In his defense of the idea of bringing Shaquille O’Neal to Boston, Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com brings up a good point: The Celtics need a rebounder. In 2010, the Celtics dropped from an elite defensive rebounding club (No. 3 in the league in ’09) to a league-average defensive rebounding team. Their offensive rebounding disappeared completely. After ranking as a (slightly) above average team on the offensive glass over ’08 and ’09, the C’s finished as one of the very worst offensive rebounding teams in the league.
We can argue about which of those was the more damaging development. The C’s remained an elite defensive team despite their so-so defensive rebounding, but they were never able to contain the best offensive rebounding teams—something that cost them the NBA title. On the other end, Boston’s offense drifted into mediocrity as the team’s offensive rebounding rate fell from mediocre to disastrous.
Either way, with their best rebounder out until the All-Star break, the C’s need a glass-cleaner. What does the big man free agent landscape look like when viewed through this lens?
Let’s start by looking at total rebound percentage, which simply measures the percentage of available rebounds a player grabs on both ends while he’s on the floor. Using 2010 numbers on Basketball-Reference, we get this ordering of some of the notable FAs that remain available:
1. Josh Boone 17.4 %
2. Shaq 17.0 %
3. Lou Amundson 16.7 %
4. Kwame Brown 16.2 %
5. Kurt Thomas 15.8 %
6. Joe Smith 15.5 %
7. Craig Smith 13.5 %
8. Rasho Nesterovic 12.7 %
9. Theo Ratliff 11.6 %
* Worth nothing: Kevin Garnett checked at 15.0 %.
The difference between #1 and #6 is small enough that if #6 (Joe Smith) were an amazing jump-shooter or something, you’d overlook the rebounding gap. But there’s a clear fall-off between those top six and the bottom three. For this reason, Nesterovic, Craig Smith and Ratliff may be off the table.
But looking at overall rebounding numbers by themselves can miss the point. If the C’s have Game 7 of the Lakers series fresh in their minds, they may be more concerned about shoring up their defensive rebounding. So let’s look at defensive rebounding rate, which measures the percentage of available opponent misses a player grabs while on the floor:
1. Kwame Brown 24.3 %
2. Shaq 24.0 %
3. Kurt Thomas 23.5 %
4. Josh Boone 22.0 %
5. Lou Amundson 19.9 %
6. Joe Smith 18.1 %
7. Craig Smith 18.0 %
8. Rasho Nesterovic 14.5 %
9. Theo Ratliff 14.3 %
We see the same three guys at the bottom of the list, reinforcing what we’ve already learned. But we also see that if you consider defensive rebounding alone, Josh Boone and Lou Amundson fall a bit, while Kwame and Kurt Thomas rise. Boone, though, remains closer to the top than does Amundson.
Shaq remains near the top.
Finally: Offensive rebounding rate on its own:
T-1. Josh Boone 13.1 %
T-1. Lou Amundson 13.1 %
3. Joe Smith 12.9 %
4. Rasho Nesterovic 10.9 %
5. Shaq 9.4 %
6. Kwame Brown 9.1 %
7. Craig Smith 9.1 %
8. Theo Ratliff 8.9 %
9. Kurt Thomas 8.7 %
When you look at these numbers together, I think the C’s have to consider reaching out to Josh Boone. I live in New York City and I’m from Connecticut, so, believe me, I know all the limitations—his range extends to about four feet and he’s a career 44 percent foul shooter (33 percent last season!).
For what it’s worth, New Jersey’s offense has performed better with Boone on the floor in two of the last three seasons, according to Basketball Value. (Caveat: The one negative season was ’10, and Boone only squeezed out a positive offensive plus/minus by the skin of his teeth in one of the other two seasons).
Boone is still just 25, and his relative youth means he should be a much better screen/roll defender in Boston’s system than either Shaq (last defended the screen/roll sometime in the late 1990s) or Kurt Thomas (old). He’s also likely to be available for the veteran’s minimum (around $1 million for Boone), whereas Shaq, Lou Amundson and Craig Smith are all hoping to get something more.
Please note: I’m not telling you the C’s absolutely should or must sign Josh Boone. I’m also not saying that Boston must prioritize rebounding above all else in its search for the 5th big man in Boston’s full rotation. If the team considers post scoring more important, Ainge should be on the phone with Craig Smith’s agent throw up his hands at this point.
But if rebounding tops the wish list, Boone should at least be in the conversation.