It has become an article of faith that Boston’s offense cannot go hard after offensive rebounds lest the quest for them completely undercut the defense (the C’s finished the 2010-11 season with a 21.1 Offensive Rebound Rate, the worst in the league by a wide margin).
But it also remains a fact the Celtics’ offense, despite the relentless hoopla about Boston’s hall-of-fame-bound roster, was mediocre this season (the C’s finished tied with Philadelphia for 17th in the league in offensive efficiency).
Is that the deal? You have to live with an underperforming offense so you can benefit from an elite defense?
The solution – if there is one – might involve sending an extra man at the boards in certain situations when there’s less of a chance of a run-out if they don’t get hold of the rebound. But failing an injection of an athletic pogo-stick-style player at the 3 or 4, an unexpectedly large contribution from Shaq or JO, or a strategic shift, offensive rebounding looks to be a year-long area of concern.
Around mid-season, we checked in on that same story, when Boston was still scoring the ball with surprising efficiency:
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-10 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.
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.
The 08-09 Celtics proved you could get second chance scores and stops and so did Tom Thibodeau, whose Bulls team finished 4th in the league in ORR this year while still managing to end up with the league’s top-ranked defense. Note, too, the damage Chicago’s relentless offensive rebounding did to Miami’s defense in game one of the conference finals:
Now, compare that to the Lakers’ box score from game seven of the 2010 finals:
It’s entirely intuitive in hindsight. Boston doesn’t have a system problem. Boston has a player problem. The big three are spectacular shooters. But they struggle to create their own shots. And Rajon Rondo, who creates great shots, struggles to make them against a hard contest. So, the big four needs young, energetic athletes around them to crash the glass and get second chance points when they miss. And they also need those athletes to have enough left after hitting the glass to race back in transition, force misses in the halfcourt, and run-out on fast breaks. And then crash the boards again.
Glen Davis was too heavy/perimeter-oriented for that kind of assignment. Jeff Green proved too confused/mercurial. Semih Erden was a rookie with only one working shoulder. Of the relative youngsters, only Nenad Krstic did any real damage on the offensive glass, and he was a liability defending the rim.
In the end, you could perhaps criticize Rivers for placing too much of an emphasis on transition D rather than second chance O, or prioritizing offensive floor spacing over offensive rebounding, but that’s a separate discussion and it’s hard to get around the notion that this was just the wrong mix of guys around the big four.
It’s something to keep an eye on this offseason because unless the C’s find a way to score the ball more efficiently, they have no shot at a 2012 title. Gains in offensive rebounding are the juiciest of the low-hanging fruit. That starts with personnel.
Your move, Danny Ainge.