Williams’ potential as a defensive difference-maker has never been in question. But nobody (other than head coach Ime Udoka) could have foreseen the tactics Boston used to get him to that level.
The Celtics’ surge this year coincided with the team gaining comfort with an unusual scheme that kept Williams, the team’s center, off the ball and generally uninvolved in pick-and-roll coverage. Pre-switching, timely rotations and Williams’ uncommon quickness combined to shut down opposing attacks.
Few bigs have the ability to cover ground like Williams, and almost none of them are as terrifyingly quick off the floor. It’s made Williams the league’s most destructive help defender and propelled Boston to contender status. A torn meniscus will have a major impact on Williams and the Celtics’ playoff chances, but there was no denying his impact during a breakout regular season.
If you want to advertise that you’re not watching the Celtics, just try to make the case that anyone other than Smart is the team’s best defender. And if you want to really tick off Boston fans, put together a list of league-wide Defensive Player of the Year candidates that doesn’t include the Celtics guard.
Tatum is on pace to improve his scoring average over last year’s mark, which isn’t new for him. The three-time All-Star has set scoring highs in every season of his career. The bigger development is that he’s upping the volume while being on pace to produce the highest true shooting percentage since he was a low-usage rookie.
That’ll be quite the achievement considering how cold Tatum started the year. Through November, he was shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from deep.
If quantity is your thing, Clint Capela is a fine pick here. He has logged more than twice as many total minutes as the constantly overlooked second-year center Okongwu. Based on quality, Okongwu is the clear choice.
He’s limited opponents to a lower conversion rate as the primary defender inside six feet and holds up better in space against guards. Okongwu’s Defensive Versatility score, via BBall Index, is also higher than Capela’s. And though he tends to see more minutes against backups, Okongwu’s on/off impact on the Atlanta Hawks defense is significantly better.
Okongwu will inevitably unseat Capela as the starter in the middle.