The basic staple of most offensive sets in the NBA is the pick-and-roll, mainly because of the mismatches and opportunities it creates both for the big man rolling to the basket and for the ball-handler coming off the screen. It also creates confusion on the rest of the perimeter, allowing corner 3-point shooters and other threats better looks at their favorite type of offense.
The Celtics don’t utilize the pick-and-roll as much as many teams, and the reason is fairly obvious: Boston doesn’t employ an Anthony Davis- or Andre Drummond-esque rolling big man. Jared Sullinger, for all of his many good qualities, isn’t fast or athletic enough to dive to the hoop on a consistent basis yet. Bass is a pick-and-pop shooter. Faverani hasn’t been getting many minutes. Sully, Faverani and Olynyk all take 3-pointers at an inefficient clip after setting screens (although, as we’ve discussed before, Sully’s 3-point shooting probably isn’t a negative.) As a result, Boston’s Roll Man efficiency, per MySynergySports.com, is ranked 30th overall at 0.77 points per possession and is used just 7.5% of the time to create a shot.
Interestingly, that doesn’t mean the Celtics are an inefficient pick-and-roll squad in general. Ball-handlers in the PnR average 0.81 PPP, which is good for 7th in the NBA. They still don’t use the PnR to generate shots as much as some teams (PnR handler shots are just 14.7 percent of the Celtics offense per Synergy, second-most behind spot-up shots, but barely ahead of the transition and post-up categories), but they are scoring at an above-average clip when they do.
But the Celtics are shooting just 42.9 percent from the field when the shot is generated by a PnR ball-handler, which isn’t a particularly good number. So why are the Cs ranked so high? 3-pointers. The Celtics are shooting 44 percent in PnR ball-handler scenarios, and — per Synergy’s designations — just two players account for all of the made 3-pointers as PnR handlers: Jeff Green and Jordan Crawford.
These clips pretty well sum up both Crawford and Green’s 3-point shooting in these designations. Crawford is 4-for-11 this year, and his attempts generally are end-of-the-shot-clock plays in which he is just trying to get off an open shot. In such scenarios, 36 percent from 3-point range is good, especially given how deep some of his attempts have been. These shots are perfect for a player like Crawford — constantly confident, and rarely worried about his percentages. Both of those descriptors can be good things, and we are seeing how positive Crawford’s confidence is for this team offensively on a nightly basis.
Green, meanwhile, likes to pick his spots a bit more, and it shows in his efficiency. He is a rather staggering 7-for-12 in PnR 3-pointers — an especially impressive number given his average handle. It’s interesting to note that Green doesn’t always need to dribble toward the screen, since he can go either direction and still knock down the shot. Occasionally, he’ll dribble away from the pick and simply elevate over his defender. Either way, both Green and Crawford seem to have become good at gathering themselves off the dribble and making a deep shot. This isn’t an easy skill to achieve.
While Rajon Rondo is out, the Celtics don’t have the personnel to effectively run a high-volume PnR offense. This is why we see Boston attempting to push the pace so much and why Sullinger is getting a lot of chances to work on his post-up offense. But with Crawford and Green firing from 3-point range, the Celtics have found a fairly solid way to keep the most basic element of an NBA offense a part of their system even without the typical pieces to run it.
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