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The 350 Pound X Factor

 

A few days ago, John Schuhmann of NBA.com’s Stats Cube had a superb piece quantifying Shaquille O’Neal’s impact on the Boston Celtics. The entire thing is worth a read but I’m going to excerpt a couple of key charts here as they offer tangible support for Danny Ainge’s thinking on Boston’s roster construction. Schuhmann pulled the top 10 five-man units in the NBA this season (the data is just a few days out of date). Here’s how it shakes down:

The Celtics are nothing less than spectacular with Shaq at the center spot. With Caron Butler on ice, Boston’s preferred starting five is the best unit in the entire league and by a wide margin over the Lakers’ best unit. That’s intuitive, based on the Celtics’ red hot first three months of the season.

Curiously, they’re almost as good with Glen Davis at the center spot. Second best in the entire league good. That feels counter-intuitive, probably because we’ve obsessed over Davis’ limitations defending big men and proclivity for bricking jumpshots all season. Whereas we’ve had comparatively less time to talk about Shaq’s on-court deficiencies.

It’s also surprising because Davis has played long minutes all season, including many games when the big four have played poorly. Almost all of Shaq’s minutes came when the big four were at their peak. And yet – both units are as elite as units get.

That’s where Schuhmann’s second chart really illuminates things. Have a look:

Over the last two months, as the Celtics have been stinking it up on the court, Ainge has repositioned the debate from the after-effects of the Kendrick Perkins trade to the play of the big four, in terms of accountability for failure. The numbers suggest he’s right, that no matter which big man you play with the big four, Boston will be championship contenders. And of course, that without the big four firing on all cylinders, it doesn’t matter who you put in the middle, because there’s not going to be a championship parade in June.

Of course, there’s a huge difference between the 19.1 efficiency differential of the Shaq unit and the 9.5 efficiency differential of the Jeff Green unit. And specific matchups aside (like Miami going small), it’d be surprising to see Green closing out fourth quarters, if Davis is available.

Other scattered thoughts:

  • Boston, Los Angeles and San Antonio have two groups each in the top ten. Miami one. Chicago none. That’s about the right read on championship hopes, unless you think the Bulls are ready this year. I think they might be a year, and a shooting guard, away.
  • Could Indiana cause the Bulls a little more trouble than we expect in the first round?
  • The Rondo-Allen-Pierce-Green-KG lineup plays slower than any other combination. Could the lack of relative efficiency there be a mirage, and based more on the big four playing poorly with Green the last six weeks? Maybe, but those defensive numbers are still problematic.
  • If Shaq isn’t able to come back, Krstic/O’Neal are the men in the middle after Davis. And those lineups compare poorly to the other title contenders. Shaq’s absence would then push the burden even more heavily to the other starters than it is now.

Of course, not all numbers are created equal. The figures above aggregate performance against all sorts of teams. And Boston isn’t going to be playing all sorts of teams. They will play — at most — four.

The playoffs are about matchups.

Get ready to hear that little cliche about a hundred times a day for the next two months. But it’s true. And Shaq’s presence in the middle gives the Celtics advantages in terms of post offense and defense, physicality and initimidation that their other options simply don’t. He also creates matchup problems for everyone from New York through L.A. or San Antonio. He forces them to adjust to him. And few teams have an effective answer for Boston’s 350 pound X factor.

  • http://comeupking.blogspot.com/ sam

    Kristic numbers will be higher then it should, after his little honey moon period ended he has played nothing short of terrible.

  • MikeD

    Basically, the Celtics big four are RIDICULOUSLY GOOD.

  • skeptic

    I'll reserve my optimism for when Shaq can play five minutes without injuring himself. If not, we're in for a looonnnggg offseason.

  • kricky

    I agree with Mike D (who says he hates me and wishes I'd go away) that those stats primarily reflect the quality play of the Big 4.

    Still, I think that Shaq did make a great contribution at the beginning of the year when he showed some flashes of his old dominance. Unfortunately his play did decline before he went out with the injury. I remember a couple of games where he only nabbed a rebound or two, despite playing big minutes. Was this due to injuries or just a rapid decline due to his advanced age? I don't know.

    I still hope and pray that we see a healthy Shaq that can play like he did at the beginning of the year. If we do the Bulls, Heat and Lakers are due for an unpleasant surprise. But, as the article alludes to, this is a big 350 lb IF.

    • MikeD

      Haha I don't hate you i just said you are negative a lot.

      • kricky

        you should read my posts from the beginning of the season. I was a doe eyed optimist then LOL

        • MikeD

          Well my whole point is that everyone is reacting to a small sample size. Any team who makes a big trade at the deadline is going to have an adjustment period. Factor that in with the fact that this is an older team that gets fatigued towards the end of the regular season, along with their injuries, and the slump makes sense. So yeah there is a lot to be annoyed about. But the playoffs are a whole different game, and this team is built for the playoffs. They are deep, talented and play great D. They have veteran players who know how to win. I'm not worried about them

          • Chris O

            I love me some Kricky and MikeD/ I love all my fellow fans of the C's/

  • Greg

    You are overlooking a very important column, (GP) – 18. That's not going to get you very far in the playoffs. You can try to spin it any way you want, but the bottom line is Ainge made two horrible deals. Obviously the Perkins deal was a bonehead move, but add to that trading Semih Erden and Luke Harangody for a second round draft pick, so that you can go out and sign a player that the Nets didn't want and a player that nobody wanted and had been available all year. Semih and Luke went through training camp, knew the system and had contributed. Now the C's have two more guys to try to incorporate, who don't know the system and have not been able to contribute anything.

    • kricky

      Good points.

      The deal with Cleveland is especially puzzling. What the hell was the point of that? We sure could have used Semi the last couple months.

  • momo988

    When Shaq comes back, does anyone really think he'll be a shadow of the Shaq that played at the beginning of the season. That Shaq had a whole summer off, was relatively in shape and wasn't coming off an injury. While Shaq has had a lot of time off, he's been hurt, so hasn't had time to do conditioning (in whatever way Shaq conditions).

    • Greg

      I don't think Shaq will be in shape, but I do think he will contribute right away. Question is, how much and for how long. The C's will be better with Shaq immediately. One thing that bothers me is his last two injuries, were a strained achilles tendon and a strained calf muscle. I am no doctor, but it seems to me that these are both avoidable injuries, with proper pre-game stretching. Kareem always credited stretching to him lasting so long in the NBA. I hope the C's trainers work on stretching him before and after the game.

      • talesofJP

        he looked like he was in shape before the calf injury, he's a veteran, he won't miss a beat

  • Guest

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAyA8BV-cTI Time to bring some positiveness to some of this negativeness. Forget the regular season. It doesn't mean jack now, pretty soon they'll be repeating this video.

    • Greg

      Great video! Thanks for reminding us. This a must watch for all C's fans right now. GO C'S!!!!

  • Batman

    Let's remember what its all about guys: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlwQw2cavM0

  • Greg

    And Troy and Sasha have even less of a chance of working their way into the playoff rotation. But, we could have used Semih in these last few weeks and in the future. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, even if the C's win it all, I will argue the Perkins trade was bad. It's bad now and bad for the future. The C's had the best record in the east before the trade and could very well have ended up the the best record overall, so they gave up some home court advantages. Perk signed an extension with OKC and will make $7.1M next year. If the C's want to keep Green they must make a $5.9M qualifying offer. Why in the world wouldn't the C's come up with $1.2M to keep Perk? Especially when they have a $6M Rasheed Wallace contract to work with.

    • MikeD

      Perkins contract will actually pay him almost 9 million per year, not 7. It is for $34.8 over four years, and also includes bonus clauses that could pay him even more. He was gone after this year, trust me. So Danny made the trade because he thought we could still win it this year without him and will lose him anyway. So thats why it shouldn't be judged until June.

  • urbeltic

    "Could Indiana cause the Bulls a little more trouble than we expect in the first round?" That is just plain dumb.

    • Eric

      Judging by the numbers, it's not dumb at all.

      Also interesting that everyone's favorite for MVP is nowhere on this list.

      • dal

        I'm not a Rose fan, but his team has never played with the same 5 players a lot this season. Injuries to Boozer and Noah have forced them to improvise with so many lineups. Still surprising to not see any Chicago lineup in thoguh.

        • tom

          mostly due to the fact that chicago has a real bench, they stretch leads, and the starters dont take a huge load to gain leads, they are just a complete team, which is also why they were a great regular season team.

  • Eric

    On a non-Celtic note: Look at the Portland offensive efficiency with Wallace. Holy crap. Defense is bad too, but dang, 121! Look out Mavericks.

    • Greg

      Just wish the Lakers had drawn Portland in the playoffs.

      • talesofJP

        lakers always get the easy route. Hornets without David West? C'mon, how do they always get so lucky?!

  • Eric

    This chart kind of confirms what I've been thinking: the assessment of those that say the Celtics MUST have Shaq in order to win a title is wrong, or at least overstated. The Celtics are nearly as good with Davis on the floor (though I suspect, without researching, that that differential has tightened in the last few weeks). Yes, having Shaq would be great, but overall I agree with Ainge: if the big 4 play like they can, the Cs will contend…. I'm looking at you Mssrs. Rondo and Allen.

    • Greg

      The C's have 0 chance with Davis and/or Kristic as their centers. They need both O'Neals to have any chance at all.

  • Janos

    "Could Indiana cause the Bulls a little more trouble than we expect in the first round?"

    no

    • talesofJP

      More trouble than we expect since we expect 0 trouble. Honestly, Indiana does match up fairly well with the Bulls, both have speedy point guards, lanky small forwards who can score, rebounding bigs. Indy doesn't have a go-to scorer like chicago does, but the unit mentioned above playing long minutes, could be pretty effective, especially if Noah is hampered by his injuries recently. You never know. But Indy has no chance of winning the series

  • AL CHAV

    When Miami lost to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks to fall 2 games back of the celtics in the loss column with only 4 games remaining, most people thought the 2nd seed for the EC was all but wrapped up. Unfortunately for the celtics, they had road games against the bulls and heat, needing to win at least one. And well, you know what happened after that.
    Basketball-reference.com has the celtics pegged to win the NBA finals at a mere 7.1%, a far cry from the heat (22.9%) or bulls (18.3%) and even behind Orlando (7.4%). I tend to think that this analysis does not factor what Shaq brings to the green, since he has missed practically half of the season.

  • DRJ1

    The problem with these stats is that, as noted in the piece, they represent performance against the NBA average. Davis is fine in most average games. Against elite teams, he's usually hopelessly outmatched. The reason: he's TOO SHORT and TOO FAT. Baby vs. DHoward? Joke. Baby vs. ABynum? Joke. Even Baby vs. Noah or Asik, or heck, even Big Z… he is outmatched. Too short, too fat, and that's not changing anytime soon.

    You better believe we need Shaq to go all the way. Absolutely. Those are the dice Danny rolled, and that's the game we're in.

  • Greg

    I would only add that we need JO also. If Davis and/or Kristic have to play significant minutes (more than 12 between the two of them) at center, the C's will not make it past the second round. Shaq is the key, but they are also going to need JO. Ainge made this season a crapshoot.

  • Renato Afonso

    DRJ1, I usually read your posts on CelticsBlog and this is the trade that took away your optimism… That bad, huh?

    Anyway, if the Celtics were to meet my Lakers in the Finals, I'd have to agree with Greg. The Celtics need Shaq and JO, so that Davis could spell Garnett for short periods and allow you to have Shaq and/or JO on the floor to push Bynum or Gasol around.

    Even if Perkins wasn't going to resign, the window for this team closes this year and they should've tried to win it all with him.

    • DRJ1

      If Shaq's healthy, I'm still optimistic. JO would be great to have too, but Shaq is the sine qua non.

  • Lakersfan

    is 266 minutes really enough sample size to really get anything out of it?

    that's what? basically 5 full games? maybe 10-15 real game time worth? Also, based on the fact that Fatty Davis' replacement caused such a small dip in production, I wouldn't take so much out of this.

    Shaq's only contribution left to the Celts is keeping his fat ass on the floor. If he can't do that, obviously he's worthless (unless you find value in pre-game huddles).

    As a Lakers fan rooting for a Celts v. Lakers Finals, I am deeply concerned… for your team, not mine. I'm only moderately concerned for mine.

  • kricky

    Well, I was thinking that Semih could have given us some decent minutes during hat tough regular season stretch while everyone else was out and Krstic was our only real Center. Remeber we dropped a couple games becase both Baby and Krstic were getting eaten alive by the other team's center (the Ls to the Clips and Wiz come to mind here).

  • 1825

    You moron, you didn't pick boston to even make it to the finals??? For god sake you are a celtic blogger. You should show some homerism otherwise go work for something else. Moron

    • Ryan Degama

      This is probably my favorite comment of the whole year.

  • AbballfanwithaBrain

    Nothing is counterintuitive to a blogger's view because that would mean that a bloggers view is intuitive. What you and the other blogger's KNOW about that game of bball and what will happen to the C's in the playoffs could be fit into a thimble. Of course you are talking about feeding a fanbase that is made up of largely soxfans who know have even less about the game. So yes please continue to cry about the loss of 6/6 Perkins being the downfall for a team made up of HOFs and I’ll continue to believe you and your ilk are completely clueless.

    Fatty Davis.. JC what a horrible fanbase.

  • AbballfanwithaBrain

    One other thing you'll fit right in at ESPN with the hollingers and abbott's and their +/- and pt diff views of the game. Hopefully you got the bald alien look memo.

  • http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/convocco-ltd/38/762/446 convocco

    Wow, amazing to know.they are converted into grading system.this is the excellent way of representation that helps me alot to know understand the things easily.

  • https://www.facebook.com/public/Hayder-Al-Ani Hayder-al-ani

    I've been reading over the past week through Google Reader so haven't been on the site to comment, but I just wanted to say II'm thrilled to have Celtics Hub back with regular post 350pound x-factor Thanks, guys!

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