Team Chemistry is something that can not be taught at the NBA level. It is something that can make the difference between making it to the Finals and losing in the first round.
A great example for a comparison would be between the Warriors and the Timberwolves of last season. The Warriors were built from the draft, and the players were given time to adjust and get used to one another. Whenever you see the Warriors play, they look like they are enjoying every moment. The Timberwolves with Jimmy Butler were originally thought of as the best chance to beat the Warriors that season. However, Minnesota failed to meet expectations, and that was mostly due to team chemistry. Conflicts between their star players forced the team into a first-round exit at the hands of the Rockets. Of course, other factors played into the poor season, but team chemistry was at the top of the list.
This season, it is not the Timberwolves, but the Boston Celtics that are making headlines for the wrong reasons. A team that was one game away from the NBA Finals last year is now in jeopardy of not even having home-court advantage this year. There are a few reasons for this decline, but the most obvious seems to be the re-introduction of Gordon Hayward and to a lesser extent, Kyrie Irving.
Gordon Hayward was signed to a monster deal last season worth $128M over 4 seasons. The first of those 4 was cut short when he broke his leg 2 minutes into the year. That allowed players like Jayson Tatum, a rookie at the time, and Jaylen Brown, a 2nd year player, to thrive in his place. As everyone wrote them off, they defied expectations and went on a 16-game winning streak.
Kyrie was a victim of a bum knee as the season wore down, and the Celtics opted to shut him down, rolling with Terry Rozier as his backup. Rozier proved to be more than serviceable, leading the Celtics in Kyrie’s absence. Here’s a look at his stats once Kyrie was sidelined.
- 16.5 PPG
- 5.7 APG
- 5.3 RPG
- 1.3 BPG
Those were his numbers during the playoffs last year, and for a 2nd year player, those aren’t too bad of numbers. While Tatum looked more impressive, Rozier was the one leading the charge.
This season, both Hayward and Irving have returned. That shakes up the whole roster now. Players that had the chance to shine last season were not allowed to start this season with that same rhythm. That explains why both Tatum and Brown’s PPG have dipped from last season. It also does not help that up to this point, Hayward has not seemed like the player that we thought he would. While that will come eventually(maybe sooner rather than later, after his 26 Pt effort vs the 76ers), they’ll need him to pick up the play if they look to move up the standings in the top-heavy east.
The problem for the Celtics is that they don’t know who should be doing what at certain times on the floor. Kyrie has his moments where he iso’s on the court. Same with Jayson Tatum. In losses, the team shoots a noticeable 3% less from the field, and 5% worse from three. As one that has watched many games from this team, those lower numbers stem from not trusting one another and taking poor shots.
After blowing a huge lead to the Lakers, and allowing an upsetting buzzer beater to former Celtic Rondo, the C’s managed to choke away a 28 Pt. lead to the other team in L.A., the Clippers. After that loss, Marcus Morris stated the following: “Guys are hanging their heads. It’s not fun. We’re not competing at a high level. Even though we’re winning, it’s still not fun. I don’t see the joy in the game”.
For the Celtics to play to their potential, they need to not be selfish. They need to trust one another. In games where they get less than their average of 26 assists, they are 13-14. When they get more than that, they are 23-7. This team plays exponentially better when playing for one another.
The rest of the league can take something away from this Celtics team. They can realize how easy it is to fall off after a promising season. Players should not take what they have with one another for granted. In the end, the Celtics will be fine, and I have them as the favorites in the East still. There is a reason this is a team sport, and the C’s are showing what happens when players don’t buy into that value.