Jayson Tatum should return for Celtics’ next game

No Tatum, no problem. The Celtics had superstar Jayson Tatum rest vs the Raptors on Saturday, saw Marcus Smart and Robert Williams leave the game early, and still won 106-104. Boston now sits at 35-12, good for a 4.5 game lead over the surging Sixers in second place in the East.

Tatum should return for Boston’s next game and neither Williams’ nor Smart’s injuries looks serious, but in today’s NBA every team errs on the side of caution. On Saturday alone in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics sat Tatum, the Sixers sat Joel Embiid and won anyway vs the Kings, and the third-place Bucks without Giannis and Khris Middleton lost to the fifth-place Cavs without Donovan Mitchell. The free-falling Nets had no game, but Kevin Durant is out until February and Kyrie Irving has missed time recently. The Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green and still won at Mitchell-less Cleveland on Friday.

The bottom line is even if the Celtics decide to sit Tatum more often and lose Williams and Smart for some amount of time, it will likely not matter much in the regular season standings. It is still midseason but all the good teams are already managing their stars’ minutes in anticipation of playoffs that are three months away.

The Celtics finished one step away from the title last season and now look like the best team in the league. Here are the NBA title odds at Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Celtics +360
  • Nets +600
  • Nuggets +700
  • Warriors +800
  • Bucks +800
  • Grizzlies +850
  • Sixers +1400
  • Clippers +1500
  • Pelicans +1800
  • Cavaliers +2000
  • Suns +2200
  • Mavs +2800

Plus Caesars has these odds on winning the Eastern Conference

  • Celtics +180
  • Nets +300
  • Bucks +375
  • Sixers +700
  • Cavs +850
  • Heat +2000

Legal sports betting arrives in three locations in Massachusetts on January 31st. Bettors can place wagers at the MGM Springfield Casino, Encore Boston Harbor Casino, and Plainridge Park Casino. Online sports betting will open up in the Bay State in early March. New customers can use the Caesars Sportsbook Massachusetts promo code and take advantage of the first bet as the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has plans to launch retail sports wagering by March 2023.

Though the Celtics have the lowest odds on the NBA board, advanced stats sites do not consider them overpriced. FiveThirtyEight rates the Celtics the best team in the league and gives them a 26% chance to take the NBA title, and 43% in the East, implying the money odds on the title should be +284 and +133 to take the Eastern Conference. That is downright bearish compared to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) which tabs the title and East odds respectively at 44.7% (equal to +124) and 55.6% (-120).

The Celtics rank second in the league in Offensive Efficiency, scoring 117.3 points per 100 possessions and fifth in Defensive Efficiency at 110.8, giving them a league leading Net rating (Offensive Efficiency minus Defensive Efficiency) of 6.5. They excel in various ways. With the ball, the Celtics lead the league with a 2.0 assist to turnover ratio and are fourth with a 56.3% Effective Field Goal percentage. Without the ball, they are first in defensive rebounding efficiency as they grab 74.7% of boards on the opponents glass. They also keep their opponents off the free throw line, as their defensive free throw rate of 22.7% ranks second.

Tatum leads the way, and has a shot at the league MVP as per the odds on the favorites at Caesars

  • Nikola Jokic -115
  • Luka Doncic +325
  • Tatum +500
  • Joel Embiid +800
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo +1000

Real Plus Minus on ESPN, “player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors” is perhaps the best metric to analyze a player’s total contributions. Tatum leads the league at 9.46, over a full point better than Jokic in second and Doncic in third. ESPN also calculates “Wins” which takes RPM and multiplies it by the number of possessions and Tatum leads there too at 14.12 Wins vs 13.12 for Doncic and 11.2 for Jokic.

ESPN further breaks down RPM to offensive and defensive RPM. Tatum’s RPM is 4.78 on offense and 4.68 on defense. Embiid is the only other player in the league that exceeds 3.5 on both sides of the ball.

Tatum’s traditional stats stand out as well, as he averages a career high 31.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game, also his best. Jaylen Brown adds 26.9 PPG, making them the top scoring teammates in the league. That is also Brown’s career high PPG, as are his 7.1 RPG. The Celtics are also getting big contributions from Sixth Man Malcolm Brogdon with 14.3 PPG and ageless Al Horford with a career high 62.2% True Shooting Percentage thanks greatly to hitting his threes at 43.2%. This is all with their best Big and rim protector Robert Williams just rounding into form after missing the first two months of the season.

It is a long way still until April and the playoffs, but the Celtics have clearly emerged as the NBA’s best team, and barring major injuries, will almost certainly head into spring as the title favorites.