*Note: A version of this post appears in today’s Daily Dime, which you can click here to read.
Finally. I held off and held off writing this particular post because I knew that with enough games, the stats would right themselves and make some sense.
It took 24 games, but the stats have indeed righted themselves: The Celtics offense is functioning better with Kevin Garnett on the court than with him on the bench. Specifically: The C’s are scoring 111.21 points per 100 possessions with KG on the court and 109.67 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, a difference of +1.54.
That plus/minus ranks KG 4th among the team’s regulars, behind Ray Allen (an unthinkable +10.42), Perk (+5.94) and Rajon Rondo (+3.46), according to Basketball Value.
For a while I was beginning to get worried. Last season, the Celtics offense played remarkably well in the 22 games KG missed due to his knee injury. The C’s scored more than 114 points per 100 possessions in those games, up from about 110 points/100 possessions with KG in the line-up. That is the difference between a once-in-a-decade offense and a top-three or top-five offense in any given season. It’s a big difference.
I theorized last June that the trend had to be a weird statistical blip; there’s no way the C’s offense could perform better without Kevin freaking Garnett, right? The C’s scored morein those 22 games primarily because they hit 43.2 percent of their threes without KG, an unsustainable number and significantly better than the (already awesome) 39 percent they hit the rest of the season.
And indeed, the offense couldn’t sustain that level of production during the post-season. The team’s efficiency dropped back down to KG levels (110.1 points per 100 possessions) against Chicago and plummeted to 104.0 points/100 possessions against Orlando, when the team hit just 29 percent of its threes in the seven-game loss.
But then this season started, and the numbers started to look bad again for KG.
After 10 games, the C’s offense was about five points worse per 100 possessions with KG on the floor—a big number. Garnett was shooting 47 percent (47-of-100) and hitting just 38.4 percent of his jumpers, both very low numbers for him.
And even as KG got hot (he’s shooting 63 percent in the C’s last 14 games), the offensive plus/minus didn’t change much at first. But then KG got really hot, as in 72 percent shooting (74-of-103) from the floor during the team’s last 10 games.
Hitting 11-of-15 combined against Chicago and Memphis was finally enough to tip the balance the other way, where it has been throughout his career—including in his first season with Boston, when the C’s offense was eight points better per 100 possessions with KG on the floor.
Order has been restored.
*One caveat about this: As I’ve written before, KG plays in less diverse group of line-ups than, say, Pierce or Allen. About 75 percent of KG’s come with the starters, so his on-court offensive numbers are naturally going to be very close to those of the starting line-up. On the other hand, someone like Ray benefits tremendously in his on-court offensive numbers by being a key part of a ridiculously efficient (so far) bench line-up (Ray-House-Shelden-Sheed-Daniels).