The Boston Celtics could only manage nine points in the fourth quarter as the Chicago Bulls surged to a comeback win.
Postgame, Marcus Smart was vocal about his concerns with the offense and in particular the lack of ball movement from the franchise stars.
“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart said. “Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball.”
Tatum finished with 20 points and three assists on the night, while Brown tallied 28 points and three assists. The duo each recorded just one turnover.
“That’s something that they’re going to learn,” Smart said. “They’re still learning. We’re proud of the progress they’re making, but they’re going to have to make another step and find ways to not only create for themselves but create for others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game.
“It’s something we’ve been asking them to do and they’re learning. We just gotta continue to help those guys do that to help our team.”
Leading by 19 points late in the third quarter, Boston collapsed and now sits at 2-5 on the season. Tatum and Brown are in their fifth and sixth year in the league respectively, with the duo leading the Boston offense for much of their time in the league.
Smart has played alongside the duo for the entirety of their careers, making the public comments slightly curious.
Tatum is known for taking a high degree of difficulty shots in isolation, with a slow start to the season possibly a source of frustration for the team. Tatum’s scoring average has bumped up from 26.4 points per game to 26.7, though he is jacking up 4.4 extra shots per game.
Two of Boston’s losses this season have come on nights where Tatum has attempted 30+ shots despite struggling to find his efficiency. Against the Knicks, Tatum scored 20 points on 30 field goal attempts, while against the Wizards he managed just 27 on 32 attempts. The Celtics lost those two games by a combined margin of seven points.
According to NBA.com stats, there are eight players in the league who have an isolation frequency of greater than 20 percent. Of those eight players, Giannis Antetokounmpo ranks seventh for points per possession at 0.82. Tatum sits at a lowly 0.59. Last season, Tatum averaged 0.82 points per possession in isolation on 34 percent from the field.
Statmuse lists Brown (2.5 per game) and Tatum (3.7 per game) in the bottom six league wide for assists per game among players averaging at least 20 shot attempts per outing.
There’s no doubt both players are capable of catching fire and making incredibly difficult contested shots, but perhaps Smart has a point. Perhaps there is an easier way for the Celtics offense to generate scoring opportunities outside of isolating Tatum?
The Celtics hold the 19th ranked offensive rating at 104.4.
Boston are still learning to play under new head coach Ime Udoka, but it is worth noting that Smart is averaging 9.1 shot attempts per 36 minutes – the lowest mark in his career. His usage percentage of 14.2 percent is also the lowest mark of his career which could indicate another slice of evidence for why the comments were made.
Smart did mention the team is “proud” of the young duo’s progress on the offensive end, so this is hardly a sign of major turmoil in the Celtics locker room, but frustration is clearly building for a team that doesn’t want to get left behind in a suddenly busy Eastern Conference mix.