What can the Knicks learn from the 2021-22 Celtics?

P&T Hive, #knickstwitter, friends, Romans, etc. How are we? It’s been an interesting few months over here, writing about music off and on, watching basketball for fun, *breathing deeply* spending time with my kids. The offseason of a team that missed the playoffs is generally a rough time for a guy who doesn’t care or pretend to care about college basketball or the many prospects that crop up through the system. A variety of monorail vendors will make sure you absolutely can’t live without our team. Do we swap? Trade down? Draft for Fit? Design the best player available? Who will that be and how do we rate that?

Well folks, I can’t lie and I won’t pretend. I’ll leave that to the experts and people on your timeline who claim expertise. (You spent an hour on YouTube? Tell me more about Shaedon Sharpe’s “sick measurable values” or Johnny Davis “intangible values”.) I’m starting to evaluate talent at Summer League, and it’s going to be literal in most cases It’s been years before I can get anything close to a genuine evaluation of things as ephemeral and meaningless as talent in the context of ever-changing aptitude.

But I’ve always enjoyed watching the playoffs and thinking about Darwinism happening in real time. Many of the ways teams are built are not replicable. You can only summon Giannis once. You can only complete a heist of the century once with the desperate, newly formed Brooklyn Nets, there are only so many brilliant coaches or generationally talented and game-changing shooters to be chosen before your slot, but in many ways the NBA playoffs can also be seen as a contest of ideas will. It’s also about construction, it’s also about strategy.

I would like to use my time and space here today for this. Specifically about the Boston Celtics, a team that not so long ago was considered a young and disorganized core with a low ceiling. I want to take the many hours I’ve spent watching these playoffs and sadly the Celtics as well, and apply the lessons I think I’ve learned to how the Knicks build their team and their own and potential characters for can use the future.

1. Size matters

An old NBA chestnut that’s gone out of style in a league where Rudy Gobert is occasionally considered unplayable, but worth mentioning because I’m writing this on the heels of a Time Lord masterpiece where he was +21 and had help , but arguably won the game for the Celtics with his work on the boards and gunfight.

I am presenting this as my first take away not because it is the most important lesson but the most timely. If you believe Twitter randos, Mitchell Robinson is all but gone, and that would be a real shame, because from what I’ve written and researched, Time Lord is his closest counterpoint in the league. For years leading up to this season, Robert Williams’ ability to keep his feet on the ground, both healthwise and with his aggressive game, was a matter of controversy. What Ime Udoka showed was that the problem was largely user error, a lack of imagination on the part of former coach Brad Stevens. With the right defensive scheme and direction, Williams became the lynchpin of a historic defense.

What you see during a Time Lord Game, as for some teams in a league where it’s becoming increasingly rare to see a big freak who can move into any position and take shots from anywhere, is a dominant at all offensive or defensive rebounder is times and is an automatic roll finisher, this type of player can serve as a poison pill. There is no answer for guys like that, and we might not have seen Robert Williams on this stage if the Celtics hadn’t had the conviction to extend him into 2021.

I have put on record that I gave the Knicks an exact dollar amount that I believe Mitchell Robinson is worth. And comparing the value of two different players is not absolute. Williams was injured late in the season and was only at times as important as during the Celtics’ promotion to the regular season to their current success. But when you look at a game like game three and consider his jump last season, it’s hard to justify letting Mitch go over a dollar discrepancy that might not be seismic.

2. No panic deals

A treasured one for all Knicks fans. It’s easy to forget these days, but as late as January this year, die-hard Celtics fans were seriously considering disbanding their battery of athletic wings. This comes after years of biting the apple, albeit in a weak East where I at least never thought the team posed a real threat in a chip contest (I know they took LeBron to a seventh game in the ECF brought I I know.) But the organization never struck a deal that could have remade the franchise after tremendous bad luck with free agents Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving that nearly cost them their window.

The Knicks have a great young core, and all of those bits certainly won’t make it to what the “complete” and best version of this team will ultimately look like, but for now, both the Celtics and the long-standing Warriors will , We see the value of patience and continuity.

3. be water

Jayson Tatum’s development should either be of interest to Julius Randle or be shown to him as a clip packet on a loop, with his eyelids taped open in restraints as Ludwig Van’s 9th explodes at a deafening volume. Tatum subverted the concept of “The Star Coming Through In The Big Game” as preached by the old boys of the TNT desk post game.

He’s done this by capitalizing on the attention he demands and has evolved into a valuable distributor, a dynamic top wing that can beat you in multiple ways. Part of that is his ability to take the burden of points off himself, as he’s surrounded by a balanced squad of capable goalscorers who can close the gap if he finishes on a 12-point game in the final.

But my personal theory of how the miracle of 2021 happened was that Julius’ death opened up a new aspect of his game. He was so much more deadly when he passed first and got a lot of his offense on the flow, but was still able to kill you with his smack on the ball when the rest of the team was dry and desperately needed the Knicks became a basket.

Most Knicks fans, myself included, came out of the season looking at Julius as a lost cause that we’d throw down for pennies on the dollar. But the further we get from this bizarre regression nightmare with him, I can’t help but watch Tatum and wonder if there’s a way to salvage this sunk cost through redirection. And all of this brings us to…

4. Make or miss

I’ve seen a few writers write an approximation of this story, but none really nailed it for me. The weirdest thing about this run by the Celtics and their western sequel, the Dallas Mavericks, is the three-point shooting. And I’ve seen some discussion of how the three drove those high variance blowouts both for and against them, but something I haven’t seen is an explanation of how when one team is active, the entire team time is active at the same time.

Here’s how the Celtics shot as a team, as a TEAM, in their Eastern Conference Finals of three against Miami, with attempts consistently ranging from 30 to 40 per game: .324, .500, .375, .235, .303, .333 , .344. That’s a big difference between their best and worst performances, with many games going through their playoffs similarly chaotic in terms of both how hot and how cold they would run as a collective. In Game 1 of the Finals, they had a historic fourth quarter that could possibly wield a championship. The team is breaking records for three-pointers taken and made, but as someone who’s bet and both won and lost during this postseason, what’s inexplicable about the Celtics is how you can pretty much tell where the game is going immediately shot.

To me, this postseason is either best explained or most confusing when considering Grant Williams and Dorian Finney-Smith, two role-playing wings on the two most volatile teams in the playoffs. Williams has shot 25% from three this postseason but was a 41% shooter in the regular season and finds himself at a career 37% from three with steady improvement each year. He also had 27 points in an unlikely Game 7 in which Boston toppled the reigning champion Bucks in the second round. He’s not the Rashard Lewis, Proto 3 and D-Wing type that his two star teammates have developed into the platonic ideals. He’s 6ft 6 and stocky, a wing/post tweener who does a lot of trash work for the Celtics and some nights the ball swings to him and some nights he doesn’t. He expands our notion of what a man of his abilities is and what he can be.

My point is that I think in a lot of teams we never see what a player like Grant Williams is capable of. What the Celtics unlocked in Williams, Horford, Smart, White and Pritchard is an offense that should look familiar to the Warriors, that relies on movement and rhythm, and when it works, it sings and it’s like damn Kabbalah or something some.

So how do you apply this? The Celtics had a pretty similar roster last season that Brad Stevens had little use for. I’d argue that Celtic’s superb rookie coach has quite a bit to do with it, another disciple of the great Gregg Popovich, like the coach he faces in this final. Both coaches are brilliant defensive heads too, but maybe a systems offensive coach who could preach that kind of movement and life and energy would be a start.

In terms of team building, I’m thinking of a guy like Reggie Bullock that I was able to let go last offseason after he was “flashed” against the Hawks for not being able to put the ball on the ground. But what we saw in Dallas this year is used correctly, Bully could have been our own Grant Williams. He shot 41% of three last year for the Knicks and was an extremely capable defenseman (his percentage dropped to 36% this year in Dallas, although his esteem and value in the league increased). Similar to the Robert Williams issues, the issues appear to have been user error. If Bully is in a system that doesn’t ask for more than he can provide, when he just snaps to D and levitates around the border and drops daggers, he might still be a kink and the team isn’t dreaming up scenarios around the Outwit kings from the fourth choice.

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