Patience Paying Off for Boston Celtics Shooters

The Boston Celtics took the long route with their shooters, but patience is paying off this season

The Boston Celtics have flipped the script on their identity in a sense this season. Last season, everything was about figuring out how they could make up for their inability to shoot anywhere on the court, and now they have turned into a team that can look to their shooting as a strength, in what has become one of the best offenses in the league.

The Celtics did this without adding any great shooters, instead they improved and developed internally, with multiple players stepping up their game this season. Last season, the Celtics had the 24th ranked shooting percentage, with a mark of 43.9. From three point range, it was even worse. Their percentage of 33.5 from deep was the third worst in the league, and the biggest weakness of the team.

Now, while the Celtics are far from a top shooting team in the league, they have improved across the board. Their current 45.4 shooting percentage ranks 15th in the league, but for one of the most three point dependent teams in the league, their eight ranked 36.8 from three has been the biggest difference for this offense.

Most expected the addition of Al Horford to sure up their front court shooting. While he has been an upgrade over Jared Sullinger, he is not even one of the three biggest difference when it comes to shooting. Horford is right around both team averages. He has not been a liability shooting the ball, but their back court has been much more responsible for such a drastic increase. Horford has been a massive offensive upgrade in the front court, but his passing has been more important than his shooting so far.

The first two players that should be looked at are Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. Both these players started their time with the Celtics with the understanding that their shot was a work in progress. Both of them endured periods where they were liabilities, but the Celtics never wavered in giving the standout defenders the time they needed to develop their outside shooting.

Bradley had four straight seasons where he was a threat as a shooter, but not quite someone that defenses had to game plan against. He never shot above 45 percent overall, and never broke 40 percent from three in the previous four seasons. The Celtics saw Bradley as a limited offensive weapon who needed open shots to be created for him to have a chance.

Now, all the patience and all the work is paying off, and he is emerging as one of the best two way guards in the league. Bradley is scoring a career high 17.7 points per game, on a career high 41 percent from three point range, with an overall shooting percentage of 47.5 percent. Bradley is no longer a liability and defenses are forced to account for him on offense, as the Celtics design a lot of their offense around allowing him to become an active shooter.

Bradley has separated himself as one of the top shooters on the team, and is certainly a big reason why the Celtics are no longer one of the weakest shooting teams in the league.

Then there is Crowder, who has absolutely blown up from three point range this season. Shooting over 50 percent from three in the first quarter is enough to have an impact, but Crowder’s reliability has been remarkable. Crowder has adapted his game because he knew he needed to be a three point threat to have an impact on this offense. The Celtics took his mid range game away and limited his opportunities in the paint. Stevens laid a blueprint as to how they wanted Crowder to have an impact on offense, and he has emerged as a top three point specialist.

The Celtics saw the skills that Crowder had and realized he needed time to hone those skills. Now, he is on the verge of threatening to have a 50/40/90 season, and has a case as the most reliable three point shooter on the team. Crowder’s improvement is a lot more staggering than that of Bradley’s. His 42.6 percent from three leads the team and shatters his mark of 33.6 percent from last season.

Last year was the first time Crowder really adjusted his game, taking over five three pointers per game, a career high that was up from just three attempts her game. Then, this season, all that work is paying off as his volume increased to 5.6 attempts per game, with his percentage blowing up to 42.6 percent.

The Celtics have opted to be patient with a lot of shooters, favoring defensive versatility in their young players, and this season the offensive results speak for themselves.

Then, when you add on the unfathomable season that Isaiah Thomas is having, and it makes a lot of sense as to how this offense is playing so much better. Thomas never struggled shooting the way Bradley or Crowder might have, but his shooting efficiency was always the weakest part of his game.

Feb 1, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) hits a shot past Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) late in the fourth quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 1, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) hits a shot past Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) late in the fourth quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Before this season, Thomas always hovered around 45 percent overall and 35 percent from three. With his ability to generate opportunities and get to the free throw line, those numbers were good enough to easily make Thomas the best offensive option on the team. This season, he has taken things to unprecedented levels. His volume has skyrocketed, particularly with 1.5 more three point attempts per game, and his percentages are blowing away those career averages. 47 percent overall and 39 percent from three blows away anything the Celtics could  have expected out of him.

The Celtics were anticipating players like Bradley and Crowder to eventually develop their three point shot. Thomas, on the other hand, continues to redefine what can be expected of him, and after a month of scoring over 32 points per game and shooting better than 50/40/90, he has a great case as the best scorer in the NBA this season, while doing things in the fourth quarter and clutch situations that has never even been approached before in the NBA.

The Celtics improved their three point shooting not because of their roster additions, but because of the patience and work of the players on their current roster. With payers like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown all being weak shooters in the early parts of their career, the Celtics now have the blueprint for how they want these players to develop, and will certainly reinforce their patient approach.

The Celtics and Stevens have made it clear that if these young players can hold their own and have an impact on the defensive end, then they will get all the time they need to improve the way Bradley and Crowder have, becoming top shooting options on a team that desperately needed it.

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