The big unknown as we wait for the NBA to restart its season inside the fan-less Disney bubble is how exactly players will respond to such a unique game experience.
It’s been suggested that the Boston Celtics, despite their relative youth, could be well-positioned to succeed in a bubble environment because of coach Brad Stevens’ ability to keep his team laser focused. At least one of his players buys this notion.
"The mindset is the most important,” said Enes Kanter. "The game of basketball is like 80 percent mental. If you’re off, it doesn’t matter how good of a player you are.”
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Stevens has repeatedly implored his players to stay one week away from their best shape and Kanter said that has forced players from letting their minds wander too far from basketball during this three-month pause in activity.
"Even this [quarantine] period that we have, the past two, three months, I didn’t go like, ‘Woo, it’s a vacation.’ I did gain weight, I'm not going to lie, but my mindset [was there]. My body, of course, was healing and resting. But my mind was like, ‘OK, I’m going to play any minute. We can come back any minute.’ I think the Celtics did a really good job of makings sure [players stayed focused].”
So which Celtics players are best positioned to thrive in Orlando? Trying to determine how anyone will fare in a rather unprecedented game environment is guesswork at best. But that doesn’t mean we can hunt for clues.
For this exercise, we looked at Celtics’ players home/road splits this season for clues about how location might impact performance. Those players with little variance in stat lines would seemingly be ideal for a neutral-site game, able to block out the elements around them and focus on the task at hand.
Those players who had divergent splits, particularly those that soared at home and struggled on the road, would seemingly be less likely to thrive in the bubble while allowing performance to be impacted — positively or negatively — by environment.
A handful of splits that jumped out:
JAYSON TATUM Home/Road Splits
The epitome of evenness. Tatum’s stat lines are jarringly equal. Most impressively, his overall shooting was slightly better on the road and his 3-point percentage didn’t waver between locations. Six of his 10 double-doubles this year came on the road and he was generally more active in both rebounds and steals away from home.
Yes, the bigger question with Tatum is simply whether he can pick up the momentum he had before the season paused but, if he struggles, it shouldn’t be because of environment.
MARCUS SMART Home/Road Splits
Smart’s splits were as pronounced as any rotation player with his stat line slumping on the road. This isn’t exactly surprising considering Smart’s emotional nature and the way he tends to feed off the Garden crowd. But Smart shot 43.3 percent overall at home while averaging 15.3 points per game and that dove to 33 percent shooting and 11.8 points per game on the road.
Smart’s 3-point shooting also plummets, dipping from 38.2 percent at home to 31.3 percent on the road. Smart’s intensity rarely wavers but the Celtics need him to be a consistent offensive threat given their lack of experienced offensive weapons off the bench.
DANIEL THEIS Home/Road Splits
Entering the exercise, we figured Theis might be one of the more varied splits. Surprisingly, he’s steady. His shooting does fall off a bit on the road — particularly beyond the 3-point arc. Alas, all five of his double-doubles have come on the road this season where he grabs 1.4 more rebounds per game.
GORDON HAYWARD Home/Road Splits
Much like Tatum, Hayward is noticeably even based on location, his road scoring average slightly higher than his home. Hayward shoots better overall on the road but worse from beyond the arc. Like Theis, Hayward saves the majority of his big stat nights for the road (right, Timberwolves?)
Six of Hayward’s eight double-doubles this season came on the road.
GRANT WILLIAMS Home/Road Splits
It’s been well documented how role players tend to thrive at home and struggle on the road, especially in the postseason. It’s part of the reason why home-court advantage is so important to teams.
Williams needs to keep teams honest with his shot in order to be a rotation presence in the playoffs. He didn’t shoot the ball well at either location but shooting sub-40 percent overall and 22 percent beyond the 3-point arc on the road doesn’t inspire confidence.
KEMBA WALKER Home/Road Splits
Another Celtics starter with very steady splits (and you can add Jaylen Brown to that list, too). The big question with Walker is how he responds to the playoffs stage, having appeared in only 11 postseason games for his NBA career.
His collegiate exploits are a testament to his abilities on big stages. His splits suggest the location won’t matter when he gets a chance to taste postseason ball with the most talented group of teammates he’s ever had.
ENES KANTER Home/Road Splits
Another role player who tends to thrive more at home than on the road. Kanter averages 9.5 points on 62.5 percent shooting in Boston, and that dips to 6.8 points on 49.7 percent shooting on the road. Matchups are probably more important than environment with Kanter but he’ll have to adapt to having no crowd to feed off.
ROBERT WILLIAMS Home/Road Splits
An extra half-block per game on the road for Time Lord, who also shot markedly better on the road. Now, all of this might be a product of that one big game in San Antonio but since it conveniently fits our argument that Williams can emerge as an X-factor for the restart Celtics, we had to mention it here.
Watch the full "Celtics At Home" episode below, or on our YouTube page: