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After a challenging season that included a 36-36 record and a first-round playoff exit, the Boston Celtics can now sit back and assess what just took place since late-December.
It must be pointed out that once they toss aside the wins and the losses, they’re going to find that there is certainly a lot to be excited about.
There’s no sugar coating the fact that, in totality, the pieces of this particular team didn’t fit together the way the team had hoped. But pick the pieces apart and there were plenty of promising developments throughout Boston’s season from an individual perspective, and that’s what we will investigate today.
Here are our top five individual takeaways of the season.
Aaron Nesmith’s and Payton Pritchard’s Rookie Seasons
There wasn’t much talk around the NBA heading into this season about Celtics rookies Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. By the end of the season, however, there was plenty.
Both players showcased great promise during their rookie campaigns. Pritchard, a four-year collegiate product, played at a high level out of the gates, while Nesmith caught up to the NBA’s speed later in the season.
Pritchard finished his first campaign having shot 44.0 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line. He fell just three 3-pointers shy of Jayson Tatum’s Celtics rookie record of 105 3-point makes, all while playing about half the minutes Tatum logged during his first season. Pritchard looked like a seasoned vet from the moment he first stepped onto the floor.
Nesmith, meanwhile, took a bit longer to catch his rhythm after returning from injury and not playing in a live basketball game for 11 months prior to the start of Boston’s season.
Nesmith caught a groove over Boston’s final 13 regular-season games, averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game during an average of 19.5 minutes of action. He posted shooting splits of 51.9 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from long range and 91.7 percent from the free-throw line during that stretch. Nesmith’s play earned him one of the team’s top reserve spots heading into the postseason, all the while exciting Celtics fans about what his future may look like.
Core of Two Young All-Stars
There is exactly one NBA team that had two 2021 NBA All-Stars who are both 26 years old or younger. That team is the Boston Celtics, and their two All-Stars are well beneath that age threshold.
Jayson Tatum, at 23 years old, made his second consecutive All-Star game this season while averaging career highs of 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He also led the NBA in 50-point games (four) including the postseason. Jaylen Brown, meanwhile, broke through for his first All-Star appearance at age 24 while logging career-best averages of 24.7 points, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Brown and Tatum also became just the fourth and fifth players in franchise history to average at least 24.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 3.0 APG in a season, joining the legendary ranks of Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Paul Pierce.
The Celtics have been viewed for years as having a talented young core, but this year, that core took a leap. The team now has not one, but two young All-Stars to build around who have yet to hit their prime.
Tatum’s Massive Scoring Games
Speaking of which, it’s a scary thought to imagine what Jayson Tatum will look like when he does reach his prime. Tatum took his game to a whole new level this season while becoming one of the most dangerous scorers in the league.
Tatum caught absolute fire from April 9 on, averaging 30.9 points per game over his final 24 appearances of the season while reaching the 60-point mark once, the 50-point mark four times, and the 40-point mark six times. That 60-point performance tied Larry Bird for Boston’s franchise record for most points scored in a single game.
These are superstar numbers for any player. The fact that Tatum put them up at age 23 speaks volumes to just how great he’ll be in the future as he now heads toward his fifth season.
Marcus Smart’s Point Guard Abilities
Marcus Smart’s point guard abilities were on full display this season. He hadn’t played more than 25 percent of his minutes at point guard in four seasons before spending 45 percent of his minutes at that position this season while regularly filling in for Kemba Walker, per basketball-reference.com. That number was Smart’s highest since his rookie campaign (74 percent).
Smart excelled as a playmaker while handling the point guard duties. He finished with a career-best and team-best mark of 5.7 assists per game, which blew away his previous career-high average of 4.9 APG.
On top of the raw assist numbers, Smart also finished the season ranked ninth in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.84) among guards who played at least 30 minutes per game. So not only did he lead the team in assist average, but he did so while running the offense with a high level of decision-making.
Consistent Flashes from Rob Williams
Rob Williams took over Boston’s starting center position in late march and averaged 14.4 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes during his 13 starts. He also logged multiple historic performances, as well as the first four double-doubles of his career, despite eclipsing the 30-minute barrier only once this season and averaging only 18.9 minutes per game.
Back in mid-March, shortly before taking over the starting role, Williams stuffed the box score with 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks while making all seven of his shot attempts. He became just the 10th player in history to log such numbers in less than 20 minutes of action. Then he walked into the postseason and nearly logged a triple-double during Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets with 11 points, nine rebounds and a Celtics playoff record of nine blocked shots.
Williams has star potential, there’s no doubt about that. In fact, he finished the season ranked eighth in the entire NBA in player efficiency rating at 25.71, which fell ahead of superstars such as Damian Lillard (25.65), Luka Doncic (25.33), Kyrie Irving (24.51), Bradley Beal (22.81) and many others.