As the Celtics prepare for their final two games of the first half of the season, I thought we’d answer some questions about the C’s rebounding. You’ll remember (as if you could forget) that coming off the bloodletting on the glass in the Staples Center last June, the C’s vowed to clean up their act and clean up the glass.
“We lost a championship because we got destroyed on the glass,’’ Rivers said [before the season]. “You can look at a lot of things in that game, but the bottom line is, when a team outrebounds you by double the amount on the offensive glass and they shoot 25 more free throws than you, you’re probably going to lose that basketball game.’’
The rebounding problem plagued the Celtics all of last season and arguably played a greater role in the loss to the Lakers than the lack of home court advantage. So, let’s dive into the Q&A portion of today’s program and see if Boston has addressed that issue.
1) Are the 2010-11 Celtics a better rebounding team than the 2009-10 Celtics?
To some extent. The 2009-10 team had a total rebound rate (TRR) of 49.06, good for only 25th in the league. This year’s squad is 15th in the league at 50.05. This improvement comes as a result of better work on the defensive boards, where the C’s have moved from 13th to 7th in the league (see chart below).
2) Are the Celtics rebounding as well as the championship year of 2007-08?
Have a look at where the C’s have ranked in rebounding during each year of the new big three era:
a) Contrary to the prevailing narrative, whereby the Celtics ignore offensive rebounds in favor of setting up their defense in transition, as recently as two years ago, they were an excellent offensive rebounding team, ranking in the top-1o in ORR (not unrelated: that 08-09 team was fifth in the league in offensive efficiency). Doc Rivers’ system has not always required sacrificing second chance points for defensive proficiency.
But forget about last year’s miserable rebounding. Even comparing the 07-08 championship team to the 2010-11 version, we see a precipitous drop-off in second chance opportunities. The offense, which is ranked 10th in efficiency this season, would likely be in the top-5 with even a mediocre performance on the offensive glass. As it is, the C’s offensive is heavily dependent on the elite shooting that has been its hallmark all year. This team could clearly use someone like a Leon Powe, who was a top-10 offensive rebounder (by rate) during the first two years of the new big three era.
b) The Celtics are a better defensive rebounding team than at any time since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived. This is a function of a few things, key amongst them: the increased depth on the frontline and Garnett’s immaculate 30.6 DRR and 18.8 TRR, both personal bests as a member of the Green.
c) For all their improvement and focus on rebounding, the Celtics still rank as a middle-of-the-pack team, overall. This has to improve.
3) You’re going to make me click past the jump to see the next question, aren’t you?
4) But what about Kendrick Perkins? He should make a huge difference, right?
Shaquille O’Neal has filled in ably in Perkins’ stead, putting up a TRR of 15.3, but he hasn’t been able to play the kind of minutes that Perk has played the last few years so his pure rate numbers are deceptive.
Perkins could make a huge difference for this team if he’s able to a) play something close to his normal minutes by playoff time and b) produce at the same rates. His rebounding rates last season:
9.1 ORR, 24.4 DRR, 17.0 TRR (the latter two of those were career highs).
If Perkins were to produce at those levels again this season, he’d be both the Celtics second best overall rebounder and second best defensive rebounder (both times behind Garnett). More interestingly: he’d be the C’s second best offensive rebounder too (behind a player to be named in question #6).
Perkins, then, is huge if the Celtics expect to move up the ladder and become a top-5 defensive rebounding team and a top-10 team overall. Those are not arbitrary goals. I again refer you to where the team sat in 2008 (when it won the title) and 2009 (when it very well might have won the title had everyone stayed healthy).
5) How much would the loss of Jermaine O’Neal hurt?
Considering only rebounding? Not that much. The Celtics have largely stayed afloat on the boards with O’Neal missing most of the season, so his continued absence would essentially just mean more of the same. He’s fourth on the team in total rebound rate now, and would likely fall to fifth with Perk’s return. He may yet prove to be a better rebounder than we’ve seen so far, but like other aspects of J.O.’s game, his board work is not to be counted on.
6) Why don’t you frame an answer in the popular upside/downside format?
I thought I’d never ask.
Upside: Undersized rookie Luke Harangody is the second best overall rebounder on this team, YTD and its best offensive rebounder, period. We’re still dealing with sample-size issues with the kid but he replicates some of the hustle we saw with Powe two years ago, and is making a case for regular minutes with his sticky hands.
Downside: Glen Davis’ drift to the perimeter has made him a non-factor on the offensive boards. Last year, Davis recorded a terrific 13.7 offensive rebound rate. This year – he’s down at 5.2. His DRR is a career-best at 16.1, but wouldn’t we prefer him closer to the hoop, getting second chance points off offensive rebounds? A conversation for a different day, perhaps.
7) What about Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? Weren’t they supposed to hit the glass harder this year?
They’ve done their parts. Both Pierce and Allen have TRR’s as high or higher than at any time since the new big three era began. They’re not huge jumps from 07-08 but both have increased their production from last year; Pierce moving from 7.9 to 9.3 and Allen from 5.5 to 6.1.
And not that we asked, but compared to last year, Rajon Rondo is around the same TRR overall, with a slightly increased percentage of his boards coming off the offensive glass.
So, the Celtics have, given the slate of injuries, made good on their promise to hit the boards harder. But if we benchmark against the the championship squad or the team that followed it (which might have been even better), it’s clear the C’s have ground to gain before the playoffs if they want to control the glass through four rounds of the playoffs. Getting healthy should mean better rebounding on both sides of the floor. Let’s see if that’s what happens.