Boston Celtics: Is Joe Mazzulla running away with Coach of the Year?

Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics are off to a scorching start, winning 21 of their first 26 games. There was reason to worry about the Celtics coming into the season due to the unexpected Ime Udoka controversy. However, under new head coach Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics look better than ever, and he, to this point, is the top candidate for NBA Coach of the Year.

Joe Mazulla’s impact

Mazzulla was placed in the perfect situation as a first-year head coach; he inherited an incredibly talented team that just fell short of winning the NBA championship. He has two stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who have established themselves as the best duo in the league. Both are playing at an extremely high level, especially Tatum, who is at the top of MVP talk to start the season.

However, there is always room for improvement, and the Celtics’ offense is the most significant difference between this year’s team and the last. The Celtics are currently the number one offense in the league, averaging the most points per game at 120.8 and leading the league in three-point percentage, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.

This is where Mazzulla’s impact indeed shows; he has implemented a five-out offense that focuses more on the ball and player movement. Whereas under Udoka, the Celtics would become stagnant at times and heavily reliant on Tatum and Brown’s late-clock isolations.

The Boston Celtics’ Half Court Dominance

The Celtics’ half-court action, “Strong,” consists of Al Horford in the right corner and Marcus Smart at the top of the key or elbow initiating the action. Derrick White and Jaylen Brown then proceed to set screens for Jayson Tatum, who is in the deep corner.

This is where the fun begins; the action is based on reading the defense, so Tatum can do multiple things based on how he is being guarded.

If the defender locks on and trails him, he can use the screen and curl to the rim for a paint touch. If the defender is cheating and anticipates the screen too early, he can set him up for a quick backdoor cut for an easy dunk or layup because the help side is occupied with Al Hordford’s shooting ability in the corner.

These are just two of the many reads he can make, which is why the action is so great. What Tatum does off the screen triggers how Brown and White space out the floor, and the offense is a never-ending flow.

Mazulla also does a brilliant job of using each player in different spots of the offense based on the opposing team’s weaknesses. At times, he’ll use Horford to initiate the offense, completely removing the big man from the play and allowing Tatum and Brown to post up in the paint.

Or he’ll have Tatum or Brown initiate, creating confusion on the backline of the defense and allowing them to play one-on-one in space. The Celtics’ new-look offense has both Tatum and Brown posting career highs in points per game and giving the rest of the players a ton of open looks, which they’ve hit consistently thus far.

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Mazulla has done an excellent job, and at this rate, he is the clear candidate to win NBA Coach of the Year and would be the first to win since Larry Bird was a rookie coach.