By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Let’s empty out the notebook as the Celtics head into the weekend, nine games into the season.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were high picks of whom much was expected. Not too much is expected out of a late first rounder. But Ainge has found a number of serviceable pros outside of the lottery during his time with the Celtics: guys like Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Avery Bradley and Terry Rozier. Even Jared Sullinger was a double-double machine for a little bit.
No. 26 pick Payton Pritchard may not wind up the best of them all – Jefferson did, after all, make an All-NBA team playing in Charlotte – but if nine games are any indication, he’s got a chance to have the greatest early impact of any late first rounder during Ainge’s tenure.
He may not average 23 minutes once Walker is back, but Pritchard’s heady play, combined with the weirdness of this year’s schedule, should guarantee solid rotation time – which so far has produced per-36 averages of 13 points, five assists and nearly two steals.
The inequity of this season’s launch has led to plenty of blowouts throughout the league. Some teams started the campaign with only a couple of months to recuperate. Others hadn’t suited up since March.
The result has been some uneven basketball:
Including the Nets' 34-point win last night, there have been 26 games decided by 20+ points this season, with 18 different teams accounting for those 26 wins.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 6, 2021
That is tied for the most such games through a season's first 105 games in NBA history. h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/LKK514O9jA
By contrast, five of the Celtics’ nine games have come down to the final possession. Luckily, they’ve managed to steal three wins: in addition to Pritchard’s buzzer bailout Wednesday night in Miami, they’ve gotten two big shots from Tatum: in Milwaukee on opening night, and on Sunday in Detroit.
Brad Stevens’ teams have always been susceptible to momentum shifts, and they’ve given up some substantial leads in the early going. With fewer nights off this season, all of the close games could take a toll. It’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
While there’s been plenty of griping over Brad Stevens’ “two big” lineup, and a number of fans continue to pine for an impact big instead of the hodgepodge they currently deploy, Boston’s middle men have been getting it done.
C's rank 3rd in the NBA in offensive rebounding and have 2 of the top 7 individuals.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) January 7, 2021
Timelord leads the pack (which includes an old friend.)
NBA OFF REBOUND PCT
1. R. WILLIAMS, BOS
2. Allen, Bkn
3. Capela, Atl
4. Drummond, Cle
5. Kanter, Por
6. Stewart, Det
7. THOMPSON, BOS
Keeping a possession alive is key for a team missing a top playmaker for an extended period.
Now, the defense has been inconsistent – to put it kindly – and Boston could probably improve clearing the glass on the other end (currently 25th in defensive rebounding). But it’s a nice stat and another feather in the cap of Williams, who has made an impact in his 16 minutes a night, packing the stat sheet and making 77 percent of his shot attempts.
Unfortunately, the rebounding numbers are bound to tail off as the Time Lord – along with Grant Williams and Tristan Thompson – is facing a week’s absence per the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
Coming up next
The Celtics host Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal and the Wizards Friday night at TD Garden. As mentioned, Boston’s frontcourt depth just took a hit. Washington is a disappointing 2-6 this season with their new backcourt combination, and Beal is likely to be miffed after tossing in 60 points Wednesday night in a five-point loss to the 76ers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.