That was the clear takeaway from an interview in the Boston Globe with legendary Celtics point guard Bob Cousy, who told Dan Shaughnessy, “There’s something wrong. It’s just schoolyard. Run up and down and take the first shot that shows. There doesn’t seem to be intelligent direction. I think a stabilizing piece is missing. They usually [expletive] it up in the fourth quarter when you need to be paying attention to business.”
Marcus Smart has been an admirable deputy and has grown into the starting role throughout the season. While having Dennis Schroder as your sixth man is a luxury most teams would kill for. Yet, when opposing teams lock down the perimeter, the lack of an elite-level playmaker becomes a striking reality for this Celtics team and has cost them numerous games in the first half of the 2021-22 NBA season.
Ime Udoka wants Boston to play a free-flowing brand of basketball, where the ball hits the paint multiple times per possession. He wants players flowing off-ball, screening for each other, and causing defenses to collapse to open up high-quality shooting opportunities. Still, all the player movement in the world won’t matter if the Celtics don’t have a guard who can thread the needle.
Sports scientists often talk of “processing speed” – a player’s ability to perceive opportunities or actions, process what they need to do, and then act accordingly. It’s no surprise, then, that the elite players in the NBA possess high-functioning processing. We often talk about this in another way, by saying “the game is slowing down” or “they can spot a pass better this year,” it all means the same thing.
Smart, and to a lesser extent, Schroder has shown improvements in their processing speeds this year, but according to one Celtics legend, neither of them has reached the required level.
Bob Cousy Sounds off on Boston’s Need for a Guard
You don’t just inherit a rabid fanbase or a brutal media presence when you play for the Celtics. You also inherit an obligation to honor the legends that have worn that jersey before you, and they can weigh heavy sometimes.
We saw, first hand, what some of that pressure can be like earlier this week in the Cousy quotes.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to be hanging banner No. 18 any time soon,” Cousy said, “I hate to bring it back to a point guard, but … you don’t have that control. When we got a lead of 6-8 points, that was when I would take it home. I just would not allow us to lose the lead.”
It would seem that Cousy is echoing the frustrations of the fan base in his interview, with many people believing that Boston needs to find a clear-cut playmaker to help ease the burden on Tatum and Brown’s shoulders.
“You need a penetrating point guard at that point who is a threat and then he passes off to the [Jayson] Tatums and the [Jaylen] Browns,” Cousy said.
Pass-first point guards are in short supply these days, with the modern-day guard being more of a scoring focal point than an offensive initiator, which is why we’ve seen a rise in the point-forward role. However, guards around the league fit the bill and could quickly improve the Celtics fortunes down the stretch.
Tatum & Brown Are Developing as Playmakers
Against the Knicks on December 8, Brown finished the contest with 11 assists. Shockingly, Brown has been the subject of criticism in recent weeks, with the wing failing to impress during Tatum’s COVID-induced absence throughout the final week of December.
It’s clear that if the Celtics plan on being a successful unit as currently constructed, both of their All-Star wings need to grow into roles that allow them to initiate and facilitate an offense. However, Brown and Tatum must also lead the team in scoring and set the tone defensively, meaning their plates are already full – adding playmaking is simply overloading their workload.
For his part, Tatum has been relatively consistent as a ball-handler above the break, often making the right reads at the right time. But that’s a double-edged sword because if a passing lane doesn’t open up and Tatum is forced to create his own offense, he is chastised for perceived selfishness. Brown is learning that lesson the hard way too.
So, while the Celtics figured things out against the Knicks and hope to embark on a winning run in the near future, Cousy is correct. The Celtics need a point guard who can steady the ship and take some weight off Brown and Tatum’s shoulders. Only then will we see what this core is truly capable of.