January tends to be the most boring month in the NBA. The sizzle of Christmas Day matchups is in the rearview mirror and it’s a slow ramp towards the trade deadline / All-Star combo in February tends to increase the excitement, especially as the season of the NFL reaches its finish line.

The Celtics will play 15 games in the first 28 days of January and go through the middle of the season in the process. But minds will naturally wander ahead.

There will be peaks of interest, particularly on Thursday evenings this month. Boston visits Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks this week, walks in to play against the surging Nets next Thursday, then hosts the Golden State Warriors in another playoff rematch on Jan. 19.

Celtics Talk: Wild Celtics ride in 2022 and bold predictions for 2023 with Eddie House | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube

But some nights, like a Tuesday visit to Oklahoma City, will test the team’s ability to find motivation. With that in mind, here are four things we’ll be keeping an eye on in January:

1. Sam’s Collapse

Sam Hauser’s depression now spans over a month. In the 16 games since Nov. 30, he’s shooting 33.8 percent from the floor and 28.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Once dancing among the NBA’s plus/minus leaders at the start of the year, Hauser is minus-45 in those 16 games. He has held a positive/negative positive in just six of those games, although four of them have come since Christmas Day.

Our panic counters on Hauser have been relatively low. Shooters go through crises. The second-year forward also projected confidence throughout his struggles, an encouraging sign for any young player.

But January could be a bit of a breakthrough month. Brad Stevens said it was his job to explore all roster update opportunities before the trade deadline and noted how he should determine what is a blip and what is real. Is Hauser’s month-long downturn just a slowdown as he adjusts to increased defensive focus, or something more concerning?

Forsberg: Is rest the Celtics’ kryptonite? C continues the strange trend

As teams continue to try to capitalize on Hauser defensively, his forward metrics have been encouraging. In games on Dec. 14, opponents shot 39.4% against him, 6.4% less than the expected return according to NBA defensive tracking data. This included opponents shooting 41.5% on all 2-point shots, which was 11% below expected return.

Still, there was a slight increase in the number of points against him in isolation. Hauser has defended the team’s third-most isolations this season (only Al Horford and Grant Williams have managed more) and allows a modest 1 point per game with opponents shooting 54% (21 of 39) against him in such cases. A turnover rate of 14.3% is among the best on the team, however.

Hauser needs to find his offensive mojo in January and beef up his defense or it could force Stevens to more aggressively explore wing options the team can trust more in potential playoff minutes.

2. Joe All-Star?

We know that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are almost certainly heading to Utah for All-Star weekend. It seems highly unlikely the Celtics could beef up a third player invite given the talent throughout the conference. The only All-Star drama for Boston: Will interim coach Joe Mazzulla and his team be in Salt Lake City?

The team with the best record in each conference near the beginning of February sends its coaching staff to All-Star weekend. Boston currently holds a one-game lead over the burgeoning Nets, with the Bucks and Cavaliers remaining 2.5 games behind.

Boston bringing its coaching staff to the All-Star Game would be a remarkable story considering the late summer events that led to Ime Udoka’s suspension. It would be quite a nod to a group that managed to retain some sense of normalcy and helped guide Boston to a quick start at a time when the wheels could have easily come off this thing.

Mazzulla goes through some of the same bumps that any rookie head coach tends to endure. He hasn’t been perfect, but we’d suggest he pushed the right buttons more often than not. Those off balance when the team went through a rough patch seem to forget that Udoka had plenty of worrisome moments early in his rookie campaign before he really found his voice and pushed his team as part of his second push. period.

3. Bring back the double big?

When will Robert Williams III join the starting lineup? This may be the hottest question in Boston since his return. The Celtics’ main starters – Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart and Horford – have been excellent running with Derrick White as the fifth main starter. This group has a net rating of +15.6 in 242 minutes together, the third-best rating in the NBA among high-volume five-player couples.

In most other situations, there would be little reason to change what works. But Boston’s starting lineup last season with Williams III in place of White was such a wrecking ball – posting a best net rating of +24.6 in 443 minutes – that it just seems like the team has to go there. come back at some point. .

The fact that Williams III injects much-needed energy and defensive intensity every time he hits the ground only fuels those twin flames.

Forsberg: Robert Williams effect lifts Celtics to new heights

The Horford/Williams III pair only played 31 minutes together but the results are encouraging. Most notably, Boston posted a defensive rating of 91 during that span. That’s a very small sample, but still note that it’s 19.6 points per 100 possessions below Boston’s defensive rating for the season, which already ranks 7th in the NBA.

Given Boston’s lack of sheer size, there will be an understandable desire to stagger Horford and Williams III minutes. And the biggest hurdle might just be waiting for Williams III to be able to handle a bigger workload as he returns from offseason knee surgery.

But we’re super intrigued – even if it’s just set in late half in childhood – to see how this group evolves and when the team might finally get back to it at the start of games.

4. Tatum’s second-half push

It seems somewhat absurd to suggest that there is another level Tatum can climb to given how good he has been in the first half of the season. Alas, history suggests that he reserves his best basketball for the second half of the season.

It was a 51-point explosion in late January last year that lit the fuse for Tatum and the Celtics as a whole last season. While he’s firmly entrenched himself in the MVP conversation with his early season play, a late season spike would certainly help his cause as well.

Maybe even start as early as Thursday’s visit with Doncic and the Mavericks.

Our biggest curiosity is Tatum’s 3-point shot. He is at a career low of 35% in 35 games played. That’s down slightly from last season (35.3%) but still well below his career average of 37.9%.

Tatum is already averaging 30.9 points per game, so it’s scary to think about his potential production if he gets that 3-point shot in the second half. He started the season 40.8 percent on 8.2 3-pointers per game in October, but slowly faded, including shooting just 33.3 percent on nine 3-pointers per game in December. He went 0 for 4 from beyond the arc to start the new year in Denver.

Last season, Tatum shot 32.9% on 3-point range before the All-Star break, then 41.5% in his final 20 games. This included a 44.7% sizzle for the month of March.

Can he start over? And what could that mean for both his MVP chances and Boston’s playoff standings?

Source link

Leave A Reply