Three Leaf Clover: Pritchard and Hauser answering all the questions

Peyton Prichard and Sam Houser are thriving off the bench, Al Horford is timeless, and the Celtics are West Virginia’s team.

Three Leaf Clover

I don’t want to be superlative, but the Celtics are really good. In fact, they are close to becoming one of the best Celtics teams ever. If they win 62 games, which is a Mitt Romney-esque conservative-ish projection, it would tie them for 5th most wins in Celtics history. If they achieve 64 wins, they will be in fourth place. Stars alone don’t lead a team to that kind of success, so today we’re talking the bench.

State of the week: +11.9 net rating

Entering the season, the Celtics bench had questions. Maybe not as much as 50 Cent, but fans and analysts were skeptical about the bench’s ability to contribute high-level basketball (outside of Al Horford, who is like the 6th starter and is perfect in every way). The two poster boys for this outsider skepticism were Peyton Pritchard and Sam Hauser.

Three Leaf Clover: Pritchard and Hauser answering all the questions

Both were coming off up-and-down seasons where they were dropped from the lineup less and less, in Pritchard’s case being mostly benched, and saw little action in the NBA playoffs. His weaknesses continued to be exposed. Can they defend? Can they do anything other than shoot? Are they athletic enough?
At the time, those questions were reasonable, but they missed the point, and didn’t focus on what really matters.

Who cares what the individual answer is to each question; What really mattered was whether Pritchard and Hauser could make positive contributions. The manner of that contribution is irrelevant as long as it benefits them when they are on the court. Well, both of them have answered this with a resounding yes.

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In fact, the Celtics are about 2 points better per 100 possessions with Sam and Payton on the court than without.
Context is clearly important here. He plays most of his minutes with Jayson Tatum and coordinates with other bench players. Tatum has long led bench heavy units to absurd net ratings (which is also one of the reasons Jaylen Brown’s on/off differential and advanced stats lag behind his actual impact).

Even taking the context into account, Pritchard and Hauser have had tremendous success off the bench. This would benefit the Celtics if they played to a draw with teams that stayed on the court together, allowing starter heavy units to dominate (which they do). But this is not happening. The starters are attacking mid-prime teams like Robert Baratheon, and then Pritchard, Hauser, and Al come in and start raining down depth, like Daenerys on her dragon, and decimating opponents at even greater speed. Let’s beat. Check out the top-10 3-man lineups for the Celtics. It’s littered with Hauser and Prichard.

Have Pritchard and Hauser answered all the preseason questions about their play? No, but he has answered the only one that matters.

X&OOOOOHHHHHS: Timeless Al Horford

It’s legitimately incredible what Al Horford is doing defensively at his age. I’m allowed to speak about Al as if he’s elderly because I’m much younger than him, almost a full 9 months younger in fact. Horford has long been one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, defensive players in the league, and that remains true this season.

However, as he has gotten older, the way he plays defense has changed. He is no longer the switch of all the Giants under Ime Udoka or Brad Stevens. But the athletic decline has coincided with one of the smartest centers ever reading the game at an even higher level. Al’s BBQ is like Vince Carter dunking on Frederick Weiss: Just when you think he’s reached the peak, he continues to climb. He helps drive before the ballhandler knows where he is going.

The second Coby White takes a left-handed dribble, Al floats to the baseline and cuts off the drive. Then, he immediately came back to Vucevic and forced him to turn him over. This is not a furious defense of Marcus Smart’s endless flight. This is the defense of the person who knows what is going to happen even before it happens.

This does not mean that Al is unable to move his legs. He still can, but it’s really his sense of space, and his absolute inch-by-inch knowledge of how much he can drop back and still compete, that keeps him elite. He gives LaVine a lot of space here, but Al is always in control, almost goading LaVine into trying him at the rim. He does. this does not work.
Al is so good at reading the game, so quick to understand what an offense is trying to do, that he can completely dominate us and play in the mid-40s.

Non-basketball stuff of the week: West Virginia’s team

I live in Morgantown, West Virginia, which is a normal place in every sense. Its primary claim to fame is being the home of West Virginia University. Morgantown and West Virginia in general had no connection to the Boston Celtics, and then Joe was promoted to head coach. In case you’re somehow unaware, or don’t care, Mazzulla spent half a decade playing at WVU in Morgantown.


West Virginians, and WVU fans, are a loyal bunch. “Once a climber, always a climber” is not just a simple saying, it is an oath. And when Joe was at WVU, West Virginia loved him. He was exactly the kind of scrappy, hard-working underdog that West Virginians see themselves as. It didn’t hurt that he pocketed John Wall and dropped 17 in the Elite 8, too.

Because a Mountaineer is the head coach of the Boston Celtics, Joe Mays turned the Celtics into a West Virginia team. I have friends who haven’t watched an NBA game in years asking me if I caught the Celtics last night. This is a collision of my two homes, Morgantown and Mass, that I did not see coming. Joe may not be a native son of West Virginia, but like me, he is an adopted son, and West Virginians love their children unconditionally.

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