Through 23 games of the 2012-13 NBA season, Chris Wilcox has made an admirable return to the NBA hardwood just seven months after undergoing aortic surgery on his heart. After being re-signed by the Celtics this summer at the veteran’s minimum, Wilcox has played his way into consistent minutes at the reserve center spot, after battling through a back injury and struggling with his stamina for most of the preseason.
The 30-year-old has been a pleasant surprise on the offensive end thus far for Boston, shooting a scorching 71.7 percent from the field, while posting an efficient 4.8 points per game over just 13 minutes per game. The vast majority of those points have come around the basket, as Wilcox has shot an astounding 83 percent (36-of-43) at the rim this year, thanks to a plethora of timely dishes, largely from the likes of Rajon Rondo.
Wilcox deserves credit though here as well, since not a lot of bigs can finish what the acrobatic Rondo sets up for them. After taking some time to form a chemistry with the point guard last season, Wilcox has picked up where he left off on the offensive end, running the floor well and finishing effectively in transition.
With those kind of productive returns right out of the gate on the offensive end for the reserve center, one has to wonder just what exactly is holding Doc Rivers back from giving the veteran expanded minutes? Yet, a closer look at the numbers show there is a worrisome issue with Wilcox on the defensive end, which is undoubtedly affecting Doc’s willingness from relying on the big man too long with Kevin Garnett on the sidelines — his rebounding, or lack there of.
Prior to this season, Wilcox has been an above-average rebounder at his position for his career, with 19.8 defensive rebounding rate over his past ten seasons combined. Certainly not high enough to place him amongst the league’s elite rebounders, but far more than a respectable number for the 30-year-old to hold his own as a big down low.
Wilcox has also had a good nose for offensive rebounds as well, (9.1 percent ORR), but as we all know a drop in that number is not fair to judge a big against in Boston, given the team’s emphasis to get back on defense, rather than crashing the offensive glass.
Given the C’s size issues up front, most Boston fans like to focus on the team’s rebounding woes, and their propensity to surrender offensive rebounds to their opponents as a reason for the team’s defensive issues. The truth is, a quarter of the way through the season, Boston’s roster has held up surprisingly well in this department, collecting rebounds on the defensive glass at a top-10 league rate. Garnett is still an elite rebounder, Jared Sullinger has lived up to his strong reputation on the glass, while Pierce and Rondo have chipped in at above-average rates for their respective positions.
The sad reality for the C’s is that all of these players I just mentioned have rebounded better than Wilcox this season on the defensive end of the floor. Incredibly, you can add Brandon Bass and Jeff Green to that list as well. For as much as we get on both of those guys for their lack of boarding prowess, Wilcox is collecting a mere 13.3 percent of defensive rebounds available while he is on the floor, which would be a league average rate, if Wilcox was a small forward. Unfortunately, Wilcox plays as a 6-10 center on a team largely devoid of good rebounders off the bench (besides Sullinger). This as you might imagine, has created a major issue for Boston when he’s on the floor.
While many of us wonder just what happens to Boston’s defense when KG leaves the game in the first quarter, you don’t have to look much further than Wilcox (KG’s early sub) for a dramatic effect on the team’s defensive rebounding. When paired with Green, Bass or Sullinger in the frontcourt, Boston surrenders offensive rebounds to their opponents nearly 33 percent of the time after a shot attempt. (according to NBA.com/stats).
That’s a drastic jump that would place them dead last in the league for their defensive rebounding rate with those duos on the floor. So not only does the defense suffer with KG missing from the floor, the rebounding takes a major nosedive with Wilcox out there as well. Pair those two issues together and you have a major reason the team’s +/- number takes a huge dive without the 18-year veteran.
So what are the solutions here for Doc Rivers? There aren’t many to choose from really as the roster currently stands. A couple potential ideas:
1) Use Jason Collins more? There’s one big on the roster right now who is doing a worse job than Wilcox on the glass. I don’t want to name names, butjar he has a twin named Jarron Collins. Let’s move on.
2) Play KG and Wilcox together? That may make some sense to try to hide Wilcox’s issues, but also leaves your backup backcourt incredibly undersized with Sullinger and Bass, which obviously creates other issues.
3) Hope Wilcox’s issues are a fluky small sample size issue: That’s probably the best hope for Boston right now. While Wilcox’s rebounding numbers have been trending downward for a couple years now, a drop like this would be unexpected. Indeed, as Wilcox continues to gain strength from his offseason surgery, as well as stamina, one can hope he shows measurable progress on the defensive glass.
4) Find another big man that can rebound on the defensive end at a respectable rate.
Chances are the Celtics will give it another month or two before making their decision about possibility number four. If Wilcox can’t show some improvement in the next few weeks though, Boston may have no choice but to upgrade what has been an underwhelming front court outside of KG.