One of the major complaints many fans had with Danny Ainge’s work at the trade deadline was the fact that he failed to address Boston’s increasingly desperate situations at point guard and center. In fact, one might argue that Ainge actually made the center situation even more complicated by trading away Jason Collins in the deal for Jordan Crawford, making Boston’s lineup even smaller.
But in last night’s win against Phoenix, we may have seen some evidence as to why Ainge didn’t make a more concerted push for the Eric Maynors and the Sebastian Telfairs of the league. In 23 minutes off the bench, newcomer (and current 10-day contract holder) Terrence Williams showed the makings of a very serviceable point guard within Boston’s system.
One of the reasons Boston had so much success against Phoenix was the Celtics’ willingness to push the ball in transition. So far this season, the Celtics average only 1.06 points per possession in transition opportunities (a paltry 26th in the league), and only 14.6% of their shot attempts have come in transition. But against Phoenix, the Celtics scored 1.18 PPP, with 22% of their opportunities coming in transition.
Now, for the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that the Suns shot just 41.7% from the field and allowed Boston, a notoriously bad rebounding team missing one of their best rebounders in Kevin Garnett, to outrebound them 45-40. The missed shots combined with Boston’s acceptable rebounding were a big factor in Boston’s transition offense being as prevalent and successful as it was.
But Terrence Williams was also a significant factor in the transition offense. Williams dished out four assists and grabbed four rebounds, which added up to about 6.5 rebounds and assists per 36 minutes. And in much the same way Rondo initiates the offense by grabbing a rebound and pushing the pace immediately, Terrence Williams was able to kickstart the offense on several occasions simply by running up the floor.
It seems pretty plausible that Doc told the team before the game to run as much as possible and turn the game into a track meet. That was probably the easiest way to work in all of the new players on such short notice. And as it turned out, a track meet suited two players extremely well: Jeff Green (31 points, 1.82 PPP (!!!!!!!!!!!)) and Chris Wilcox (14 points, 1.40 PPP). But it also suited Williams, who is athletic, a good rebounder and a good passer. In the play above, Williams gathers the rebound, sprints up the court, looks off a defender and threads the needle perfectly to Wilcox, catching him in stride for the slam.
The ability to look off a defender was something Williams demonstrated several times, and it wasn’t just in transition. He also used it to make Phoenix’s defense collapse in pick-and-roll sets.
This is perhaps Boston’s most frequently used set: a high pick-and-roll with shooters spaced across the 3-point line. But as Wilcox rolls, Michael Beasley makes a surprisingly heads-up defensive play, helping on the roll man when he sees that Jermaine O’Neal has been forced to switch onto Williams and P.J. Tucker won’t be able to recover on Wilcox. So instead of giving up an easy alley-oop (something Wilcox had already had his fair share of by this point), Beasley helps off of Green when he sees Williams looking inside.
Unfortunately for Beasley, he helps much too deep, leaving Green wide open for a spot-up 3-pointer. Phoenix’s play-by-play team (who, it should be noted, were otherwise very good) had just gotten done discussing Green’s lack of a 3-point shot, but they didn’t read Synergy closely enough, apparently; Green is 44.4% from 3-point range in spot-up attempts. Williams, who has successfully drawn any relevant defenders into the paint and away from Green, skips a pass to him and he splashes in a shot from long-range.
Williams had one other assist out of a pick-and-roll set. This one was to Paul Pierce, and it perhaps told us the most about what we can hope to see from Williams at point guard.
As Kendall Marshall applies pressure beyond the half-court line, Paul Pierce comes out to give Williams a hand. The help probably wasn’t needed, but it led to an easy basket.
As Pierce sets the screen, Dudley shows that he’s going to switch onto Williams, which would leave Marshall on Pierce. Instead of accepting the mismatch and allowing Pierce to get set, Williams pushes the pace (are you noticing a theme yet?) and scoots around Dudley into the frontcourt. This leaves Dudley behind Pierce and Marshall (who had switched onto Pierce initially) stuck between Pierce and Williams. Williams dishes to Pierce immediately, and Pierce keeps Dudley directly behind him and knocks down the easy mid-range jumper.
What’s most impressive about this play is the way Williams used his speed and ball-handling to keep the defense off-balance. Here, a quick burst split the defense easily, and Williams left the ball in a perfect place for Pierce to hit a comfortable shot. Best of all, he showed that he can operate well under duress, something that can’t be said for Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley. That’s not really a criticism of Lee and Bradley; they are both shooting guards being asked to step into an unnatural role. But Williams seems to have more of the natural point guard inclinations that Boston desperately lacked against both Denver and Los Angeles.
Obviously, Williams’ sample size at point guard is absurdly limited and quite flawed thanks to Phoenix’s awful, awful defense. But Williams showed some really excellent tendencies last night — tendencies that, if they hold to the pattern, might make him a serious candidate for extended point guard minutes in the rotation.
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