Forsberg: Our favorite stat for every Celtics player at halfway mark originally appeared on NBC SportsBoston
The Boston Celtics hit the midseason mark of the 2022-23 season with the best record in basketball at 29-12. There were some bumps through the holiday season that raised some concern levels but not enough to suggest this team isn’t a legitimate title contender based on what they’ve shown over the past 12 weeks.
There’s plenty for the Celtics to figure out on the three-month grind to the playoffs but there’s a lot of encouraging progress, particularly in curing what ailed the team on its championship quest last season.
With that in mind, here’s one statistical nugget on each of the key contributors this season, followed by some notable team metrics that show how Boston hit the midway turn atop the NBA:
Percentage of shots that Jayson Tatum gets fouled on
That’s not only a career high, it’s up 3.5 percent from last season. Tatum is shooting a whopping 8.6 free throws per game this season, up 2.4 attempts from a season ago. He’s driving with more purpose.
Tatum’s finishing at the rim has dipped a bit after a blistering start but we like the aggressiveness, especially when his 3-point shot has defied him at times. If he ever gets cooking from distance, he’s capable of a familiar second-half surge.
Scoring percentage on Jaylen Brown’s drives
Keeping with the theme of attacking with a purpose, Brown is generating 8.9 points off 11 drives per game. Among the NBA’s 47 high-volume drivers who average at least 10 drives per night, that’s the second-best points percentage in the league behind only DeMar DeRozan (83.9 percent). The three players immediately behind Brown on that list are Zion Williamson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Donovan Mitchell. That’s some elite driving company.
Brown is also shooting 82.5 percent on the 2.5 free throw attempts per game generated off drives, even higher than the career best 79 percent he’s shooting at the charity stripe overall this season.
We had planned to spotlight Brown’s majesty in the midrange — he’s fourth in the NBA in mid-range field goal percentage (52 percent) — but watching him attack the basketball relentlessly at times in recent games inspired a check on his driving record.
That’s the best mark in the NBA among qualifying players at that spot. Horford hit a dagger from the right corner on Monday night against the Bulls. Why is he thriving there?
“I don’t know [about individual] corners. I just get to the corners,” shrugged Horford, who was unaware he shoots 54.3 percent from the right corner (16.1 percent above league average) and 36 percent (2.3 percent below league average) from the left corner. Horford said he’s simply ready to fire away whenever defenders stray to police Boston’s star talent.
Could a guy who averaged a mere eight 3-pointers per season through his first eight years in the NBA have imagined hosting 4.6 3-pointers per game at age 36?
“No way,” said Horford. “I didn’t even think about shooting 3s. This is pretty cool.”
Derrick White’s net rating
White leads the entire NBA in net rating this season, having shuffled ahead of two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (+11.6). White has the Celtics team lead by nearly three points over both Robert WilliamsIII (+8.9) and Tatum (+8.8).
White has long been an analytics darling and this continues a trend of good things happening whenever he’s on the court, regardless of role. He held down the fort as a starter while Williams III was rehabbing and easing back in. White even channeled his inner Time Lord and leads the Celtics in blocks with 39.
That’s an astounding 12.8 percent better than Brogdon’s final season in Indiana and 5.8 percent better than his career average. Brogdon raved about the sort of looks he might get coming to Boston and he’s made teams pay when he has open looks.
Combine that with Brogdon’s desire to drive — he’s right there alongside Brown and Tatum in terms of drives per game — and he’s added a much-needed offensive presence to Boston’s second unit.
Percent spike in Boston’s offensive rebound rate since Robert Williams III’s return
The Celtics were on a historic offensive pace to start the season but their offensive rebound rate ranked dead last through mid-December at a mere 23.1 percent. Since Williams III returned on December 16, it has spiked to 27.5 percent, and Boston should soon surge into the top half of the league rankings.
Williams III ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive rebound percentage (13.7) among all players logging at least 15 minutes per game. What’s more, he has a knack for immediately punching those rebounds to teammates for open 3-point looks, which has made Boston’s offense that much more dynamic.
Grant Williams’ 3-point percentage from the corners
Yes, Williams is still punching the clock at his corner office. But what’s really encouraging is Williams ‘overall efficiency of him. He’d need to be really steady at the line the rest of the way but he’s quietly flirting with 50/40/90 at 51/42.2/84.5. He’s taking quality looks when they come his way and not forcing shots.
Williams has also added to his toolbox and is much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor in order to score closer to the basket. Before Williams III’s return, Williams led the team in both field goal percentage at the rim and in the paint (non-restricted area).
Now, a few notable team numbers:
Boston’s offensive rating
While Boston’s offensive efficiency has dipped off the historical pace (2020-21 Nets, 117.3), it’s still remarkable considering that the entire bench slumped for a month in December and the Jays weren’t very good from distance, either.
Boston spent a couple weeks as the worst offense in the league and yet they still sit atop the NBA overall. If their shooting gets back anywhere near the start of the season, this offense might still be the best in NBA history.
Boston’s turnover rate
While there have been occasional head-slapping blips, much of the woes from last year’s postseason run have been limited this season. The Celtics rank fourth in the NBA in turnover rate.
Boston’s winning percentage in clutch games
One of the team’s bugaboos last season, Boston is 12-5 in clutch games (score within five points in the final five minutes). The Celtics have the second-best winning percentage in clutch games at the halfway point (only Brooklyn is better).
Boston hasn’t always been particularly crisp, and too often has let teams get uncomfortably close late in games. But after going 13-22 (.371) during regular-season clutch games a year ago, the Celtics look like they’ve learned a lot about winning close games during last year’s playoff run.