2-pointers, the seventh-highest mark in the NBA. By comparison, 61.4 percent of their attempts last year were twos, ranking 17th.
Brown’s mid-range dominance has played a large role in this. A career-high 70.2 percent of his attempts have been 2-pointers, and he is connecting on a blistering 59 percent of them.
This disparity will likely shift when Walker returns, though.
▪ Give me that
Even though the Celtics have just the 19th-ranked defense, they have provided some sizzle at that end of the floor. They are the only team that ranks in the top six in both steals (9.1) and blocks (6.6) per game.