Inside the Numbers: 7 stats that defined Celtics' preseason schedule
The Boston Celtics wrapped up a perfect 4-0 preseason on Tuesday night in Cleveland. A year after coach Brad Stevens threw up a whole bunch of caution flags that probably should have hinted at the turbulence awaiting the 2018-19 Celtics, should we buy all the good vibes emanating from this new-look group after an encouraging preseason showing?
It feels OK to be cautiously optimistic about Boston’s chances to outkick the now tempered expectations, though some obvious concerns remain (especially in a new-look frontcourt). A look at seven numbers that leaped off the page this preseason during the seven-day ramp to the start of games that matter.
That’s the average projected win total — based on the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook's most recent over/under odds — of the teams Boston defeated this preseason (if you count the 24.5-win Cavaliers twice). The biggest win projection in the group was Orlando at 42.5 wins and the Magic were missing their All-Star center during that game.
Which is simply to say that things will be a little bit different on opening night when the Celtics visit a 76ers team with a 54.5-win projection (tied for the second highest in the league behind only the Milwaukee Bucks).
This was Kemba Walker’s usage percentage in the two preseason games he appeared in. There was a lot of chatter after Walker signed here about whether there was enough shots for everyone in Boston’s starting lineup. But Walker seemed perfectly fine with deferring to teammates this preseason. For context, his usage rate last season was 30.8, the ninth highest number in the NBA and easily the highest mark of Walker's career.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me. I’m getting a lot of different shots as well, but I’m loving it, not having not do so much all the time,” said Walker. "Hopefully my usage rate might be going down a little bit. It allows other guys to make plays and I can appreciate that for sure.”
That was the Celtics’ net rating over the 25 minutes that Daniel Theis played this preseason. Theis played so well in the middle games that he didn’t even make the trip to Cleveland for the finale. Did he position himself to be the opening-night starter at center? If anyone other than Joel Embiid was on the other side, we’d lean towards yes, but it will be interesting to see if Stevens elects to mix and match his bigs based on matchups during the season.
According to the NBA’s matchup data, Theis defended Embiid on 32 possessions a year ago and gave up 24 points on 6-of-9 shooting while adding 12 free throws. Maybe Stevens will just roll the dice and hope Theis holds up but the Celtics don’t have an Aron Baynes-like bruiser to throw in there (though French import Vincent Poirier showed well, defensively, during the preseason).
That’s the total number of shots Jayson Tatum attempted in the preseason that were not either 3-pointers or layups. Only four of those shots were beyond 10 feet and only three classified as mid-range. Tatum didn’t shoot particularly well — 31.1 percent beyond the arc, 41 percent overall — but it’s clear how much more efficient he can be with a better shot profile and a focus on getting to the line more often.
Tatum was a team-best plus-51 (tied with Marcus Smart) in his 63 minutes of floor time this preseason. Another Tatum number that deserves mention: He grabbed 18 rebounds — the second highest total on the team — showing how he can impact the box score well beyond scoring — just like he talked about with Gregg Popovich this summer.
This was Boston’s offensive rebound percentage this preseason. For context, that would have been the highest mark in the NBA last season. Boston ranked 24th a year ago with an offensive rebound rate of 25.7.
Both Theis and Enes Kanter were especially active on the offensive glass (and springy Javonte Green posted the third-best number on the team showing his ability to keep possessions alive with his hops). While we’re on the subject of Green, he made an awfully strong case to make the roster with his dunk-filled preseason. Though it’s his defensive potential that might separate him slightly from 3-point specialist Max Strus.
That’s how many uninterrupted months that Gordon Hayward had to work this summer on simply getting back to the player he used to be. Hayward played with a renewed explosion and showed flashes of the playmaker who was an All-Star in Utah.
Yes, his shooting defied him in the preseason — he shot a mere 34.8 percent overall (8 of 23) and 20 percent beyond the 3-point arc (2 of 10), but the eye test seemed to confirm all the summer hype about Hayward being closer to his old self. It’s still fair to want to see Hayward take his confidence and aggression into the regular season and be able to display it more consistently than he did last year.
That’s the average distance on Carsen Edwards’ nine 3-point makes during Tuesday’s exhibition finale in Cleveland. Edwards wasn’t bashful during the preseason, putting up 31 triples in 61 minutes (and making 45.2 percent of them).
For sake of comparison, James Harden attempted 34 3-pointers — the second-highest total so far in the preseason — over 104 minutes floor time. If Edwards shows this sort of range — and efficiency — in the regular season, he’s going to get a lot of the backcourt minutes opened by the departure of Terry Rozier.