It feels like opening night is right around the corner, but two weeks still separate us from the opening tip between the Celtics and the Heat. So until that point, any real analysis (read: not preseason analysis) has to be of last year looking forward. Bear with us. Basketball is coming.
Much has been made of Boston’s offseason acquisitions, and rightly so. The Celtics were one game away from the Finals last year with a bad second unit, and the new players will be an infusion of energy and talent off the bench, and perhaps in the starting unit as well, if Doc’s preseason musings to excitable reporters are to be believed.
You already know that Boston’s defense was elite last season (1st in points allowed per 100 possessions), and that their offense was mediocre at best, their doom at worst (27th in points produced per 100 possessions). How will they improve this season? Perusing the Synergy Sports statistics from last season might give us a bit of an idea based on the plays they ran most frequently in 2012.
|Play Type||Percent Used||PPP||Rank|
|P&R Ball Handler||11.40%||0.69||29|
Above, you see a list of statistics gathered from Synergy Sports. Obviously, spot-up opportunities were huge for the Celtics last year, in no small part because Shmay Shmallen was on the team and he’s pretty good at all things spot-up. Though with the addition of scorers like Courtney Lee and Jason Terry we can expect to see plenty of spot-up shot attempts, they are likely to decrease with the departure of Shmallen. What will take their place? Let’s look at which of these notable offensive opportunities from 2012 we are most likely to see this year (and my apologies for the quality of the video examples).
Two noteworthy (and slightly contradictory) stats define Boston in transition in 2012. Even though the Celtics were 21st in the NBA in pace (90.4 possessions per game), transition shot attempts made up 13.8% of all tries, the second most of any type of offense. So even though the C’s had a lot of attempts in transition, they were a slow-paced team. How does that work?
Save your old-men-can’t-run jokes, it ain’t that. Two things slowed the game down for the C’s: excellent defense (1st in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions) and horrific rebounding (30th in the NBA in total rebounds, although it bears mentioning that the reason they were so low was the offensive rebounding; the C’s were a mediocre-but-slightly-more-acceptable 15th in defensive boards). Opposing teams struggled to get a good look against the stingy Boston defense, and when teams struggle to put up a shot, the shot and game clocks run down. And since the Celtics were mediocre at defensive rebounding, they allowed opposing teams too many offensive rebounds, which took away overall possessions from Boston and lowered pace statistics that are based mainly on possessions.
Also worth noting: the Celtics weren’t particularly efficient in transition opportunities when compared to the rest of the NBA. Much was made about how much better Boston would be if they would “just get out and run more!” which is correct to a certain extent. 1.13 points per possession is good, but when compared to the rest of the league, the C’s were 18th.
Does this ranking affect how Boston will run their transition opportunities? No, of course not. No matter how you stack up against the rest of the league, efficiency is efficiency, and the Celtics were fairly efficient in transition. But there’s quite a bit of room for improvement.
P&R Ball Handler
This position has the potential to take a big jump this season both in percentage used and efficiency thanks to Jason Terry. Terry’s points per possession on P&R Ball Handler plays wasn’t elite by any means (0.84 ppp), but it was much higher than Boston’s as a team.
Terry will also be likely to benefit from Garnett’s
borderline illegal super effective screens and the wide variety of players who can run pick and pop plays. Doc, who ran a glut of pick and pops during the playoffs last year with KG/Rondo, has undoubtedly been salivating since Terry signed at the new possibilities Terry brings to this particular branch of the C’s offense. Not only can Terry get to the hoop, he can pull up off the dribble from mid-range, and he’s very comfortable trickling just off to the side off a pick and firing up a three. This newfound flexibility should lead to an improved, though probably not elite, level of efficiency for ball handlers out of the pick and roll, and quite frankly, we better hope it does, because, for a play that made up 11.4% of all of the C’s offense, 0.69 ppp is completely unacceptable.
This one is interestingly high considering that Boston’s post players last season were 1) Kevin Garnett, who has been criticized through most of his career for his tendency to shoot from mid-range 2) Brandon Bass, who posted up infrequently and fairly inefficiently and 3) umm, Ryan Hollins? Greg Stiemsma? You don’t need Synergy numbers to tell you that they were bad on offense last year.
Of course, Garnett’s switch to center allowed him levels of offensive efficiency he hadn’t seen since his Minnesota years, partially because it also forced him to play in the post more. And with Garnett presumably playing center for most of this season, we will probably see his numbers stay relatively steady. But two things to keep an eye out for, and two reasons why we may see a jump in Boston’s use of post-up opportunities:
- Rondo in the post. We saw this several times in the two European games: Rondo may be operating out of the post more this year. It may take some adjusting, so the numbers may not be fantastic at the beginning, but with his athleticism (absurd) and his basketball IQ (completely off the charts), this is going to be a fascinating new look for the C’s.
- Pierce is sneaky great in the post, and he is getting older. As players age, many of them take advantage of playing in the post, a place where they don’t need to be lightning quick to be effective. Pierce didn’t play much post last year, but he was borderline elite in efficiency when he did (1.02 ppp, 8th in the NBA). He is smart, he has picture-perfect footwork and he’s fairly strong, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if Doc called more plays for Pierce in the post.
Despite the low percentage used, I’m including this because it was Boston’s most efficient play last season. It’s easy to understand why: Rondo, an elite passer, played with longtime teammates Garnett and Pierce and intelligent newcomers like Avery Bradley, so when people cut to the basket, they were likely find themselves the recipients of pin-point passes.
With athletic newcomers like Courtney Lee and athletic newcomers(ish) like Jeff Green, and with the return of Bradley, we may see a rise in off-the-ball cuts leading to baskets this year, which would be nice since so many of these opportunities end in baskets.
If you have stuck with us this long, you need psychological evaluation, but congratulations. This is all speculation of course, since we don’t know what combinations Doc has been working with successfully in training camp. But based on the new personnel and the plays that he seemed to prefer last year, we can make an educated guess that these plays will see quite a bit of action this year.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.