Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is arguably playing the best basketball of his career. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum is having his most efficient season of his career.
There are many reasons why they’re playing their best basketball. But one thing they’re both doing is making the most out of midrange shots.
And I couldn’t be happier.
The whole floor is now a weapon for the Boston Celtics duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown
Almost exactly a year ago, I declared for Tatum and Brown to evolve into the best versions of themselves, they needed to make midrange shots a larger part of their arsenal.
It wasn’t just about taking a more efficient shot. It was about changing the mentality of being so three-dependent. That offensive approach eventually caught up to the Celtics, as they lost their range during the Eastern Conference Finals while the Miami Heat caught fire from deep and embarrassed the Celtics.
We’re less than halfway through the season, but it seems like the lesson was learned. The Jays are more dangerous than ever, in part, because they’re capitalizing on their midrange game.
In a small sample comparison of their shot charts from last season to this season (and not including shots at the rim), both Brown and Tatum have increased their shooting percentage within the 3-point line. Brown went from .467 to .477 while Tatum went from .406 to .429.
For Brown, the 10 percentage point increase isn’t dramatic, but a greater percentage of his shots are two pointers, from .648 up to .654. In the long run, it will add up.
Tatum is actually taking slightly fewer twos from last year, from .560 down to .557. Based on Tatum increasing his midrange shooting percentage by 23 percentage points, he should be encouraged to shoot more midrange shots. His accuracy is way up in four out of five zones.
The results on the court are beautiful to watch. Brown is confident enough in his turnaround shot that he will post up almost anybody. In one game against the Orlando Magic, Brown positioned Wendell Carter on his back before lofting two turnaround Js over the 6-10 center. Both shots were all net.
While Tatum can do the same over almost anyone, it’s more satisfying to watch Tatum bully a smaller defender all the way from inside the 3-point line to the paint, before kissing a near gimmie off the glass.
These opportunities are due, in part, to the team that surrounds the Jays. Kristaps Porzingis seemingly has been heaven-sent as a fit for the Celtics. His addition has opened the floor because he's a three-point threat, which Robert Williams III couldn't do.
There’s no denying the defensive impact Williams had as a Celtic. But his game was close to the rim, so a defender could easily help off of Rob Will when Brown or Tatum approached the rim.
More space is created for the Jays by Derrick White. The very same point guard we were told couldn’t shoot threes is playing at an all-star level on both ends of the floor, making Marcus Smart a distant memory.
Yeah, it’s harsh to describe a player that was the Celtics’ heart and soul for nine years in such a fashion, but Smart wasn’t reliable offensively. Sometimes he could go on a tear, but most teams would rather dare Smart to shoot threes and help on Brown or Tatum.
The final floor spacer is Jrue Holiday, who plays tough defense like Smart (though without similar flair), but is a reliable shooter.
When all five players on the floor can shoot threes, it creates a lot of space in and around the paint for whoever decides to get a closer look. That should be near irresistible for Brown and Tatum.
But so can the lure of being three-centric. That’s what happened when they tried to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors. Golden State isn’t a big team, so Boston should had attacked inside the arc more. And when that Warriors zone comes out, apply stress at the foul line to put it to the test.
If the threes are falling, like they were in wins over the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers, then the Celtics should bury opponents with a barrage. But if not, Boston has the ability to beat opponents without relying on going deep. How they put away the Los Angeles Lakers down the stretch was a thing of beauty.
The Boston Celtics are better when relying on their balance
Less of the Jays has made the Celtics a much better team. They understand they don’t have to carry as much of a load as they did last season.
We won’t complain about Brown’s left hand if he keeps dishing the ball instead of forcing drives. And Tatum should worry less about league MVP when his attention should be on Finals MVP.
A championship is possible for the Jays, as long as they continue to maximize their midrange game.
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