40 Games In, Trade Deadline Looming, and the Time Lord’s Time?

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Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives to the basket against Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Welcome back to the Weekly Celtics Report. After a short break, we return to talk about the plight of our Boston Celtics through 40 games, the looming trade deadline and the arrival of a possible 6-foot-8 hero.  

20-20 through 40 

Yes you read that right, the Boston Celtics are 20-20 through 40 games this season. Many analysts had the Celtics as a top-10 team this year heading into the season following an impressive Eastern Conference championship run in the bubble. However, 40 games into a 72 game season, the Celtics sit perfectly at .500 on the season, and despite both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum being All-Stars this season they still struggle to score, and defend, when it matters most. In the games against the Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, the Celtics lost the game in the fourth quarter, where their defense fell apart and was unable to produce stops, while their offense fell into the same Brown and Tatum isolation plays that we have seen all year. This season in the fourth quarter, The Celtics have the second-lowest net rating in the NBA, only above the same Cavaliers that they just lost to on Wednesday.  

While I’ve been panicking all season about their play, 40 games is more than enough of a sample size to prove to me that this team is not good enough to be a top-four team in the eastern conference, let alone good enough to be a winner in this league. This team doesn’t have the chemistry they need to make a deep run in the playoffs, and even general manager Danny Ainge agrees. On his weekly interview Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich,” Ainge noted that “it just seems like we don’t have a lot of characteristics of a really good team, for sure, we have some talented guys but our team right now is not playing as well as we had hoped.” With the March 25 trade deadline approaching, the C’s need to decide if they are going to be aggressive and make an impactful trade at the deadline, or resign themselves to an average team and wait for the offseason to make their moves.  

The Shadow Of The Deadline 

If the Celtics decide to be aggressive at the deadline, they have plenty of options to bring in. With a historically large trade exception, and some young pieces that might interest some rebuilding teams, I would hope that the Celtics are players for big names in the coming weeks. 

I have been on the Harrison Barnes train all season, and even more so now with the Kings looking awful and the deadline rapidly approaching. This would be the best time for Ainge to steal Barnes from Sacramento, as the Kings forward has been great off the bench this year for them, averaging 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. His 36.7% shooting from 3 this year is also impressive, and add to that his good defense and the Celtics will finally have a good bench wing to help relieve some of the pressure for Brown and Tatum.  

Another name linked to the team as of late is Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic. The All-Star center has averaged 25 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on a terrible Magic team ravaged by injuries. While his value is high, I do believe it is possible to get him to Boston, where he would thrive as a playmaking big who can pick and pop with Brown and Tatum and provide outside shooting with his 41% shooting from three.  

Finally, Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins could be a great fit for a young Celtics team in need of height. The 6-foot-9 forward has been averaging 18 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53% from the field and 37.3% from 3. While his playmaking value is much lower than Barnes or Vucevic, he brings a level of defense that is much higher than either of them, and against bigs like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the East, his skills would prove valuable for a team in need of frontcourt defense.  

While all of these trades would be significant upgrades over what the team has now, there is no promise that Ainge will pull the trigger on a trade before the deadline. The last time he made an in season trade, let alone a deadline deal, was the 2015 season, so we will have to wait and see if this season’s performance has changed his strategy in any way.  

It’s Time For The Time Lord 

I would like to start off this section by giving a sincere thanks to Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson for their services this season, but with all due respect, it’s time for the Time Lord to take over.  

Robert Williams III has been on a tear in the second half of this season, providing rebounding, defense, absurd blocks and energy on both ends and even playmaking. While Theis is a better shooter than him undoubtedly, he is outperformed in nearly every other category. Williams has a knack for knowing when to cut off of a screen and roll, and his incredible athletic ability means he is a constant lob threat over the top. In limited minutes this season, he’s averaging nearly two blocks a game and what feels like a million alley oops, but that is not all. As we saw Wednesday against the Cavs, Williams and Pritchard were key to breathing life back into the lazy and uninterested Celtics and played a key part on both ends of the floor in the C’s nearly leading a great fourth quarter comeback. He gives the stars an energy that no one else on the team except for Marcus Smart can, and he forces the ball to move around even when Brown and Tatum enter hero mode. In only 16 minutes a game this year, he’s averaging 7.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists with 1.7 blocks per game. If we look at his per-36 numbers, where we increase his minutes and assume the same output for 36 minutes a game, his stats would elevate to 16 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 3.7 blocks per game. Now this is probably a high estimate on what his production would be, but even if his stats were slightly lower than this it would be a huge improvement over the production they are getting from either Theis or Thompson at center.    

That will be all for this week’s edition of our Celtics report. Next week we’ll look at the start of a brutal stretch of five games in seven days for the Celtics, including a matchup against the No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks, as well as break down any trades or non-trades as we approach the trade deadline.  

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