Last season, the Boston Celtics came within one game of reaching the NBA Finals. Despite losing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to injury, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown and Terry Rozier nearly shocked the world by pushing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals.
When James packed his bags Thom Browne man purse for sunny Los Angeles, nearly everyone expected the baton of Eastern Conference dominance to be handed to the Celtics. If the team could accomplish so much without its high-profile stars, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume the Celtics would be even better at full strength. Right?
The return of Irving and Hayward has caused major chemistry issues for the boys in Beantown. Hayward is struggling to find consistency after recovering from a gruesome ankle injury. Statistically, Irving is playing well. However, it’s clear that Uncle Drew arrived in Boston expecting to be the man. Unfortunately for him, Boston seems to play best when whoever the open man is allowed to be the man.
During last season’s impressive postseason run, Horford was the guy at times. In other moments, it was Tatum who balled out. “Scary Terry” (Rozier) was birthed in the playoffs. Marcus Smart had his share of big moments, as did Brown. It was almost as if whichever player was hot in any given game, or any given quarter, was allowed to cook.
This season, every player is trying to cook at the same time, but there is only one pot. More importantly, there is only one basketball. That dueling dynamic has caused some uncomfortable moments for the 25-18 (good enough for fifth in the East) Celtics.
One such moment came off the team’s recent 105-103 loss to the Orlando Magic. That game came on the heels of a 115-99 blowout at the hands of the Miami Heat. Afterwards, according to The Crossover’s Chris Mannix and Rohan Nadkarni, Irving and Horford “questioned the effort of the young players on the team.”
What makes the situation ironic is that Irving forced his way out of Cleveland specifically because he was tired of being chastised, patronized and living under the shadow of King James.
On one hand, it is expected and even laudable that the Celtics’ veterans would challenge the younger players to give maximum effort. On the other hand, as the team’s star player and point guard, it is his job to take the role of Brother Nature and ensure that everybody eats.
With all the offensive talent Boston possesses, Irving should easily be able to produce double-digit assist numbers instead of the 6.4 he is currently averaging. After all, Irving has the innate ability to break down defenders with his superior handles and get to the basket. He should make a concerted effort to kick it out to open shooters or dump it off to slashers attacking the rim.
When young players get consistent opportunities to make plays on the offensive end, they are much more likely to give extra effort on the defensive side.
Tatum debuts self-lacing kicks
Wednesday night, Jayson Tatum became the first NBA player to wear Nike’s new high-performance, power-lacing basketball kicks in an actual NBA game.
The St. Louis native was chosen to debut the Nike HyperAdapt BB shoes.
The shoes were inspired by the Nike Mag, originally a fictitious shoe from Back to the Future Part II that became a real-life limited edition shoe that released in 2011 and 2016. While the Mag was a collector’s item meant for recreational and fashion purposes only, the HyperAdapt BB was designed to stand up to the needs of the greatest athletes on the planet.
"Being the first person to wear it is a great opportunity," Tatum said in an interview with ESPN’s Nick DePaula.
"I didn't know what to expect," Tatum said. "Hearing about a shoe with all this technology and no laces, I didn't know what it was going to look like. It really surprised me. It looked a lot better than I thought it would, and it felt great -- that was most important."
Being chosen as the first athlete to rock the futuristic kicks is a good sign for Tatum. It shows that the sneaker juggernaut is willing to invest in building the player’s brand. If the Celtics’ forward continues to blossom into a bona fide NBA superstar, it very likely he could land his own signature show in a few years.
Like self-lacing shoes, Tatum is the future and the future is now.
What’s up with DSJ?
Word around the league is that the Dallas Mavericks are trying to find a trading partner for second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
When the team drafted Luka Doncic, it did so with the expectation that pairing Doncic and Smith could lead to a dominant backcourt for years to come. While the two players have seemingly become great friends off the court, they have not yet gelled into a dynamic duo on the court.
Doncic has dazzled in his debut season and has all but locked up the Rookie of the Year honors before the All-Star Break. If averaging 20.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists is not enough, Doncic has produced more dazzling, highlight-reel moments than any other rookie in recent years.
Doncic’s success has pushed Smith, last year’s darling in Dallas, to the background. It has also pushed him off the ball.
Though the 6-foot-7 Doncic technically has gained most of his starts at small forward, he is really a true point guard. Dallas’ attempts to turn Smith into a shooting guard have not worked out well for the Mavericks.
According to MavsMoneyBall.com, with Doncic and Smith on the court together, “the Mavericks have a net rating of -5.0, which is not good. More importantly, Doncic and any other combination of Mavericks but Dennis Smith are +3.1.”
Still, Smith Jr. has been limited to just 28 games this season due to various injuries. That could help explain his modest averages of 12.6 points, 3.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. Last season, the bouncy Smith averaged 15.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds as the team’s primary ball handler.
It is no secret though that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is notoriously tough on point guards. It is also apparent that Doncic is the Mavs’ point guard of the future. I do not believe it’s apparent that Smith cannot play the role of being an effective combo guard.
It should be expected that such a significant change in roles and ball-handling duties would come with growing pains for a second-year player. The big reason the Mavs may be in a rush to move Smith may be because the team has a legitimate shot to make it to postseason play in what is almost certainly Dirk Notwitzki’s final season in the NBA.
Former Villanova star Jalen Brunson is certain a capable backup point guard for the Mavs. Even with J.J. Barea out for the season with a torn Achilles, this Mavericks has serious depth at point guard. If the Mavs can move Smith for another talented, promising shooting guard or small forward, it might prove to be a win/win for everybody involved.
Smith can escape the gigantic shadow of Doncic and the Mavs can free up the logjam in the backcourt.
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