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Celtics Check-In 2018 – First Quarter

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I’ll freely admit to being something of a late adopter when it comes to the NBA. As a general sports fan, I was always aware of the NBA, but my interest never really went that deep – I was primarily and baseball and football man.

But recent years have shown me just how fun the game of basketball can be. And when the hometown team just happens to feature a mess of exceptional talent, well … it’s easy to get excited. However, this year’s squad hasn’t managed to proper utilize that talent to meet the loft expectations placed on them.

Obviously, we weren’t going to get a repeat of last year’s start; 16-game winning streaks don’t grow on trees. But we all though this team would be better than 11-10 at the season’s one-quarter mark. It’s not a terrible record, but at just above .500, they currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference. They’ll get better, but when?

Let’s check in.

On the offensive end, the team is led by Kyrie Irving. No surprise there; Irving is one of the best in the game right now. He’s been good for 22 points per game over this first stretch, with roughly six-and-a-half assists, five boards and two steals.. It’s a solid line. His percentages are good – he’s over 47 percent overall and almost 38 percent on threes. He’s the all-around offensive force that the Celtics brought him to Boston to be. His never-great defense has been even spottier than usual.

It seems that Gordon Hayward – who played all of five minutes last year before suffering a gruesome season-ending ankle injury – may have rushed back. He’s clearly not at peak performance; 10.1 points and 5.4 boards per game are not what you’re looking for. His shooting has been lousy – he’s under 30 percent on threes – and he just doesn’t look right. One assumes he’ll shake it off, but he’s been a liability for much of the season thus far.

Happily, Jayson Tatum has managed to keep much of the momentum from his tremendous rookie season going. While he hasn’t leapt forward quite like some anticipated, it’s hard to fault a kid averaging over 16 points, pulling down 6.6 rebounds and dishing two assists per game. Plus, he’s deadly from three, shooting over 40 percent on the season. He’s still learning and growing; his development may stall a bit here and there, but he’s definitely on the ascent.

Ditto Jaylen Brown. While Brown has slowed a bit from last year, he’s still giving the Celtics solid production from the shooting guard spot. His 11.1 points per game are fifth on the team and grabbing four boards. His defense has been a little more erratic at times, but he remains one of the better wing defenders out there. He’s been an understated but vital piece so far this year.

Al Horford continues to do Al Horford things, albeit at a slightly lesser pace than he has done them in the past. It’s his “pretty good at everything” line with lower numbers – 12 points, a little over six rebounds, three-and-a-half assists, solid interior defense. He’s been saddled by some with the derogatory moniker “Average AL,” which has been unfair in the past but feels kind of right this season. Again, he’s a better player than his numbers are showing.

That’s the starting five, but the bench has its contributors as well. Chief among them is Marcus Morris, who has somehow managed to wind up third on the team in scoring (13.9) and its top rebounder (6.7) while shooting a remarkable 48.8 percent from the field. That includes a frankly unbelievable 43.2 percent from three. Unsustainable? Sure. But fun to watch in the interim. Backup guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart have had unspectacular starts – both are struggling with shooting the ball. Center Aron Baynes has been solid in relatively limited work. The rest of the bench is meh.

This is the first time that coach Brad Stevens has looked like he’s struggling. Yes, this team has had issues during Stevens’s tenure, but he’s always seemed in control. This year feels a little different. He’s still one of the best coaches in the league, but he’s going to need to figure out some adjustments, particularly on the offensive end – better shot selection will be a huge key to success going forward - for the Celtics to rise to their talent level.

It’s early. The Celtics are trying to learn how to play with each other. They’re integrating a superstar whose health still isn’t 100 percent while also trying to give deserved run to the young players who helped lead this team to such success last season. It’s just taking a little longer than anticipated.

Rest assured – this is not a .500 team. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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