Any team with championship ideations knows that big picture, they need at the very least a top ten offense and a top ten defense with one ideally in the top five. This is pretty obvious, teams need to be good at basketball to win basketball games, and basketball includes offense and defense. And defense is what might put the 2023-24 Boston Celtics over the top.
The Celtics are third in adjusted offensive rating and second in adjusted defensive rating through 11 games. With the added star power acquired this offseason, this is what everyone expected, but what is interesting is the shot selection they are not only giving opponents but also how they defend those shots.
The Celtics are allowing nearly the most non-corner threes in the league, with 32.1 percent of opponents' shots coming from above the break. Conversely, they are allowing nearly the least amount of shots at the rim, 25.1 percent, through 10 games per Cleaning the Glass. This is similar to the Mike Budenholzer Milwaukee Bucks defenses of previous years, including the 2020-21 championship season. Both teams have big rim protectors and length at the wings with defensive schemes that deter attacks to the hoop. With shots in the restricted area being one of the most efficient areas on the floor, this makes sense.
However, where that Bucks team was exploited after their championship year, was on corner threes, another highly efficient shot for offenses to take. The Bucks in 2022 allowed 9.6 percent of opponents' shots to come from the corners, this was 19th in the league and jumped to 11.2 percent in the playoffs.
Compare that to this year's Boston team, which is allowing only 7.8 percent of opponents' shots from the short corner three, seventh in the league. This is clearly by design, as they are not letting opponents get attempts in close range either, which is why so many are coming from the long perimeter. And, when teams do get to the rim they are only finishing at 59.3 percent, which ranks as the second-best rim defense in the league as of 11/14/2023.
But, this isn't a perfect system. It's still early but on those corner threes teams are shooting 42 percent, which is something to keep an eye on. Plus, just like what happened to the Bucks, a team with scary enough shooters can force this kind of defensive system to stretch, which would then open things up for opponents to either attack the basket more or at least get better looks in the short, mid-range and in the corners. No NBA defense is perfect, they all have a sense of assumed risk. For this one, that assumed risk is those above the break threes, it's the shots they live with.
Covering up a system such as this one's flaws is also dependent on the personnel, both the coaches and the players. That is where the Celtics have a huge advantage. Their players are all long, athletic, and mostly good defenders, especially at the wings with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The smaller back-court players, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White, were 1st and 2nd team respectively NBA All-Defenders last season, and their new starting center, Kristaps Porzingis, is well over seven feet tall.
Joe Mazzulla must tie system together for Boston Celtics
The rest lies with the coaching staff and Joe Mazzulla. The question is, how will they adapt the scheme depending on who they are playing?
This is where the Bucks failed and where Mike Budenholzer was heavily criticized. He lacked malleability in his system and got killed. The biggest threats in the east are the current Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers, both have high-efficiency, long-distance shooters as primary ball handlers, in Damien Lillard and Tyrese Maxey. In the Celtics' first matchup with the 76ers, Philadelphia shot only 6/28 on above-the-break threes but attempted 29 shots at the rim, which is also to be expected when facing 2023 MVP Joel Embiid. That particular matchup will be the one to monitor as the season goes on, it could be a good indicator of how the scheme will have to adapt in the playoffs.
As it is right now, it's a good defense and runs well. What's nice about the players they have is that it can be reworked, because everyone is so switchable and willing to guard nearly anyone on the other side. They have the tools and they are putting them to use on the road to Banner 18.