Marcus Smart wants that ball; Marcus Smart needs that ball | Photo: Christopher Evans/Boston Herald
It’s easy to overreact to small sample sizes. After one game, people were ready to write off Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown. That obviously proved to be silly as they have bounced back nicely. And after just three games, I’m going to overreact positively to the Boston Celtics defense. I have that power to be biased around here.
Through three games, the Celtics lead the league in turnovers caused per game (22.0). If you look a little deeper into some heady advanced metrics, they are second in the league in turnover percentage (19.0%) as well. So, about every five times the opponent heads down the court, the Celtics are causing a turnover. Big things.
Alternatively, the Celtics are protecting the ball on offense as well. They tote the best turnover percentage on that side of the ball in the NBA at 9.4%.
Turnovers aren’t the be-all and end-all to identify a great defense, though. The Celtics find themselves in the middle of the NBA (14th) in opponents points per game at 102.7. When it’s convenient, I’ll mention here that it’s a small sample size. They are better when you look at the advanced metrics. Per 100 possessions, they are giving up 99.9 points which is good for eighth best in the league.
For this team to be successful and make some noise, they will need to be a top 10 defense. Turnovers will help the transition offense, but to be a true contender, we need to see them be better at defending without fouling. There was a basketball video game that Clark Kellogg used to say "defend without fouling" a dozen times per game, so I anytime I mention this I cringe a little. I couldn't find it, but this will do:
The Celtics rank 23rd in the league right now in allowing free throw attempts per field goal attempts. This means that 27.3% of the field goal attempts the opponent takes, the Celtics are putting the opposition on the foul line. Again, since it doesn’t help the narrative, we can cite small sample size.
For real though, there are good signs early on. The Celtics are protecting the ball and causing the other team to give them the ball back. This will contribute to a successful season. Couple those numbers with good offensive rebounding numbers and the Celtics are taking 16 more shots per game than their opponents. And if their 26th ranked field goal percentage creeps upwards to the middle of the league, they will be turning their defense into points more consistently.