In case you missed Jordan’s post earlier, our bros over at SB Nation’s CelticsBlog unearthed this in an article about Leandro Barbosa from ESPN Brazil: Apparently Barbosa is (has?) requesting (requested?) a trade and isn’t especially happy with Danny Ainge for not allowing it to happen. Danny Ainge denies having fielded such a request and Barbosa denies ever having made it, but he has certainly slipped in the depth chart. He averages just 11.4 minutes per game and has seen several DNP-CDs throughout the year.
Celtics fans have been clamoring for a trade, and it’s not hard to see why. Besides Kevin Garnett and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics are notably reluctant to grab defensive (and offensive) rebounds which has badly hurt the team in multiple games. Boston could use a big rebounder, and Barbosa seems like a likely option for tradebait, since he is both talented offensively and relatively unused on the bench. But is he actually redundant? Should he be traded? The stats would suggest that the answers are far from simple.
Now, let’s begin with a necessary disclaimer: Recently in particular, Barbosa’s minutes have come in garbage time against the opponent’s B-team. So while his numbers have been good, they are also a bit inflated by fairly poor competition. That being said, they are also considerably better than expected, and they show a potential area of production that the Celtics are relegating to 11 mpg.
I wrote this back in October when the Celtics acquired Barbosa about how bad he was in P&R opportunities as a Pacer:
Barbosa is atrocious in the P&R as a ball handler. Indiana used him as a P&R Ball Handler on 25.5% of Barbosa’s plays, and he produced just 0.45 PPP, and turned the ball over 18.2% of the time. Those numbers are FAR below any kind of level of acceptable efficiency. Barbosa was slightly better but still bad in isolation, averaging just 0.58 points per possession and turning the ball over 15.2% of the time.
Only one of those statements has been true for Barbosa in Boston. He has been predictably mediocre in iso opportunities, but he has been surprisingly good in P&R Ball Handling plays. In 45 attempts, Barbosa has averaged 0.84 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. A big reason has been his mentality out of the P&R: Unlike Rondo, who looks to pass consistently even when a lane to the basket opens up, Barbosa looks to attack and score. This doesn’t make him a good point guard option, but it DOES make him a good offensive option in general.
Here, Barbosa gets a screen from Kevin Garnett and attacks the basket.
Rondo almost certainly would have tried to float that pass over Stoudemire, and he might very well have been successful given Stoudemire’s positioning on the play. But instead, Barbosa turns on the jets and gets to the basket, using the rim to protect the ball from Stoudemire. It’s an easy two points, and we really haven’t seen that kind of offense much from Boston’s backcourt. While Barbosa has shot 50% of his field goals at the rim, Courtney Lee, by way of comparison, takes just 33% of his shots at the rim. Jason Terry takes just 11% of his shots at the rim. This isn’t necessarily bad, since both players are known as shooters, but the Celtics are 22nd in the NBA in shots at the rim, per HoopData.com. It might behoove them to hang on to one of their only players who attacks the basket consistently.
The problem, of course, is that the C’s are very well-stocked in the somewhat-undersized guard department. Jason Terry has been playing backup point guard to Rajon Rondo, while Courtney Lee has been backing up Avery Bradley since his return. The Celtics are still banking on Jason Terry becoming more dangerous at some point this year (another topic for another post), and they seem to have decided they prefer Courtney Lee’s improving offense and infinitely superior defense to Barbosa’s offense. And it’s worth noting that Courtney Lee has been going to the basket more with his P&R Ball Handler opportunities, which probably correlates to his improvement.
As an astute commenter pointed out in the comments to last night’s recap, there are 96 minutes available to guards in the traditional two-guard, two-forward, one center lineup. Between the 70ish minutes that should be guaranteed to both Bradley and Rondo on most nights, there are only 26ish minutes available to split between JET, Barbosa and Lee. If Doc and the Celtics decision-makers have settled on Lee and Terry as the primary backup guards for Boston, Barbosa is obviously going to lose minutes.
There are, however, a few options. Perhaps the most plausible would be to play more small-ball. This won’t be the most popular suggestion, since Boston’s small-ball lineups haven’t been very good so far this year.
But Barbosa may offer the Celtic’s small-ball lineup some badly needed offensive diversity. So far this season, the Celtics’ most common small-ball lineup is Rondo/Terry/Pierce/Green/Garnett (only kind of small-ball, but you get the idea). Of those players, only Rondo gets to the rim more than 40% of the time on offense (43%). Green is second at 39%, but the others are all at 25% (Pierce) and below. One of the main attractions to playing a small lineup is the transition opportunities it affords. If Barbosa replaced Green or Pierce, and the other player moved to power forward, the Celtics — on paper — would have a team more prepared to get up and down the floor. A fast player like Barbosa who goes to the basket as much as possible would more than likely raise the offensive efficiency (and thus the watchability) of smaller lineups.
It should be noted, of course, that Barbosa is a bad defender, and it might be harder to hide him in a small-ball lineup, given the mismatches that would already be created by the natural size differences. This is likely why Doc has moved him mostly out of the rotation, and it’s also likely that this will be why Barbosa gets moved, if the Celtics decide they don’t want to keep him around.
Barbosa may make the most sense as a trading piece if the Celtics are looking for a fairly low-end center who would help protect the paint and rebound more than Jason Collins. But it also seems plausible that if the Celtics really want to commit to their small-ball lineup, a player like Barbosa who can get to the basket frequently would be both useful and necessary.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.