As we enter December and the cold winter months, the NBA is heating up. There is no hotter team in the association than the Boston Celtics. They have the league’s best record at 18-4 and have won 15 of their last 16 contests. Many experts predicted Boston to be among the top championship contenders going into the season. However, many were unsure how the team would play after their head coach Ime Udoka was forcibly suspended for sexual misconduct in the workplace. Questions on the court arose such as how can the team handle the extended injury and absence of Robert Williams III? It turns out that interim coach Joe Mazzulla has found the answers, and that answer has been to let Jayson Tatum do his thing.
The forward from Duke is having the best year of his young career. Tatum is second in the NBA in scoring, coming in at 31.6 per game, on the best efficiency he has had. In addition to putting the ball in the basket at the highest rate in his career, he is also putting up the best assist totals and second-highest rebounds. Last season Tatum was selected to his first All-NBA First Team, meaning on paper, he was a top-five player in basketball. In actuality, there were flaws in his game a year ago that did not put him in the ranks with the players such as Luka Doncic, Giannis or Kevin Durant. As for this season he has taken that leap to be seriously in the MVP race, and at this moment may be the front-runner for the award.
The success of the Boston Celtics has not been entirely due to the work of Tatum, however. Jaylen Brown is also having his best season as a pro. With a career-high of 26 points a game, it appears that Brown will be named to his second All-Star team. Both players have been maturing on the court as well as we could have hoped for them to and seem to be turning into arguably the best two-way duo in the game.
Speaking of defense, Boston has the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, who is the first guard to win the award in over 25 years, and has won the award seven times in total. His defense has not regressed in the slightest and his offense has improved as well. Even though his scoring is down slightly, he is shooting career-highs from the field and from the three, as well as putting up 7.6 assists a game, a personal best by far.
A massive addition to the Green Team has been Malcolm Brogdon. They landed the former Rookie of the Year guard in July after they sent a package including a first-round pick and bench players. Brogdon’s ability has never been in question, but rather his durability as he has missed a good chunk of his career due to injury. He has missed only three games so far though and has produced solidly by posting a stat line of 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench. He has been a solid insertion to the rotation on both ends of the court.
After the top-of-the-roster stars, the depth pieces have been superb for the team as well. Veteran big man Al Horford has had a career revival over the last couple of years. This year he is putting up 11 points and six rebounds, extremely respectable for a 36-year-old. Derrick White was traded for at the trade deadline in February and has excelled in his role in Boston averaging 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists on a nightly basis, as well as very solid perimeter defense. Grant Williams has continued his hot stretch of play, going back to the second half of last season’s level of production. He has been an absolute sniper, shooting nearly 45% from the three, which is near the top of the NBA. The final main contributor to the rotation has been Sam Hauser. The second-year undrafted free agent has been welcomed into an instant offense off the bench and ranks sixth in the NBA in three-point percentage. The Celtics have been an absolute force in the NBA and only time will tell how good they can be when center Robert “Time Lord” Williams returns from injury in a few weeks.