Post-game Reactions

Picture 6I was re-reading the Celtics chapter in the new Pro Basketball Prospectus handbook (which you should go and buy!) and noticed something I hadn’t noticed before: The Basketball Prospectus crew predicts the Celtics will rank 20th in offensive efficiency. That’s 20th! Out of 30 teams!

This could not possibly be right…right? What’s scary is that whenever a team does something much better or worse than anyone expected, there is always some mathematical projection system that predicted it. (Sort of like how Baseball Prospectus predicted a major surge from the Rays in 2008 when humans just assumed they’d stink as usual). The machines always know first. (Or is that dogs?)

We all know the C’s have been the best overall defensive team through the last two seasons, but the story that receives considerably less attention is how good Boston’s offense has been. Last season, the C’s scored 110.5 points per 100 possessions, the 5th-best mark in the NBA, thanks largely to great shooting; their effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the value of three-pointers, ranked 2nd behind Phoenix, and their 39.7 percent accuracy rate from three-point range is the 12th-best team mark since the league instituted the three-point ine in 1980, according to Basketball Reference.

That was a slight improvement from the championship year of 2008, when the C’s ranked 10th in the league with an average of 110.2 points per 100 possessions. Tenth isn’t great. But it’s a lot better than 20th. You can win titles with the 10th best offensive in the league.

So I contacted Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle, the co-authors of the BP book, and asked them why their numbers were spitting out such a poor offensive rating for Boston.

The answer centered around the loss of Leon Powe, the team’s decision to give his minutes (and more) to Rasheed Wallace and the general aging of the team. Here’s Kevin: “The big differences are in offensive rebounding (from 6th to a projected 28th) and free throw attempts per field goal attempt (from 7th to a projected 26th). Naturally, replacing Leon Powe (and other minutes) with Rasheed Wallace is a factor there, given the time [Wallace] spends on the perimeter.”

Kevin adds: “Offensive rebounding makes a bit more sense, since Perkins is projected to go back near his career offensive rebound rate after an excellent year on the offensive glass. I have a tougher time explaining the drop in free throw rate outside of the difference between Powe and Wallace.”

On the one hand, this isn’t news. We’ve written a lot about ‘Sheed’s rapid decline in offensive rebounding rate and foul-drawing—and, conversely, of Powe’s insane ability to do both. (By some measures, Powe was the best offensive rebounder in the entire NBA last season). We’ve even hinted at the possibility that the team will suffer a massive drop in offensive rebounding this season—and that Shelden Williams, a statistically excellent offensive rebounder, could find himself a niche on the team as a result.

On the other hand, the notion that adding Rasheed Wallace and subtracting Leon Powe could hurt a team’s offense seems to fly in the face of everything we think we know about basketball. The numbers may say one thing, but this is Rasheed Wallace! And that guy on a plane to Cleveland is Leon Powe, a nice player to be sure, but one whose per-minute stats might look great precisely because there are so few minutes in that sample size.

Pelton acknowledges the numbers might not be able to encapsulate Sheed’s true offensive value: “I’d certainly be surprised if Boston were quite that bad on offense, especially because we’re not crediting Wallace at all for his ability to space the floor with his shooting.”

And Doolittle says his system, which the BP preview book does not use, predicts the C’s to rank 12th in offensive efficiency. That’s better than 20th, but it would still be the team’s worst mark of the Big Three era.

Is this a cause for concern? I’m not sure. On the one hand, it makes sense that a team as old at it core as Boston would suffer a decline somewhere. It also doesn’t seem likely the team will shoot the ball as well this season as it did last year.

But you know what? Rajon Rondo is going to be better. Wallace’s impact on the offensive is likely greater than BP’s numbers can understand. Glen Davis will be a solid jump-shooter all year instead of an atrocious one for 50 games and a good one for 30. Perk will improve. Ray Allen may defy normal aging trends for another season. KG will hopefully remain healthy enough to play effectively in June.

The team has already proven it can win a title finishing 10th in the league in offensive efficiency. They don’t need to be an offensive juggernaut. They just need to be good enough. And I remain confident they will be.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Bryan

    Too bad they didn't really deserve that title in 08'. The Celtics were awful offensively. That Laker team was a much better basketball team than the Celtics. If the referees had actually blown their whistles when fouls were being committed then the Lakers would be going for a three-peat right now.

    The Lakers were expecting the refs to call the game like a regular game, when the refs decided that they would let the games get physical, the Lakers didn't know what hit them. The Lakers were too soft to deal with the physical nature of the Celtics dirty physical defense. Their overall frustration due to the lack of whistles from the referees is what gave the Celtics that title.

  • Jason

    You forgot Marquis. The second unit had no one who could create his own shot or run the offense that well. Eddie had to come off screens. BBD had to pop or get a board. Now you have Marquis who can initiate, score or distribute. Sheed can space and shoot or you can dump it to him. The second unit won’t be the liability it was where it constantly relinquished leads the starters built. Offensively everyone, I think Eddie in particular, will benefit with Sheed and Daniels out there. They both improve the D as well.

    Even though it’s just preseason, I think we are already seeing how strong the second unit is as they’ve been holding their own against other team’s starters.

    I see where these guys are coming from, especially since I’m one to want Sheed to use his big man skills more efficiently, but as you mentioned can it account for everything? Plus Powe was a clear role player. Sheed and Daniels could be starters on many teams and much of their minutes will come against reserves. Daniels, Sheed, BBD, House. That’s a group that should dominate other second units on a constant basis. I can’t see the team’s offensive efficient dropping to the bottom half of the league.

    Btw, what about the TOs? That was one huge factor against their efficiency. Seems like if that regressed just a little it would make up for many of the other factors.

  • Jason

    The Lakers '09 title has so many asterisks. You lucked into Yao braking his foot mid-series and avoiding having to play either of the East teams that match up the best, particularly the Celtics who lost their best player to injury (not at all like Bynum going down the year before, give me a break). Celts beat the Lakers handily to win their title, the Lakers beat nobody to get theirs.

  • @Bryan: Sound analysis, man.

  • Evan

    The Celtics earned their title in 2008. Still, Bryan makes some sense. The Celtics are by no means dirty. We’re just physical, and the strange officiating in the finals allowed for that kind of defense. Looking at the record, we see pretty tight officiating throughout the playoffs, especially in the finals, year after year. Kobe definitely didn’t get the treatment Wade received in the 2006 finals.

    Yes, it was a strange 2008 finals, and yes, if those finals were officiated like a finals or playoff game from any other season, the Lakers would probably have won the title. But that’s not what happened, and the Celtics were the champions.

    Strangely, a lot of the uncalled fouls in that 2008 finals were not out of physical play but out of a lot of off-ball holding calls, based on the aging slowness of the Celtics. The Celtics, more than any other team, needs to get away with that stuff in order to compete, especially when playing against teams with athletic wings, like the Lakers. As the 2009 season wears on, we’ll have to see how the officiating will go. If they let them play – as in, hold, grab, foul – then the Celtics have a great shot at repeating. If not, and NBA foul-calling rules reign supreme, then the Celtics slowness, age, and willingness to break those rules will be exposed.

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