They say the NBA is a make-or-miss league, perhaps now more than ever with the emphasis on the 3-point line. A team doing everything right can get beat by a hot shooting opponent and an off night shooting can doom even the most potent offenses.
Brad Stevens has done everything he can to surround The Pillars with complimentary pieces. The team is deeper, more experienced, and improved on the defensive end of the floor. The big question is if they can shoot well enough.
The reason why it is an open question is because there’s been so much variance in so many players’ shooting percentages over the years. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at several players’ averages in recent years. Anyone can look these stats up, but I wanted to graph them out, …because look, pretty colors!
First of all, Jaylen Brown is only in this review because of one bad year of shooting (for him): 34.4% in 2018-19. The rest of the years he’s close to 40% which is plenty good for his role and usage. So another reason he’s in this chart is to show a contrast to a legitimately good shooter.
The story isn’t as rosy for Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson, and Dennis Schroder. All three have had good shooting seasons in the past, but have struggled to maintain those numbers across their careers.
This first chart is just a layered comparison of the past 4 years. The troubling trend is that all 3 guys finished last year right around 33% and all three were down from the prior year. Circumstance, of course, could have played a part. Last year was just all around weird and the lack of rest could have contributed to tired legs.
Now let’s look at each player individually. For this I didn’t limit it to the last 4 years, but generally eliminated rookie seasons and any in which they didn’t shoot at least 3 attempts per game.
Marcus saw his percentages rise for three years in a row, topping off at 36.4% in 2018-19 before taking a two year mini-slide. Can better shot selection in his new role as starting point guard lead to better percentages? Can Ime Udoka provide the right messages that stem the tide of heat checks? Time will tell.
Dennis had a similar growth pattern before last season. In contrast, Smart took 5.9 three pointers last season while Schroder only took 3.5. His game is much more focused on driving into the paint. Still, he’ll need to hit the 3 at a respectable clip to keep those defenses from collapsing on him and his teammates.
Josh Richardson’s graph looks like a ski slope. He peaked at 37.8% and has dropped every year since. Did he just forget to shoot? Is it a confidence thing? A role thing? He has been on three different teams in that time (Miami, Philly, Dallas). Will another new team provide the right mix of opportunity and coaching that he needs or is the slide going to continue? This should be an emphasis for the coaching staff to figure out.
Again, just wanted to show Jaylen’s graph on its own. Sure looks like that one down year (which would be a good year for these other guys) was an aberration.
One last graph to show is the ultimate steady performer, Al Horford.
So how will this year’s team shoot the basketball? Your guess is as good as mine. Not every player is as predictable as Horford. I’d like to think that the higher season averages hint at potential that can be achieved once again. But the worry is that those higher seasons are just outliers and that career averages are a better predictor.
The Celtics don’t necessarily need all of these guys to have career years. The team would, however, benefit if a few of them trended in the right direction. Because as you may have heard once or twice (even in this same article), the NBA is a make-or-miss league.