Boston is second-last in the league in pace, averaging only 90.7 possessions per game. But according to Synergy Sports Technology, they’re second in the league with 1.32 points scored per transition possession.
Read that again. The Celtics have the second-most potent transition attack in the league and are playing at exactly the wrong pace to maximize that competitive advantage.
That’s especially concerning given the sludgy offense they’ve trotted out the last few years. The Celtics finished 17th in offensive efficiency last season, 13th in 2009-10, and 5th in 2008-09. It’s a trend moving in the wrong direction.
(The Celtics are 10th in the league so far this season, although, after a hot start, that number has been on a decline in recent games).
The Celtics know all this, of course. Boston is one of the more statistically-savvy organizations in the NBA. That’s why you’ve heard Doc Rivers admonish his troops for lack of pace, and implore them to get the ball to Rajon Rondo and push tempo. He knows they’re deadly when they do.
It’s not just the young guys who are driving this transition efficiency.
In Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, Boston has two lethal fast break options. Allen is 7th in the entire league with 1.7 points per possession (PPP) in transition. That makes sense given his inclination to trail the play and spot up for a three on the arc. Uncontested, that’s a devastating weapon for the Celtics. And when challenged, he can still take the ball to the hole. To wit:
Paul Pierce is also elite, ranking 30th at 1.36 PPP.
Boston has two more guys in the top-100. Brandon Bass is also thriving on the break. He’s currently 38th at 1.3 PPP. And, of course, Rondo, who creates much of the efficiency of this offense out of whole cloth, is 78th in the league when finishing transition plays himself.
Of course, while we expect that kind of production from the young guys, nobody expects Allen and Pierce to get out and run every lane at their age. But which is more taxing: grinding out repeated 24-second half-court offensive possessions or sprinting for easy shots? Is it possible a fast break offense is actually less wear and tear on the older guys?
That leads to a related item that’s been gnawing at me. Somehow, it’s been decided that Kevin Garnett at center is a good idea. Somehow, we’ve decided that’s in line with the direction of the league, where we have fewer traditional centers, and less of a need for Kendrick Perkins-size clogs in the middle.
I think that’s a problematic assertion on a few levels but here’s one that’s germane to discussion of the transition offense: the Celtics are a bad defensive rebounding team. And over the long term, KG at center makes them worse.
The Celtics rank 19th in the league in defensive rebound rate, so they aren’t getting enough boards to turn the ball up the floor and take advantage of their efficient transition attack. And by walking away from someone like Perkins (25.4 DRR last season) and offloading the burden onto injury-prone guys like Jermaine O’Neal and undersizers like Bass, Boston ultimately sacrifices offensive possessions.
Consider this: Garnett is shooting 86.7% at the rim but he has only two baskets on the fast break all season.
Is it because he’s fighting for position underneath the boards and can’t expend regular energy going up and down the floor? Possibly. Is it a good idea to ask someone his age, someone who isn’t built for or interested in contact in the paint to be the primary inside defender and rebounder? Possibly not. Is all that even more worrisome given the compressed schedule?
You know my answers. But maybe those aren’t even the right questions.
Maybe we should ask what would happen if the Celtics had a real center underneath, somebody who could pony up a 25% DRR and 30 minutes worth of bruising physicality? Or even just one of those two things. Wouldn’t that increase the number of fast break opportunities? Wouldn’t that save wear and tear on KG, who is so crucial to any kind of playoff run?
Wouldn’t that make a lot of sense for a Boston team that will – sooner or later – struggle to score?
I know that’s a lot of questions and I know real centers aren’t easy to find (especially ones who can defend, rebound and throw outlet passes). But if the C’s expect this last drive at a title to materialize, they need a better offense than they’ve had the last few years. They’ve got the wing players. Credit Danny Ainge for that. But the ultimate success of Boston’s season may prove dependent on finding real, dependable size in the middle.
So they can do more stuff like this: