The Boston Celtics have underperformed expectations this year, despite having All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the roster, topping a record 18-21 almost mid-season, placing 11th in the Eastern Conference.
In their last loss, against the struggling Knicks on Thursday, the Celtics had a 24-point lead in the second quarter, which they wasted. This isn’t the first time they’ve given up substantial leads this season, as they also helped the Chicago Bulls come back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, ultimately dropping 14 points themselves.
Usually, digging through the stats, including the more advanced ones, one uncovers a clue as to why a team is in trouble. But in the case of the Celtics, not a single number jumps off the page to identify their exact issues. Of course, that doesn’t help them rank 20th in offense, and it’s not particularly impressive to rank 23rd in eFG%, but that’s not all.
The Celtics have to be seen to really understand what’s going on. They look fuzzy, demotivated, and apathetic about their own situation, like they’re waiting for someone to simulate the rest of their games on a gaming console, just so they can finish their season.
So what exactly is going on? Turns out, your guess could be as good as anyone else’s.
Some speculate if Brown and Tatum’s relationship has deteriorated and is now to blame. Others point to Boston’s constant bickering in the media as a chemical killer. Finally, some believe that first-year head coach Ime Udoka is not good enough in the role and has lost the locker room.
As speculation escalates, one thing has become clear in recent weeks. The Celtics have a vacant management position, and no one currently on the roster or on the coaching staff has the interest or the skills to fill it. This is a rudderless team, for a variety of reasons.
Neither Brown nor Tatum are known to be great verbal leaders. Both have enormous abilities in the field, but more often than not they lead by example. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as they’re flanked by a verbal and emotional leader who commands respect from all around them. While Al horford and Marcus Smart tried this role for size, it didn’t go well.
Point guard Dennis Schröder, signed last summer on a one-year contract worth $ 5.9 million, is more a goalscorer than a leader, and although he can still argue for the sixth man of the year, ranking fifth by FanDuel Sportsbook, it turned out not to be the solution to Boston’s lack of leadership.
The need for a true playmaker
NBA positions are dead. In today’s league, a team’s best playmaker can be its 6’11 cross, and a team’s best rebounder can be its 6’3 point guard. More often than not, teams roam the Earth to find wingers who can handle the ball, prepare the attack, and function like true old-fashioned pointers, just taller and more athletic.
In the case of Boston, however, it might be necessary to revert very slightly to the old format of having a real, sane playmaker, who directs the attack, dictates where players need to go and is constantly in control. the attention of his teammates and coaches.
Fortunately for the Celtics, such a player is available in free agency this summer. Unfortunately, it might not play for a while.
Ricky Rubio of the Cleveland Cavaliers is exactly the type of player who can instill in Boston a culture of upbeat positivity, selflessness, ball movement and a winning attitude.
Rubio, who recently suffered an ACL tear in his left knee for the second time in his career, was instrumental in Cleveland’s impressive return to relevance this season. As Rubio came off the bench, his influence was evident from the moment he came on. The ball would move, he would call plays and tell his teammates where to go, when to climb up to set up a screen, then teach them how to improve afterward. if the game fails.
Rubio is basically a natural teacher. He’s not an All-Star player, or even a particularly good scorer, either. In fact, Rubio is historically miserable in terms of efficiency, frequently posting shooting percentages in the mid-1930s.
Yet despite his lack of competence in this area, he has everything else. He is an elite general and a strong defender. He helps on the glass and moves the ball in transition. He is more than happy with the involvement of his teammates, as 30-point games mean little to him.
Long term outlook
Is Rubio going to solve all the problems in Boston? No, not from a distance. But he would help shape a culture of oneness and togetherness, which these Celtics otherwise escaped.
He would also free Tatum and Brown to be themselves, without fans and members of the media expecting them to become leaders in ways that don’t match their personalities.
Rubio is a free agent this summer and his injury could have hurt his money market. That said, the Celtics should still be aggressive in their pursuit, as there is a possibility that a few other struggling teams will watch him for similar reasons.
While Rubio isn’t a hot name, he should be both affordable and realistic, and most importantly, he should help fix the team from the inside out.
The Celtics owe it to themselves to give this approach a try before they start making any meaningful changes to their Tatum and Brown couple.