Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Celtics Continue to Search for Consistent Scorers Other Than Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has played at an All-Star level, but Boston's offense needs to step up around him.
By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

Isaiah Thomas is in the midst of scoring double-digit points in each of his last 33 regular season games, a streak that is just two contests short of his career-long one in 2014. However, the Celtics, who now own a bottom-10 offensive efficiency this season, have struggled recently. Friday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks extended Boston’s losing streak to three games, which tied Brad Stevens’ longest streak of the season.

However, the Celtics own one of the league’s best point differentials due to their defense. Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson all rank in the top 20 in the NBA in defensive rating. Sullinger’s rebounding, especially on the defensive end, has been tremendous. In addition, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Thomas have been steal machines this year while Johnson’s block percentage is strong.

Bradley and Thomas are two of 22 guards this season to have tallied a steal in at least 20 games. Jae Crowder is also one of the 10 forwards in 2015-16 to get a steal in 20 or more contests. Sullinger and Olynyk also chip in with 18 and 16 different games in which they have at least one steal, respectively.

Even with the C’s being the best at forcing opponents’ turnovers this season, they have not been able to keep opponents from scoring triple-digit points in December. In November, the Celtics played 16 games and allowed at least 100 points just six times. Through only nine games in December, all without Marcus Smart, Boston has already allowed triple-digit points five times.

Boston was able to win 14 of its first 24 games this season by getting points from a variety of sources, but more than half of the Celtics’ 20-point outputs this season have come from Thomas. Additionally, Thomas accounts for 136 of Boston’s 457 made free throws this season. The only Celtic with half as many trips to the line as Thomas in 2015-16 is Crowder.

Bradley, who is the longest tenured Celtic, has been an important contributor to the team this season as he is blossoming into a solid starter, but his combined nine points on Wednesday and Friday are inexcusable. After matching his season high with four free throws on Tuesday against the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers, he missed his only attempt from the stripe in the next two games.

On Wednesday, the six-year man out of Texas had his first game of at least 35 minutes and five or fewer points since 2013. Then, he made it consecutive performances of at least 35 minutes and fewer than six points for the first time in his career. In addition, he is the only player to “accomplish” that “feat” twice this season. While Bradley has improved his shot from 3-point distance, he needs to have a more balanced game to provide more offensive help to Thomas.

With Thomas matching his career-high scoring output with 38 points on Wednesday, he has continued to stay among the upper echelon in terms of offensive production in the league. The Celtics have found one major piece and are in the process of developing others in Bradley, Sullinger and Smart, but a trade is needed sooner rather than later to allow this squad to reach its highest potential for a lengthy period of time.

For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam. Statistics used from Basketball-Reference.com and are through games on December 18.

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