I once had a girlfriend (we’ll call her Beth) who mispronounced my friend Dan Potito’s last name every time she said it. At first, I corrected Beth whenever she made the mistake.
“Pah-tee-toe,” I would say before muttering, “Damn it, what a moron” under my breath.
A day later, a week later, or sometimes even just a couple hours later, she would make the mistake again. This time I would slow my speech down, like I was trying to teach a pre-schooler how to read.
“Pah. Tee. Toe,” I would correct her. “Pah. Tee. Toe.”
Depending on how frustrated I was with her shortcomings, I might even add a four-letter word rhyming with tuck.
Inevitably, my lessons failed. Beth had some type of road block prohibiting her from saying Potito. No matter how many times she screwed up, no matter how many times I corrected her, she kept inserting an ‘N’ into his name. Where the ‘N’ came from, I will never know. But she kept saying Pontito, and I kept rolling my eyes, and finally I decided to ignore her mispronunciations altogether. I could think of better ways to spend my time than correcting somebody who could not possibly be corrected.
During the past two seasons, I reached that point with Boston’s rebounding. I could either rip the poor rebounding during almost every game recap and offer advice to correct it (Pah-tee-toe, damn it!), or I could blissfully ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen, and continue as if the recurring problem did not exist. Just to clarify: by rebounding problem, I almost solely mean offensive rebounding. The Celtics rated 9th in the NBA in defensive rebound rate (the percentage Boston grabbed of all defensive rebounds available), but dead last in offensive rebound rate (the percentage Boston grabbed of all offensive rebounds available). Overall, they were the 19th-best rebounding team in the NBA last season according to rebounding rate, tied with the Toronto Raptors and only one spot ahead of the New Jersey Nets. Of all the serious contenders, the Celtics were the only team to haul in less than 50% of available rebounds. But I rarely addressed it because, well, what was the point? The Celtics were a below-average rebounding team, they were consistently that way, and if I complained about rebounding night in and night out, I would have sounded like an MP3 player on loop.
Still, the problem persisted. Looking at Boston’s roster, there’s no easy fix for the offensive rebounding issues in regards to next season. But there is hope, if just a glimmer. The Celtics will enter this summer knowing full well that their offensive rebounding needs a serious boost, and there are a few options to address the issue.
One way they could address rebounding is through roster changes. As of now, the Celtics currently have three big men under contract. Two are creaky veterans (Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal), and one is a pinky-finger thin rookie not known for his rebounding prowess (JaJuan Johson). Danny Ainge will undoubtedly address Boston’s lack of size via free agency, whether by re-signing Glen Davis or by adding free agent big men from other teams. But with the Celtics already committed to a boatload of salary and the NBA potentially looking at a hard cap (no mid-level exceptions), adding quality size will prove difficult, if not impossible. WEEI’s Ben Rohrbach examined the crop of free agent big men yesterday, concluding that Boston’s best outcome this summer would be to luck into Greg Oden on the cheap and add a role player like Nazr Mohammed in addition. Needless to say, when the best-case scenario includes adding Nazr Mohammed and Greg Oden’s body bag, options are limited.
Oden, at least if he could stay on his feet, would address Boston’s rebounding problem. But even after playing only 82 games through four professional seasons, he might still be out of Boston’s price range. In fact, price issues could become a pattern this summer. Samuel Dalembert’s rebounding percentage would have led the Celtics this season, but even Dalembert should be out of Boston’s price range. Tyson Chandler would help Boston immensely, but he’ll probably be too expensive. DeAndre Jordan should find more money elsewhere, too (although, in retrospect, the Celtics probably should have drafted him rather than J.R. Giddens—and by probably, I mean Danny Ainge should fall asleep each night with regrets).
Rather than sign a franchise-altering center this summer, the Celtics will likely have to target the Kurt Thomases and Nazr Mohammeds of the world; in other words, players who are closer to getting their AARP cards than they are to being in college. Those players would provide a rebounding upgrade, yes, but they would also play smaller roles that would limit their minutes and thus hinder their effect. With monetary limitations and limited options, the Celtics will find adding rebounding through free agency difficult. Even if they decide to re-sign Glen Davis or Jeff Green, neither rebounds the ball well.
Another option would be a trade. But there are problems with that. The Celtics have limited assets and the best assets they do have will be difficult to trade for fair value. Their most valuable trade pieces still include Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two of whom (Allen and Garnett) aren’t just All-Stars but also possess expiring contracts. Trading one or two of the Big Three for Dwight Howard would be magnificent, but trading them for a merely serviceable center might cause a riot in Faneuil Hall. Ainge could also choose to move Rajon Rondo, which might not be intelligent because Rondo’s a young, All-Star point guard who makes Brendan Haywood money—those are difficult to find.
If Ainge decides not to move any of the Fab Four, his trade bait would likely consist of Green (whose value eroded toward the end of last season), Davis (ditto) and some combination of recent draft picks (something tells me very few teams want Avery Bradley) and future draft picks (the Clippers’ pick is a nice trade chip, but it’s top-10 protected). Or, a pu-pu platter. When you add that Boston has built plenty of cap space for 2012 and Ainge has already stated his intentions to use it only on the right players, the Celtics are handcuffed not only by their limited assets but also by who they can and cannot trade for due to future cap implications.
All of which means the Celtics will struggle to add any significant rebounding through roster additions. Any improvement they make could have to come internally, or by addition through subtraction. Strategically speaking, Doc Rivers should change his team’s philosophy on offensive rebounding. In the past, he has intentionally foregone offensive rebounding in order to set up a stiff transition defense. But Boston’s defense has been at or near the top of the NBA for the past four seasons. Lately, it’s the offense that has slipped, and a crucial part of the slippage has been Boston’s lack of offensive rebounds.
Believe it or not, the Celtics were only the 17th most efficient offensive team last season. They managed to accomplish offensive mediocrity even while leading the NBA in field goal percentage. How? Four main reasons: the Celtics were 22nd in fewest turnovers, 25th in three-pointers made, 24th in free throws made, and dead last in offensive rebounding. Improving in any of those four categories would increase Boston’s offensive efficiency. But the improvements could prove difficult. Outside of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics have very few shooters. The lack of free throws was an effect of aging players who can’t get to the hoop like they used to, a problem that seems unlikely to change. And the offensive rebounds? The Celtics game plan deserves partial blame, but the aging, perimeter-oriented roster also contributed to the rebounding dearth.
In an October 8, 2009 study, Basketball Prospectus’s Kevin Pelton examined the correlation between age and offensive rebounding. He found that a player’s offensive rebound rate (ORR) normally drops very early in his career and remains lower later in his career. This could be entirely a function of age. Or it could be something else. “My presumption,” wrote Pelton, “is that as [players] expand their game and add range, they are pulled away from the basket and spend less time securing second chances.”
Whether decreasing offensive rebound totals are a function of age or perimeter-oriented big men, last year’s Celtics were damned. Their big men were old, raggedy and perimeter-oriented. The old: Kevin Garnett posted the second-worst ORR of his career. Shaq posted the worst of his. Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t much better. Glen Davis’s ORR decreased by more than 50% in one season. All the rebounding offenders were old (except for Davis, who is big-boned). All were perimeter-oriented (except for Shaq, who missed more than half the season due to injury). When including Nenad Krstic and Semih Erden (whose youth did not make him more than an average offensive rebounder), the Celtics entire frontcourt was saddled with poor-to-mediocre offensive rebounders. And the two worst—Garnett and Davis—received the majority of playing time.
Next year (assuming there is a next year), Garnett will presumably still start and play the majority of minutes at power forward. Because he has not been a good offensive rebounder since relocating to Boston, we can comfortably assume he will still rebound a small percentage of his teammates’ misses. But Davis is likely a goner, meaning his minutes (and his putrid 5.7% ORR) will be gone. Jermaine O’Neal will likely get some of those minutes (if his body can handle it), and he should be an upgrade from Big Baby in terms of crashing the glass. But he’s not Zach Randolph or Kevin Love—he won’t manufacture four or five extra shots for Boston on a nightly basis. The rest of those minutes should go to offseason pickups (again, the Celtics don’t have much of an opportunity to add serious talent) and JaJuan Johnson (who did not rebound particularly well even in college). Chances are, no spectacular offensive rebounders there.
Cutting Glen Davis loose would help the Celtics make improvements on the offensive glass. But those improvements will be meager unless Rivers decides to change his coaching philosophy. Considering that the team’s offense was last season’s problem, Rivers should seriously consider changing his ways.