How Celtics stars can improve heading into NBA playoffs

WEEI
April 13, 2019 - 6:52 pm
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By Mateo Aycardi

The Celtics are back in the playoffs with an incredible opportunity in front of them. While each member of this team has taken a step forward in their quest to become a better player, there are still several attributes to be worked on in order to be the best that they can be. While some may thrive with minor tuning and adjustments, others could see dramatic changes as the best course of action.

Here’s one thing each Celtics starter should do to further grow in their career.

Jaylen Brown: Free throw Woes

While the former California product has not had the impact he had in 2017, Brown has still carried himself as a great two-way option for a Celtics’ team that has struggled with a lack of identity. He’s remained fairly serviceable in the offensive side, only dropping 1.5 points despite logging fewer minutes and a dramatic change in role. So, what does Brown still lack?

A quick and simple fix could be free throw conversions. As it currently stands, Brown holds the 112th spot out of the 121 top players in free throw percentage for the 2018-19 season. His shooting from the stripe measures up to players such as Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela - two guys not particularly known for their success in that department. Throughout his three-year career, Brown has only managed to connect on 65 percent of his shots from the line.

And with his offensive game plan relying heavily on attacking the paint, it’ll be important for him to focus on maximizing those opportunities. It’s a minor change, but it could go a long way for Brown. It’s no longer about learning new tricks, but rather fixing the cracks in his armor in order to be the most dangerous player he can be.

Jayson Tatum: Shot selection/accountability

At times, Tatum flashes like a star in the night sky. With just a year under his belt, Tatum exploded into the scene with his mammoth dunk over LeBron James in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. His remarkable style of play has solidified him as the cornerstone in any potential superstar trade the Celtics may/will be involved in during the offseason. But what’s become a big issue for Tatum is recognizing what separates a quality shot from an errant one.  

Dropping from the 48th ranked player last season in shooting percentage to 74th in 2018 shows just a glimpse into the struggles Tatum has faced this season. He’s additionally dropped from 50th in true shooting percentage to 131st; a change that is concerning due to the personnel that Tatum is surrounded by. If he can manage to stop taking as many contested mid-range shots and focus on improving his offensive repertoire in other areas, Tatum will truly be able to break out and perform the way many feel he’s destined to.

Gordon Hayward: Mental check

Life’s been a roller coaster for Hayward in these last two years. First, he leaves the only place he’s ever called home in the NBA for a serious championship contender. And what was supposed to be a pleasant experience instead turned into the single most life-altering incident of his life.

Now, a year removed from a debilitating injury that kept him from making a sizeable impact on his team, Hayward is reaching new heights and playing the way he envisioned when he signed on with the C’s. The small adjustment that could make all the difference for Hayward would be his Mental Fortitude and ability to stay consistently impactful in Boston’s road to a potential Finals appearance. The Celtics are set to have one of their toughest roads to a championship in some time now.

The emergence of Kawhi Leonard to the North and Philadelphia’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler will make it impossible for Boston to simply waltz to the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s time for Hayward to focus and put his troubles in the past.

Al Horford: Consistent flashes of greatness  

“Average” Al has shown he has the mindset to shine under pressure during his time with the C’s. When Boston entered the final stretch of the regular season, many expected Kyrie to take charge and help the Celtics get the fourth seed in the East. Instead, Kyrie and the overarching majority of the roster relied on Horford’s brilliant play. The former Hawks forward had a stretch of play reminiscent of his playing days with Atlanta for the C’s. He averaged nearly 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in his final eight contests of the regular season, according to Basketball Reference. It was a clear and concise message to the rest of the league that the Celtics are here and Horford is no longer messing around. 

"He’s a rock for us,” head coach Brad Stevens said of Horford earlier in the year. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of them are experiencing this stuff for the first time and all they have to do is look at the guy next to them to gain a sense of calm or a sense of what’s coming.”

Kyrie Irving: Win through leadership

Irving may not always speak the way many would want him to. He criticizes teammates, shows uncertainty towards resigning, and oftentimes has a diva personality that drives the Celtic fan base insane. But he’s gotten better at leading by example, as demonstrated by the way he brought together the team in the infamous plane ride that translated to a slew of wins late in the year.

“Kyrie was instrumental because he was the one that initiated everything as far as being like, ‘Hey, let’s have conversations, let’s play cards, let’s do this, let’s do that’ on this plane ride,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “And we were all engaged at that point. I didn’t know if it was going to be wins and losses. I didn’t know it was going to translate to where we were going to win two games. But I did feel good about our group after that. I definitely think it has translated in a positive way on the court.”

Now that he faces a new challenge as the leader of a young Celtics’ team, there is only one thing Irving requires to further solidify himself as a top-tier point guard in history: Leading his own team to a championship. This is what Irving bargained for when he sought to find his own voice. Can he deliver now that the Celtics find themselves in the playoff mix?

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