Robert Williams

Celtics Mailbag: Could Jaylen Brown be an All-Star?

Celtics Mailbag: Could Jaylen Brown be an All-Star?

Could Jaylen Brown be an All-Star?

It’s a question we got asked right around the time Luka Doncic was watching Brown throw down a hammer that capped the young Boston wing's 25-point, 11-rebound night and sealed the Celtics’ 116-106 triumph over the visiting Mavericks on Monday night.

The initial reaction is to scoff, maybe the same way that some reacted to Brown’s contract extension. But there’s at least a case to be made for consideration if Brown maintains his recent level of play during Gordon Hayward’s six-week absence.

Brown is now averaging 19.8 points over 31.4 minutes per game while shooting 53 percent from the floor. He’s averaging career bests with 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Most importantly, the eye test confirms a player who's drastically enhanced his play, from tighter ball-handling to better court vision to a relentless aggression in attacking the basket.

Maybe it’s an overreaction to two very loud games, but Brown boldly declared after returning from a three-game absence in Charlotte that he was eager to show everyone the strides he’s made this summer, and he’s doing it. He promptly put together two of the most impactful regular-season performances of his still-young career.

The Celtics own a net rating of plus-16.4 with Brown on the court this season, the third best number on the team behind only Daniel Theis (plus-18.6) and Jayson Tatum (plus-17.8). Boston’s turnover rate — on pace to rank among the best in league history if maintained — is never lower than when Brown is on the court (team-best 9.6 percent in his 188 minutes).

Brown offensive progression isn’t coming at the expense of his defense, either. He defended Kristaps Porzingis for nearly four minutes on Monday night and held him scoreless on three shot attempts. Brown is impacting the game positively at both ends and, should these bountiful stat lines become the norm in the absence of Hayward, it sure feels like he could state a case before the February exhibition.

If nothing else, Boston’s four-year, $107 million extension (if you include only likely incentives) sure looks good if Brown keeps playing at this level. But let’s stick with the All-Star theme to start this week’s Celtics Mailbag.

How many All-Stars does Boston get and who? — @CraigJoly

Coming into the season, we would have said that Boston, as likely the third best team in the East behind Philadelphia and Milwaukee, would land two All-Stars and our picks would have been Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. After Boston's fast start, it seemed fair to wonder if Gordon Hayward could muscle his way in as well, particularly if Boston remained near the top of the standings.

With both Hayward and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton now sidelined, it could hinder their All-Star cases — especially Hayward, who stands to miss 19 games if he doesn't return until Christmas. That’s part of the reason we think it’s fair to wonder if Brown could garner some consideration. 

Let’s say the East starters end up as Walker, Kyrie Irving, Pascal Siakam, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid. Slam dunk reserves would include Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, and Trae Young. Now you’re down to four spots with strong considerations for guys like Tatum, Kyle Lowry, Malcolm Brogdon, Zach LaVine, and Blake Griffin (if he stays healthy). 

It’s hard to see a path to Boston getting three All-Stars unless there are more injuries. The best chance for a third Celtics player might ultimately be an injury replacement in February. Brown can force that issue with six strong weeks of consistent two-way play in Hayward’s absence.

Who's the frontrunner for most improved on the Celtics so far this year? (Excluding Hayward, for now, since we've seen him play at this level back in Utah) — @niravbarman27

To me, it’s Brown in a landslide. Tatum is taking better shots, though they haven’t fallen yet as his 1-for-18 night on Monday spotlighted. Theis might be in the conversation, though some of his production spike is simply being healthier. Robert Williams has a lot of room to grow and unlimited potential, so he might make a charge at this title by season’s end. But Brown is doing things he never did a year ago already. Some of that is role, but a lot of it is the hard work he put in this summer improving as a ball-handler and a passer.

Do the Celtics really need another big? It seems like they are making it work with what they have given how well the smaller guys can use their footwork and strength to stay in front of the opposing bigs and how disruptive the C's defense is in passing lanes. — @jeffayc

It’s been en vogue since the departure of Al Horford and Aron Baynes to suggest Boston needs a sturdier frontcourt presence. Given the talent they are likely to see in the postseason, it’s understandable why that notion persists. I’m just not sure if there’s a rush to make that move. Let’s see what these bigs can do, who develops, and then maybe Boston can better gauge what’s available. The current bigs certainly haven’t held them back to this point.

How much longer until Boston's rebounding costs them a game? — @stfrncs

Certainly, if there’s one concern about this team in the big picture, it’s rebounding. I’m just not sure how long a team can rank 29th in the NBA in rebounding and it not become an issue. Now, the Celtics have been so good at both limiting and creating turnovers that it’s allowed them to survive being poor on the glass. Getting Enes Kanter back will help, too. But no matter how good the defense plays, those second-chance opportunities can be backbreakers. If the Celtics elect to stay small and ride the personnel they have, they will really have to take care of the ball and maximize their possessions.

Are the Celtics winning with smoke and mirrors, or is this team success sustainable for a deep run into June 2020? Love the chemistry and hustle. — @eagle_raw

To go back to the big issue: I think it’s fair to be skeptical if the Celtics could deploy, say, Marcus Smart on Giannis and/or Joel Embiid for an entire seven-game playoff series and have the sort of success they’ve had early in the year. Then again, we shouldn’t rule anything out with Smart, who really deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration if he keeps gleefully defending players as much as a foot taller. I think we need a longer glimpse of this team at closer to full strength — or at least with Kanter and the bigs healthy -- to determine if Boston definitively needs an upgrade at that spot. Maybe this team can survive with development alone but, at least for nine games, they’ve been remarkably steady. 

LIGHTNING ROUND!

So glad you brought the mailbag back! What one or two things have been biggest factor in the Celtics start and do you think it is sustainable? — @jshollander

Strength of schedule (sixth easiest schedule in the league, per ESPN’s Basketball Power Index) certainly helps. Boston is projected with the third-easiest schedule overall thanks to the weaker East. I don’t know if a top-10 defense is sustainable, so it puts even more pressure on Boston’s offense to maximize possessions, find the hot hand, and keep producing at a really high level (Boston is now second in offensive rating behind only the Mavs team they beat on Monday). 

How do you think Tatum moves on from going 1-for-18 last night, both for himself and with teammates? He was getting visibly frustrated in the fourth quarter when the rest of the offense wasn’t giving him crunch-time opportunities. Any cause for concern? — @evantarrh

Any frustration he had was seemingly with himself. I like that he remained aggressive, even when his shots didn’t fall. And, even better, he didn’t run out of the locker room. He laughed off his misses then went to the practice facility to get up shots. These eyes remain more encouraged by the type of shots that Tatum is taking than discouraged by the fact that they haven’t fallen as much as usual this season.

At the beginning of the season, I thought the Celtics might try and trade Brown for a big man. After his early play and contract extension, I hope that’s no longer an option. Follow-up, do you see Danny Ainge pursuing a center? If so, what scenario do you find likely? — @schmidtwerd

Brown’s extension ensures there’s little chance the team would move him, especially not when he’s playing the way he has. I certainly think Ainge and Co. will examine ways to upgrade at the big-man spot but, again, I don’t think there’s any rush to do something until their lack of proven size becomes a consistent issue.

Aron Baynes makes basically $400K more a year than Kanter. We couldn’t have found a way to keep Baynes? — @ErosStudios

The Celtics needed to shed salary in advance of July 1 to ensure they’d have a max-salary slot to sign Walker. There might have been some thornier paths to shedding that space without moving Baynes but remember, too, that the Phoenix deal netted Boston a 2020 first-round pick from Milwaukee (top-7 protected this season). Projected as a late first, it could still be a handy asset if there’s in-season maneuvering. It’s easy to second guess watching what Baynes is doing in Phoenix, but Boston took the path-of-least-resistance to clear space and start the process of wooing Walker. Kanter was later signed with the room midlevel as the team crept back above the cap.

Does Javonte Green's rise make Semi Ojeleye expendable? — @bubbleblabber

I think they’ll need all hands on deck during this Hayward-less stretch but certainly Ojeleye has to show more than he has if he’s going to get the minutes that someone like Green has wrestled away. Ojeleye in his last four appearances: 0 points, 1 shot, 1 rebound, 0 assist, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 1 turnover, 3 fouls, -8 in 19 minutes. Yes, short stints can be tough, but he’s gotta do more in his floor time.

Will the Celtics be giving Robert Williams more play time?? — @EvansOnSports

And let’s combine this with … 

Time Lord athletically is our best big. What is stopping him from being in the starting lineup as the 5, besides sometimes being lost on the court. — @WTPgreenie

Consistency, particularly on the defensive end, will unlock ALL the doors to playing time for Williams. While playoffs could change things based on matchup, we could see Wiliams as the starting center late in the regular season.

Do you think the Celtics need to add a veteran rim-running big man or do you think Robert Williams will be improved enough by the end of the regular season to fill they void in the postseason? — @HansDancin

We are particularly bullish on Williams and the San Antonio game was a nice glimpse of what could be. We’ll end this week with a tease: More on Time Lord — and his importance to Boston moving forward -- in Wednesday’s column.

Ainge's 'solution' to Smart's groin-kicking problem>>>>>

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which tips off Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Sunday leftovers from Celtics' impressive start to the season

Sunday leftovers from Celtics' impressive start to the season

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

*****

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics return home from a three-game road trip bringing the best of souvenirs—three wins. 

And with those victories, the Celtics (7-1) now find themselves tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the best record in the NBA. 

In recent days, we’ve talked a lot about the various elements that have converged to deliver some of the best basketball we could have imagined the Celtics would be playing at this point in the season. 

But there are some aspects of their success that haven’t gotten a ton of attention but still have value. 

And with that, we bring you some Sunday leftovers highlighting some of the more below-the-radar factors contributing to the team’s fast start to the season. 

THEIS IS NICE

Part of a logjam at center to start the season, Daniel Theis has distinguished himself as the best option for Boston in the middle.  During Boston’s recent three-game road trip, he averaged 6.0 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.7 blocked shots - all better than his season average in those respective categories. 

More than anything else, Theis’ defense has been what’s kept him on the floor for Boston. His defensive rating of 96.6 ranks fifth among centers who have played more than one game this season and are averaging at least 20 minutes played per game. 

And the four players ahead of him reads like a who’s who of defensive standouts the past decade, a foursome that includes Joel Embiid (91.1), Anthony Davis (94.1), Dwight Howard (95.3) and Rudy Gobert (96.4). 

But that stat that matters more than any other—wins—is what truly sticks out when you talk about Theis being a starter. 

Since becoming a Celtic, Boston has yet to lose a game (11-0) with Theis in the starting lineup. That includes wins in all six games he has started this season for the Celtics. 

FORSBERG: How will Celtics handle Hayward's absence?

TIME LORD ROCKS THE RIM 

The way things have gone this season, Celtics fans have come to expect Robert Williams III to send someone’s shot a few rows back into the stands every night. The 6-foot-10 center came into the league known as a big-time shot blocker at the college level. And while his time in the NBA has not always been the smoothest journey, Williams’ ability to impact the game defensively at the rim is clear. He is averaging 1.7 blocked shots while logging less than 16 minutes on the floor per game. NBa.com/stats shows that per 36 minutes, Williams’ shot-blocking numbers rise to 3.7 per game which per 36 minutes would rank ninth in the NBA. And he’s doing more than just swatting a few shot attempts away when he’s on the floor. Among centers averaging 16 minutes or less per game, only Dallas’ Boban Marjanovic (+9.5) has a better plus-minus among centers, than Williams (+5.0).

BLAKELY: This player could soften the loss of Hayward

C’S ARE ELITE AT BOTH ENDS OF THE FLOOR

Through most of Brad Stevens’ time in Boston, we have seen the Celtics excel at scoring the ball and dominate defensively. But rarely have we seen them play a dominant brand of basketball on both sides of the court. But that’s exactly what we’ve seen thus far, a major factor in Boston’s impressive start to the season. The Celtics have played with the kind of balance that has fueled their success in ways few envisioned. 

Offensively, Boston has an offensive rating (110.4) that ranks fourth in the NBA. And their defense is just as strong, with a defensive rating (101.1) which ranks fifth in the league. The Celtics are the only team in the NBA that’s ranked among the top five in both offensive and defensive ratings. 

While some are hesitant to jump on the Celtics bandwagon just yet because it’s still so early in the season, here’s what you have to consider. No one is saying that the Celtics are going to just roll on and dominate the rest of the season. But consider how well they have played on both sides of the ball both at home and on the road, there’s reason to believe that the Celtics’ success will remain high for the rest of the season. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Celtics Report Card: Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker key hot start to season

Celtics Report Card: Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker key hot start to season

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 7:00 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

*****

“We have a long way to go. We’ve been playing well so far but we have so much we have to clean up and get better at. The best thing is we’re finding our way through the mistakes through the rough patches, through the adversity."

That's how Kemba Walker summed up the Celtics' 4-1 start to the season, as Boston has rebounded from an Opening Night loss at Philadelphia to reel off four straight victories, including a statement win over the Bucks and a last-second thriller over the Knicks in the past week.

Despite playing without Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter, the C's have handled adversity well — something they failed to do a season ago.

So the team is getting an A in chemistry so far. Let’s check the report card to see how they fared in other subjects last week.

Click here for Chris Forsberg's Week 2 Report Card.>>>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.