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Early Extremes: What Will Last and What Won’t?

 

We’re exactly 7.3 percent through the regular season, so let’s take a premature look at statistical categories in which the C’s rank at either end of the spectrum and guess as to whether those trends will continue or regress to the mean.

Are these false omens or harbingers of what is to come in the next 76 games?

EFFECTIVE FIELD GOAL %: 56.4 percent (1st). This stat adjusts field goal percentage to account for the fact that a three-pointer is worth more points than a regular old two-pointer. (It’s science!). This means the C’s are the best shooting team in the league so far.

VERDICT: Harbinger. The C’s ranked 2nd in this category last season (behind only tonight’s opponent, the Suns), and they are going to shoot the lights out from deep all year. This is not a fluke.

OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING RATE: 21.6 percent (29th). This means that the Celtics have rebounded 21.6 percent of their misses on offense so far. Only the Hornets have been worse. The C’s ranked 8th in the NBA last season, with an ORB rate of 27.9 percent.

VERDICT: Harbringer. I addressed the possibility of  a collapse in this category when the C’s parted with Leon Powe (who tied with Kevin Love for the highest individual offensive rebounding rate in the league last year, according to Basketball Reference) and effectively replaced him with Rasheed Wallace, who has deteriorated into one of the “worst” offensive rebounding big men in the league. A drop from 8th to 29th seems huge, but the combination of the Sheed/Powe switch (a net plus in just about every other category) and the temporary loss of Glen Davis, a solid offensive rebounder, means a big drop is likely.

Note: You’ll notice I put “worse” in quotes when discussing Sheed’s offensive rebounding ability. I say this because it’s possible to be an elite team while almost completely ignoring offensive rebounds—the Spurs have been doing it for years. There’s also some evidence that players generally grab fewer offensive rebounds as they age. So I don’t necessarily think a declining offensive rebounding rate is some sort of indictment of Sheed as a player; his defensive rebounding rate has remained solid.

FREE THROWS/FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT: .194 (24th) This means the C’s aren’t getting to the line much—they take about one free throw for every five shot attempts. The team ranked 7th in this category last season with a mark of .251 FTAs per FGA. This is troubling; free throws are good.

VERDICT: Too Early to Tell/Leaning Harbinger: This is another category where the C’s will feel the impact of losing Powe (the most prolific per-minute foul-drawer on last year’s team) and replacing him with an increasingly perimeter-bound Sheed. KG’s free throw attempt numbers also fell off a cliff last year (from a career average of about 5 FTAs per  36 minutes to 2.7 in 2008) and haven’t shown signs of recovery yet.

That said, this is one of those stats that may not hold up in the most important games. Pierce always attacks the basket more in crunch time; Glen Davis drew a lot of fouls in his rookie year and may work inside more again this season  with the addition of Sheed; and Rajon Rondo has the potential to get to the line more often than he does now. (It would be nice, though, if Rajon could crack 65 percent from the line).

A few more extremes, after the jump.

DEFENSIVE AWESOMENESS: The Cs rank 1st in Effective FG% against, 5th in defensive rebounding rate and 9th in the percentage of opponent possessions that end in turnovers.

VERDICT: Harbinger. Duh. The C’s ranked 3rd, 3rd and 9th in these three categories last year. They are good at defense. We knew this.

OPPONENT FREE THROWS/FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT: .193 (5th). In other words, the C’s are rarely sending opponents to the line.

VERDICT: False Omen. The C’s have been a pretty foul-prone team in the New Big Three era, a natural consequence of a defensive strategy that stresses aggressive close-outs and physical play. The C’s ranked in the low 20s in this category in each of the last two seasons, according to Basketball Reference stats for 2008 and 2009. Expect them to return there again this season; if they don’t, the league is in trouble, because it means the C’s have found a way to play intense and effective defense without fouling.

(Note: I wonder how much the huge amount of garbage time the C’s have played factors into the low number of fouls they have committed. The intensity level may drop a bit in garbage time, and the refs may see a chance to get out a few minutes early).

PACE: 90.2 possesions per game (26th). This means the C’s are playing sloooowly. Only four teams are averaging fewer possessions per game.

VERDICT: Semi-false omen. The C’s haven’t been a fast-paced team since 2007 (they ranked 18th in this pace last season, 19th last season), but they’ve never been down here with the likes of the Bobcats, Pistons and Hornets. Expect the C’s to finish in the middle of the pack again. They function well in transition (Rondo and Ray have a telepathic connection on the break), Doc wants them to run and their early pace numbers are artificially low because they’ve already played four of the league’s 11 slowest teams (Charlotte, New Orleans, Cleveland and the Bulls).

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