Connect with us


The Celtics And Tatum Show Signs Of Growth

Porzingis Celtics Jump Ball
(AP Photo / John Munson)

It is early (just barely a week), but the NBA season has already hit warp speed. With the news breaking well before dawn on Tuesday that James Harden had been traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA can officially say it is back! 

Only some teams are retooling just four games into the season. However, some are grinding their way through the early part of the season, experimenting with lineups, establishing culture, and incorporating new pieces. One of the many teams that fit that bill is the Boston Celtics. The Celtics overhauled the top part of their roster this past offseason, making two considerable trades to acquire Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. Many speculated that the changes were primarily basketball-related. President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens talked about how adding players with different skill sets would maximize their potential. Subtly, the new roster has impacted the attitude of this Celtics team, too. 

The new faces brought with them both a breath of fresh air in attitude and a renewed sense of determination. Add in a 4-0 start, and their prospects have all of Boston buzzing about the potential for banner number 18. 


Jayson Tatum’s Maturity 

While not necessarily the improvement that was at the top of everyone’s wish list this past offseason, Jayson Tatum has shown growth pretty much everywhere so far. The Marcus Smart trade, coupled with other decisions, including moving on from Grant Williams, left a unique void. By being the best player, a superstar has a certain amount of expectation that is thrust on him to be a leadership presence. However, that ra-ra, fiery nature that the likes of Smart brought to the Celtics would never be the case with Tatum. 

What has been remarkable to see this season is that Tatum is taking a different approach to leading, and that starts with maturity. One of the main criticisms attached to Tatum has been his tendency to argue with referees. The arguing for calls has drifted into downright complaining, which has negatively impacted his play at times. So far this year, there has been far less barking at officials, mainly because Tatum’s demeanor as a basketball player has shifted.

(above, Jayson Tatum’s shot chart/heatmap shows a much more diverse scorer, which is funny to say, considering Tatum averaged 30 PPG last year. via lissnx14 on x/Twitter)

Tatum has elected to go with the “get to MY spots” approach to start 2023 by averaging 29.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and four assists per game. Digging deeper into those numbers, you can see how Tatum gets his points is what stands out. According to shooting data from Basketball-Reference, Tatum’s percent of field goals attempted by distance shows an increase in frequency at the rim (28.8% compared to 23.5% last year). In addition, his mid-range frequency (10 feet and out) is tracking back to where it was when Tatum started his career. A more mature shot profile is indicative of a more mature player. With Tatum relying on his strength and length as an advantage, it has led to easy opportunities to score.


Porzingis in Heaven

Kristaps Porzingis has had a smile on his face since he stepped foot in Boston. The smile has only grown more prominent since the season started. With a wonderful debut against his former team on opening night, Porzingis seamlessly transitioned into his role on the Celtics. Due to his size and skillset, the instances in his career where he has been left alone because of double teams are few. That’s changed. With the firepower around Porzingis, the big man now has free reign to knock down three-pointers and post-ups because defenses are scrambling to keep up with Tatum, Brown, Holiday, and Derrick White

Although the sample size of four games is very small, the way Porzingis gets his points should be a sign of things to come throughout the season. Strictly looking at his efficiency, he has a ridiculous .724 True Shooting Percentage (a career-high), according to data from Basketball-Reference. Suppose you factor in that Porzingis is also operating at a career-low usage rate of 20%. In that case, the picture becomes clear: this is the best offensive situation Porzingis has ever been a part of, and it rewards him with easy looks. 


A Coaching Course Correction 

Through no fault of their own, the Celtics were underprepared coaching last season. They were left scrambling a week before media day to replace their head coach. Not to mention that a more significant brain drain was taking place on the Celtics sideline. Multiple assistant coaches, including Will Hardy and Damon Stoudamire, left for other jobs. It’s no wonder they floundered at times last year. The coaching staff was frantic in tight moments. Being more prepared has helped so far. 

To ensure that excuse can’t be used this time, not only does Joe Mazzulla have an entire offseason to craft his philosophy and style, but the added security of a team going all in to support him should help relax the 34-year-old coach a little. Some fans had Mazzulla on the hot seat after their loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Brad Stevens was asked during his end-of-season press conference about his belief in Mazzulla. Stevens didn’t waver. More so, he went shopping for proven assistants to help. Sam Cassell, Charles Lee, and Jeff Van Gundy (as a team consultant) are a solid foundation for Mazzulla to build on. 

Reinvesting in Mazzulla was undoubtedly a gamble. With the stakes being a championship or bust, one can’t be blamed for wanting a coach with a little more experience at the helm. However, the Celtics front office believes in Mazzulla a lot. He is one of the only assistants to have stayed on through Brad Stevens and Ime Udoka’s tenures. That not only shows that he cares about the core group but that he has skin in the game, too. 



Everyone should take a step back before crowning the Celtics the champions in November. Remember, they have looked this good before. Just last year, they started out with a 21-6 record. Of course, the true hurdle waits in the playoffs, where the Celtics have yet to get over the proverbial hump. For that to occur, they need to be able to answer the following questions. Can Porzingis stay healthy? Will Tatum carry his alpha-dog mentality for an entire season? Can Mazzulla grow quickly enough to make the adjustments that plagued their squad’s last championship run? Those answers will come, but for now, the team has clearly benefitted from Brad Stevens’ offseason upgrades. 


Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. Matt is frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96. 

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured Articles

Featured Writers

More in Features