Every NBA fan does it. We get so hyped for the season that when it finally arrives, we study the early results like the chemistry notes we charmed out of the girl who sits next to us in advance of the final test.
Your team is 0-3? It’s Armageddon. Your team is 3-0? You’re already saving money for those NBA Finals tickets.
I do it too. I study the Hoopdata advanced box scores like I’m the rain man or something. It’s almost as if I think I can predict the future from the evidence of three games.
Glen Davis is averaging 14.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg and I’m convinced he’s going to be an All-Star. The Celtics are outrebounding their opponents by almost seven rebounds per game and I’m convinced the rebounding problems from last season are a thing of the past. Forget that Davis and the Celtics have posted those numbers against three of the thinnest frontcourts in the East. Or that we’re only three games into the season and Jermaine O’Neal already looks like a zombie and needed an MRI on his knee.
In reality, I know we can’t learn anything conclusively about the Boston Celtics yet. I know my obsession with tendencies and statistics is misplaced: three games is a small sample and not very reliable, especially considering the competition thus far.
At the end of 82 games, it probably won’t matter that Rajon Rondo had 50 assists in his first three games, or that Paul Pierce grabbed 14 rebounds against the New York Knicks in the third game of the season.
But, just in case it does matter, here’s what (I think) I’ve learned from the Boston Celtics first three games:
Turnovers will continue to be an issue
Turnovers have been a disturbing trend for Boston since the Big Three came together in 2007. I am concerned that we’ve turned the ball over 57 times in just three games (my calculator tells me that’s 19 tpg), ranking third worst in the league. I am even more concerned I wrote ‘we’ like I personally dribbled the ball off my foot or threw the ball into the stands.
Glen Davis will be the most consistent bench contributor
Before the season, I predicted that Glen Davis would be the most productive member of the stacked Celtics bench. I envisioned a breakout season last year for Davis, too, but then he missed the first half of the season and never quite found his role. With a full training camp and preseason under his belt, and a new role with the O’Neal’s on board, I trusted Big Baby for the first time. Doc Rivers has shown that he too trusts Davis by playing him in crunch time alongside Kevin Garnett in the first three games.
Big Baby is slowly earning that trust. Davis’s effective field goal percentage is .667 compared to .437 for last year, he leads the team with a 20.1 PER (league average is 15) , and in win shares/ 48 minutes with 0.259. To put that into perspective, the next player behind Davis is Paul Pierce with a WS/48 of 0.191–a good margin.
So how has Davis improved so much and played so well? Most importantly, Davis is finishing at the rim far better than he did last season. Last season, Davis shot just 51.8% on shots at the rim. He was also blocked more than any player in the league. This season, Davis has made 11 of his 13 shots at the rim for a percentage of 84.6. Davis will face much better defensive frontcourts and he won’t continue at this torrid pace, but he could and should improve on last season’s output.
To the naked eye, Davis has been a better finisher simply because he has taken easier shots. Davis is playing within the offense and is not forcing one-on-one plays like he did so much last season. The stats back up what I’ve seen. Last season, only 69% of Davis’s layups were assisted, while this season, 91% of Davis’s layups have been assisted. If Davis continues to trust his teammates and the offensive sets, he should be vastly improved from last season and a key cog in the Celtics title run.
Boston is a much improved rebounding team
We don’t have to rehash the Celtics rebounding troubles from last season. We’ve felt that pain too many times. Naturally, one of the biggest questions entering the season was whether or not the offseason additons and/or the improved health of Kevin Garnett would make the Celtics better on the glass. So far, so good.
Boston is ranked fifth in the NBA with a rebound rate of 54, third in the NBA with a defensive rebound rate of 79.1. The Celtics have outrebounded their opponent in every game this season, including the preseason. Garnett’s rebounding totals: 10, 15, 10.
Defense is still stingy
I am relieved that, even without Tom Thibodeau, the Celtics’ defense still moves like each player is connected by a string, that we force a turnover one out of every five posessions, that Hollinger Stats has us ranked 6th in defensive efficiency. The Celtics are allowing 96.5 points/100 possessions and holding teams to 41.7% field goals. In the offseason, I was worried that the substitution of Shaq for Kendrick Perkins on the interior would hurt the Celtics defensively, but that hasn’t been the case so far. The Celtics have been slightly above average offensively during the Big Three Era, but one of the league’s best defenses. It looks like that trend will continue this season, despite the roster changes.
Ultimately, if the Celtics continue to rebound and defend so well, they will once again contend for a championship. Earth-shattering news, I know. The turnovers certainly increase the degree of difficulty, but they are more of an annoyance than anything. Remember, Boston turned the ball over at a very high rate during their 2008 championship run.
As long the Celtics forces their opponents into low-percentage shots and don’t allow many second chance opportunities, we fans have a good chance of cheering our team well into June.