League Pass power rankings: Keep your eye on the Celtics

Published November 22, 2022, 9:00 AMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

If you like offense, the Boston Celtics are a must-watch team right now.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

If you’re a fan of defense, you have to watch the Milwaukee Bucks.

They’re the best defensive team in the league, holding opponents to just 105.6 points per 100 possessions. The league average is 112.3. They’re not a chaotic mess of long limbs like the Toronto Raptors or a switch-happy squad like the Golden State Warriors. In fact, the Bucks aren’t even doing things differently. They’re still playing the same drop defense that they’ve been playing in the past few years. Only this time, they added a few wrinkles.

In previous years, the guards would simply funnel their assignments inside to their big man who was waiting in the paint. This season, the perimeter defenders are reading screens and adapting how they play off it based on their assignment. This allows them to stay close to their opponent, ready to defend their moves.

Brook Lopez is a key cog of the league’s best defense. He isn’t just waiting for opponents in the paint anymore. He’s actively tracking his assignment while staying in position to deter shots at the rim (leads the league with 2.6 blocks per game).

It’s fun watching the Bucks’ perimeter defenders navigate screens, while Lopez prowls the paint waiting for his next victim.

4. Dallas Mavericks

If you’re a fan of super duper stars, you have to watch the Dallas Mavericks.

What Luka Doncic is doing this season has been absurd. Even his dad can’t believe it.

Doncic is averaging 33.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game. He’s part of nearly 40 percent of the Maverick’s plays when he’s on the floor. Doncic isn’t the most athletic or physically imposing. He’s not the best shooter, passer, or rebounder in the league. But he’s the craftiest player in the NBA. He knows how to get his opponents off balance to get the shot, pass, or stop that he wants.

Taking a look at just his numbers, one would assume that Dallas is one of the top teams in the league. They’re not. Even with Doncic doing all these crazy things, the Mavericks are ninth in the West. There’s a disconnect between how Doncic has been playing to how the rest of the Mavericks have been performing. That’s a disconnect they have to figure out or they’re going to waste an MVP season from Doncic.

It’s still fun watching Doncic carry Dallas, though. That’s because he has to pull out all the tricks just to get the win.

3. Utah Jazz

If you’re a fan of surprises, you have to watch the Utah Jazz.

With 12 wins and just six losses, the Jazz are currently the best team in the West. This was a team left for dead to start the season. They traded away their top two players for a mountain of draft picks with all intentions of rebuilding the team from scratch.

The team that they’re putting on the floor has different intentions though. Lauri Markkanen, a throw-in by the Cleveland Cavaliers in their trade with the Jazz, is playing like an All-Star. He’s averaging 22.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting. He’s the best player on the team, the guy that delivers the big buckets.

What’s more interesting about the Jazz is figuring out who the second-best player on the team is. Some nights it’s their veteran leader, Mike Conley. Other nights it’s their flashy sixth man, Jordan Clarkson. Then there are nights when it’s Kelly Olynyk, Collin Sexton, or Malik Beasley. Utah is taking the definition of team basketball to a whole new level this season.

It’s fun trying to figure out if the Jazz should keep winning or start losing. When will teams figure them out? It’s been 18 games and they’re still finding new ways to surprise their opponents.

2. Sacramento Kings

If you’re a fan of streaks, you should watch the Sacramento Kings.

Listen to De’Aaron Fox. Did you see the smirk? Did you catch the subtle shrug? That’s a player oozing with confidence. He embodies the entire team right now. The Kings are the hottest team in the league, winning six straight games. They’re currently fifth in the West with a 9-6 record. That sounds even more amazing when you remember that they lost their first four games.

Sacramento is humming right now. They’re the league’s top-scoring team, dropping 121.4 points per game on 50.2 percent shooting. They’re also second in the league in assists, dishing out 28.3 dimes per game. They’re averaging 131.5 points per game in their six-game win streak, including a whopping 153 points scored against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Kings are getting buckets. Lots of ‘em. Fox and Domantas Sabonis are the offensive hubs of the team. They keep the ball pinging around, making sure that their shooters are fed and happy. In a system where everybody eats, everybody is happy. That’s why the vibes in Sacramento can’t be beaten, just like their team.

It’s also fun watching a team keep their winning streak alive hoping to end their streak of missing out on the playoffs.

1. Boston Celtics

Speaking of offense, if you’re a fan of it, you should watch the best offensive team in the league, the Boston Celtics.

If last year the Celtics got wins through their air-tight defense, this season, they’re winning games thanks to their awesome offense. The Celtics have won nine straight games and are the proud owners of the best offense in the league. They’re scoring 120 points per 100 possessions. If that stands, this year’s Celtics will also be the proud owners of the best offensive rating in NBA history.

Having killer isolation players like Jayson Tatum (30.3 PPG) and Jaylen Brown (25.3 PPG) makes life on offense easier. But their system isn’t a stagnant one where the rest of the team watches Tatum or Brown, waiting in the wings. It’s a free-flowing system full of movements away from the ball and different counters that open up opportunities for everyone else.

That looked like a simple staggered screen to get Tatum open. But because Tatum is so deadly, he attracted the defense, opening up Luke Kornet on the roll. Watch closely though because Kornet wasn’t only Tatum’s option. Sam Hauser – shooting 47.9 percent from 3 this season – was wide open after popping out in the left wing. That’s the kind of offense the Celtics have this season. If the first or second options are taken away by the defense, the third and fourth options in their set plays are ready to go.

Simply put, it’s fun watching Boston’s offense destroy defenses this season.