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Boston’s Failing Offense: A Dependence on Mid-Range Jumpers

 

We’ve covered the Disturbing Decline of the Celtics offense in-depth this month already. They’ve been trending downwards for years now and after an above-average start scoring in November, they’ve languished in the bottom of the league, ranking 27th overall in offensive rating since November 28th.

For some perspective, the C’s defense has actually been 6th in the league in defensive rating for the past two and a half months now. The C’s have expectedly been a bit worse on that end of the floor compared to last year, but they are still amongst the league’s best defenders. It’s the offense that has taken the sharp, unanticipated dip this season, despite the added talent.

Nights like Monday’s 95-90 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers demonstrate the heart of the problem for the C’s offense. The Cavs defense is awful, and that was before they lost center Anderson Varejao for the season. Coming into last night, they ranked 28th in the league in points allowed per possession. Their front line consists of Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson, two players who aren’t particularly known for their defense. That shows in their ability to defend the rim, as they allow opponents to hit 67.8 percent of their shots at the rim. That’s the second worst mark in the league overall.

Cleveland also allows opponents to shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc, putting them at 28th in the NBA at defending the arc. Between defending the rim and the 3-point line, you would think the C’s would have had two crystal clear areas to attack the Cavs last night.

Those objectives seemed to be part of the plan in the first half. Rajon Rondo attacked the hoop aggressively. Jared Sullinger had a few strong takes to go with his usual set of offensive rebounds. The Celtics posted 53 points and hung with the Cavs offensively despite a subpar defensive effort and an incredible outburst by Kyrie Irving (23 first half points).

Things changed however in second half  as the Celtics wanted “the easy way out” as Doc Rivers would put it. In my estimation, the easy way out for this C’s offense is settling for the mid-range jumper even when it’s not falling for them. That shot is the least efficient shot in basketball. It’s the shot defenses want you to take. With that said, the C’s by and large are very strong mid-range shooters with countless threats on the roster. Still, against inept defenses like Cleveland, they are low percentage shots based on what an offense could create in opportunities closer to the rim.

Good offense leads to shots at the rim, layups, shooting fouls (Cavs allow 2nd highest FT rate in the NBA, 24.9 per game), and postups with ideal position around the basket. In the second half, the C’s were able to achieve almost none of this and were unwilling to turn away from the jumper when they got cold from mid-range.

How bad did it get from the C’s?

From the 10:55 mark in the third quarter to the 9:50 mark in the fourth quarter, the Celtics took 16 field goal attempts. All 16 of these attempts were of the jumper variety, the vast majority of which came from mid-range. Boston took six free throws during his 13 minute period, with four of them coming on takes to the rim by KG and Pierce, and the other two via the Cavs fouling Avery Bradley taking a jumper.

Looking at the entire second half, the Celtics attempted 31 jumpers overall, compared to just 10 attempts at the rim. 21 of those jumpers were of the mid-range variety and the results were not pretty.

Pierce 0 for 7
KG 0 for 5
Bass 2 for 3
Rondo 1 for 3
Green 0 for 1
Lee 0 for 1
Sullinger 0 for 1

For some counting at home, that’s 3 for 21 overall for the C’s or 14.2%. A look at how the C’s did on other parts of the floor

3 for 10 at the rim
5 for 10 from 3-point range

The net result was six points in the paint in the second half, 26.8 percent shooting, 37 points and another ugly loss for the C’s. The C’s also had below average free throw attempts (22) and 3-point attempts (17) for a Cavs opponent despite hitting 7 of those attempts. They also took just 17 shots at the rim, hitting 10 of them.

Nearly the exact same scenario happened against the Hornets at home last week and countless other times this year with no mid-range shots dropping. Doc Rivers needs to be put under the microscope here with the necessary caveats. Paul Pierce is slumping, Kevin Garnett will have games like this, but to be honest both guys look gassed right now, yet the entire offense revolved around them for the majority of the final 14 minutes of the game.

Garnett is slumping in other facets of the game as well (his defensive rebounding rate has dropped, and his plus/minus has taken a sharp dip in the past few weeks). Ideally, Doc could sit him down for a game here and there a la Tim Duncan, but given the team’s ugly record at this point, that’s not really an appealing option for everyone. Fatigue is probably an issue for Pierce too, but he’s also simply continuing to put too much on himself in the offense, (which I covered early this month as well.)

Going back to Doc though, you have to think there is a better offensive design for this team against bad defenses like the Cavs. I understand relying on accurate mid-range shooters against tougher defenses with tough centers defending the rim, but against the Cavs? There has to be a balance and a STRONG push from him to get this team looks closer to the basket or shots from beyond the arc. Given the team’s struggles with 3-point shooting, the former option is the more appealing one. How can they do it? A few simple ideas.

-Unleashing Leandro Barbosa and/or Jason Terry more often to create
-Post up an improving Jared Sullinger here and there
-Dust off Chris Wilcox and his 71% FG percentage and give him another shot in the rotation
-Not play Paul Pierce 35+ minutes on nights he is struggling

That last suggestion might be the most important one. Doc’s reliance on Pierce is hurting the C’s in the short term now as he struggles and likely down the line as well if he’s gassed by the time the postseason begins. You couldn’t even blame bench guys like Jeff Green and Jason Terry last night because they really didn’t get an opportunity to do anything besides take a couple jumpers.

If the C’s are going to make some trades in the next month, they are better off finding out what they have with the offensive talent they brought in on nights Pierce and KG don’t have it offensively. At this point, the offense can’t get much worse with the second teamers, while preserving the added wear and tear on the veterans.

All statistics in this article were taken from Synergy Sports, Hoopdata.com and NBA.com/stats

  • Phil725

    This is anecdotal, but I feel like the offense hasn't just been settling for mid-range jumpers lately, I feel like they've been settling for 'bad' mid-range jumpers. There's a difference between an open KG 18 footer in the pick and pop and a Pierce iso fallaway 22 footer where he lands outside the three point line. It's like the scouting report got out on the Celtics that they literally can't do anything else, so when going up against them, tweak your defense a little so you contest the shots you normally try and get the other team to take, because they're gonna take them anyway.

    I'm not really sure I see an easy fix to the problem, this is who they are. It's possible to win in the regular season with an elite defense and a terrible offense (just look at Indy,) but the Cs defense isn't elite, and can't be with the massive hit it takes when KG goes to the bench. So the offense needs to be a little better. The major change I want to see is less of the starters in general. Doc clearly still looks at this as Pierce, KG and Rondo's team, and I understand that, but they're nothing special when it comes to regular season scoring right now. The lineups with Green, Sully and Terry have been getting better looks and posting better efficiency numbers lately. The bench minutes need to be in the 20s now, because they're the better offensive unit. I harp on this constantly, but Terry/Lee/Green/Sully/KG is the team's best unit right now. It needs a set ~12 minutes every game at least.

    • CG12

      I love Terry/Lee/Green/Sully/KG. Nasty defense and the ball really moves on offense.

    • mattcb43

      Yeah of all the problems, their lack of aggression toward the rim is the biggest of all the offensive woes. Doc needs to force their hand, or bench them. It is now on him to reduce PP's minutes, put Wilcox in to run the floor and play above the rim (a little), and f'ing quit using the same old iso plays at the end of periods and games. It is so predictable and plus, why doesn't the offensive rotation idea of passing till u get a good shot not apply to end of game scenarios? Trade Bass, give up picks, and get a legit big, NOW, or lose.

    • janos

      hi phil
      you are the very good fan nba celtics. thank you do good post here is like , read articles, good, and then come comment part, and is second articles read. is that make a sense for you?

      • Phil725

        I understand what you mean, thanks for the compliment, janos. I just like jotting down my thoughts on the team down some place, and the articles here usually conjure up something in my mind.

  • High Rollers

    Excellent post.

    • janos

      web manger put on brave face against team loose on constent

  • Jonathan

    The thing is the Celtics have been a jump shooting team for years now. After Garnett's knee injury in 2009, the Celtics never had a reliable Post player (besides Garnett) that would be able to post up with his back to the rim. All the bigs the Celtics have had have been able to shoot the mid-range (Garnett, Bass, Davis,Wallace) and all the players that have been known for posting up never panned out (Shaq, JO). When the Jumper isn't going (against New Orleans and Cleveland are best examples), why not bring in Barbosa? against NO, he had 7 points in 3 minutes, against Miami he had 16 pts in 16 mins, and he had back to back impressive games against Utah & Brooklyn (16 & 17 both in under 30 min). He provides instant offense. And why not try Jeff Green instead of Paul Pierce? he went 1-7 in the 4th and was cold against the Cavs

  • Josh_5

    This may offend some of you Boston loyalists out there, but I'm sick of Pierce. I'm not asking he be traded, but he shouldn't play more than 25 minutes a night. His shooting is really pissing me off, and we have younger more athletic guys on the bench that need a bump in minutes. Pierce is no longer an every night offensive weapon, and lately I kind of question his effort.

    • Phil725

      Pierce is no longer an every night offensive weapon, yes. There's a big difference between that and 'he shouldn't play more than 25 minutes a night'. The article points out the (you'd think obvious,) idea that you shouldn't play him 36 minutes when he's shooting 3-15, but there are other nights when Jeff Green is no-showing, Rondo's passing up layups and Pierce is forced to carry the offense. He's been relatively successful at it this year. Here's the thing; Pierce gets a lot of heat because his bad days are BAD days, and there's a (perceived) good player behind him, but he's the reason the offense has been as good as it has. It's no coincidence that this stretch of terrible play has involved Pierce playing poorly.

      He can't take that load 82 games though, so the offense needs to change, but that's a radical change. Is the team capable of admitting that they need to reinvent themselves? It's a little ironic that a year after Ray left because he was forced to take a lesser role, the other guys look like they have to do the same (and hardly seem willing, Doc included.)

      • mattcb43

        Pierce cannot shoulder this load at his age, and lack of athletic ability. I agree that doc needs to limit his minutes,and maybe start Green for a bit to see how it works for him getting more points and resting our most important playoff celtic. Start Sully, trade Bass and Terry, who play little to no D, and get a good legit big. PP is in a mid season slump, and even his free throws are off! Red Flag Doc, you moron! Doc needs to be fired, quit, or just change his weak and predictable offense, which favors nobody but the opponent. Why does Danny not address this? Post up or shut up and sit on the bench. We need agressive rim attackers like Green and Lee and Sully, not jump shooters like Bass. And how has collins helped? He was more effective in Atlanta last yr against us! I don't question PP's effort, but his stubbornness has led to turnovers, missed (bad) shots, and frustration from teammates who are open but PP won't pass to anyone but his boys (Rondo, KG, Terry) and it is getting quite old.

    • janos

      true fan is chear front jersey first, name jersey last.

  • hydrofluoric

    It's not hard to find why Paul Pierce still has to shoulder such a load.

    Jeff Green is 10 years younger and plays less minutes and is more athletically gifted than prime Pierce. He handles the ball less. He's taller and theoretically can play a bigger position. You'd expect him to be more efficient shooting and rebounding, right…?

    Green's TS%: .511
    Pierce's TS%: .541
    Green's DRR: 12.4
    Pierce's DRR: 18.3

    ^ This is why we can't have nice things.

    • janos

      what are this mean?

      • hydrofluoric

        Hi Janos,

        TS% is a measure of how efficiently a player scores – like Field Goal %. It takes into account the number of Field Goals and Free Throws attempted and predicts the number of Points that will be scored. The higher the better. Usually you would expect someone with high USG (i.e. who handles and shoots the ball a lot) to have a slightly lower TS%, because it means he would be taking harder shots and getting more defensive attention.

        DRR is the percentage of the opponents' missed Field Goals and Free Throws that a player rebounds. So if the opponent shoots 5-for-10 from the field and I rebound 1 of the 5 misses, my DRR is 20. Normally you would expect taller, more athletic players to have higher DRR.

        • janos

          thank you learn me this ones.

    • Ersatz

      Thank you. Even though Pierce is shooting horribly, he's still our most effective and efficient offensive player, by a mile. And even when he's not scoring well, he's still rebounding, passing, and playing excellent defense. Shockingly, scoring is only one part of the game of basketball. If you are looking for the problems with this team, look at the sacks of crap Ainge signed in the offseason and the alleged superstar point guard, not at Pierce.

      Another word to the wise: when you start saying things like "isn't athletic enough" and "can't shoulder the load" and other vague, meaningless phrases, you are just making stuff up. It'd be a lot more efficient for everyone if you just warned us that that's what you are doing.

      • jman

        Totally agree with this… Don't look at pierce or kg. My only issues with those two are the others that surround them. Most of you want to trade these two but they're the best two on the team, and that's just crazy since they're 10 years everyone's senior. Look at the players' defiencies around them. Pierce was the only once last night trying to get shit going when cavs defense had our offense locked down. What is pierce to do when his teammates are standing around with their fingers in their butts? Of course he's not the same anymore, but he's a better player than anyone we're going to get from his trade. Not only that, the guy deserves to stay here regardless if how his play is. Doc to me is thenissue . He is running the same old plays with different people that obviously don't get it. Try some new plays. one trade would bring an all star big as well. Please if any trade, bass and rondo will free up monies and bring in a all star big. Rondo needs to go folks. He doesn't fit here. Walking up the court holding onto the ball for 20 seconds isn't working. For everyone that thinks he's a runner needs to regroup their thoughts. Lee's a runner not rondo.

      • jonathan

        I no longer am i believer that Pierce plays excellent defense. Anyone is able to blow by him with ease

  • High Rollers

    I got a theory on Rondo’s defensive struggles (a.k.a. dribble penetration), beyond the obvious fact that the C’s run a help defense that makes individuals look inept when it doesn’t work right (a.k.a. bad rotations, no trust).

    The theory is that Rondo knows the club’s first priority (with two aging star scorers who mostly take jumpers) is to get stops and take advantage of his ability to create in transition. With this objective foremost in his mind, and remembering that he used to challenge for the steals crown, he’s overplaying and gambling like never before. But as stated above the help D is anything but a well-oiled machine, and add to that Rondo’s in charge of a lot more than he used to be when he was the ultimate pest picking pockets. I know people don’t like to hear that excuse, but it’s true. At any rate, the main problem is that he’s gambling with fool’s gold. When you believe in your own abilities as much as he does, gotta be hard to change. But with the way things are it’s imperative. Gamble less and just be solid. Getting stops is proving a harder gig than it used to be, but the old strategy is only making it harder. I believe he has the right objective in mind, but this is a part of that trying to take the easy (and the old) way out.

  • ElRoz

    Sending Green, Terry, Bass, and 2013 pick to Phoenix for Gortat and Dudley would be so sweet; I'd throw in Melo as well.

    • Josh_5

      I want JJ Hickson or Josh Smith or Emeka Okafor or Marcin Gortat.

  • check12check

    I am advocate of Pierce playing fewer minutes. When pierce is fresh he looks as good as ever. When he is tired he looks almost unfathomably bad. I think the idea all along with green was for him to take nearly half the minutes, and i think it's time to make it happen. We should at least give it a try. Yes, it might look horrible (you've seen green's bad moments too i'm sure) but we have to try something.

    The KG conundrum is a hard one. The man needs some rest, but man does this team need him out there.

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