The Boston Celtics: NBA Outliers

We’re just in the first week of the NBA season, but it’s starting to become more evident that the Boston Celtics are NBA outliers.  The Celtics approach to the game is much different from the standard in the league as is their roster.  Head Coach Brad Stevens has instilled a team first mentality to the team and it has paid benefits since the All Star break last year.  While the Celtics are certainly not major contenders for an NBA championship this year, they’re on the right path.  They’re good enough to make the playoffs and could possibly even do some damage in the playoffs.

Most NBA teams who are good enough to make the playoffs have a player that is considered a legitimate All Star candidate.  The Celtics do not have that.  Some would argue that Isaiah Thomas is that guy, but he’s really a one-dimensional offensive player who can light up the scoreboard when he’s hot, but he’s not a guy who can carry a team.  The Celtics don’t have a stud.  However, what they do have is one of the deepest teams in the NBA.  Here were the Celtics bench players in the first two games of the season:  Thomas, Evan Turner, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Jerebko.  Is there a team in the league that can roll out that type of talent off the bench?  There are five players there who would be borderline starters on most teams.  They would be, at the very least, solid 6th or 7th men off the bench for a legitimate title contender.  The starting five of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, David Lee, and Tyler Zeller is not much better than the bench.  In fact, the bench has played better than the starters for the most part.  This is especially true in the front court as Johnson and Sullinger have had much more of a presence than Lee and Zeller.

Given that the team is full of players who are solid players with none of them being elite, it has created something most teams do not have…competition.  Danny Ainge set up the perfect team for Stevens to coach.  It’s a team of players that need to fight for minutes because there’s another player equally as good at every position on the team.  Starters on this team are not playing 35-40 minutes a game like your standard team.  They’re playing 20-30 minutes and they need to play well to stay in the game.

The Celtics roster and distribution of minutes is very different.  Could they be establishing a new philosophy in the NBA where you have a deep team where 12 players sub in and out rather than your standard team relying on two or three players?  It sure seems that way.  One thing is clear:  This team is not about individual contributors.  It’s about the team first at least for the most part.  In this sense you could say that the Celtics have an outlier within the system in Thomas.  When the Celtics start the game, the ball is pretty evenly distributed.  There are going to be games where Smart or Bradley may start off hot and they may go to them more often than not.  However, for the most part, everyone is getting shots.  Then Thomas comes into the game.  He’s in to shoot the ball and he isn’t afraid to do so.  The team’s offense changes.  However, it works.  What he brings is a lot of energy and a scoring punch that this team needs.  He’s the Vinny Johnson of the Celtics!

The Celtics will be an interesting team to watch this season.  They have a lot of developing players and a lot of strong competition within this group.  They have a great leader in Brad Stevens who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the NBA.  In addition, Danny Ainge is setting himself up to have a lot of assets.  These are all positives here.

The NBA Outliers may be starting something great.


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