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Inside-Out: How The Celtics Create Efficient Offense From The Post

Before every Celtics game on on CSNNE and League Pass, Mike Gorman interviews Boston’s head coach, previewing the upcoming opponent and recapping any previous games. This is a fun tradition, in part because Boston’s last two head coaches have both been personable interviewees and in part because Gorman is an interesting basketball mind who asks the right questions.

Last night, Gorman asked Stevens how Kenyon Martin’s return to the Knicks lineup would affect Stevens’ game planning. This got Stevens talking about the Knicks’ small-ball lineup.

“[Going small] took away some of their interior defense,” Stevens said. “We got the ball in the post 25 times that game, and we got the ball in the post 25 times in the last two games.”

It was clear last night that getting the ball into the post was a point of emphasis. From the outset, the Celtics seemed determined to exploit Jared Sullinger’s mismatch against Andrea Bargnani, and they didn’t let up. Per MySynergySports.com, the Celtics ran 17 post-up plays that ended in shots which made up 18.3 percent of their offense. That’s a fairly significant jump from Boston’s per game average — 13.8 percent of Boston’s plays have gone through the post this year.

In Wednesday’s notebook, we touched on this quote from Zach Lowe’s interview with Brad Stevens, but I wanted to bring it back up because it deserves further detail. Lowe and Stevens were discussing how post play has been generally dismissed by the advanced stats community as “inefficient,” largely thanks to the categorizations of plays on Synergy Sports.

“There are two ways to get inside-out: driving or posting,” Stevens said. “It’s a vehicle for playing inside-out.”

Synergy Sports has to categorize their plays somehow, and they largely do a fantastic job. But there are limitations within every limitation, and simply labeling an entire subset of plays “Post-Ups” can lead to some confusion for people who are less familiar with statistics. One might see that the Celtics run 13.8 percent of their offense through the post and assume that Boston isn’t a team that likes to post up. The Celtics average roughly 92 possessions per game, and if post-up offense is 13 percent of their offense, that’s about 14 possessions per game. Not very much, right?

Well, no, and the distinction lies in Lowe’s question and Stevens’ answer. Just because a player is posting up doesn’t mean he is ending a possession. Sometimes, the post-up is just a means to end a possession elsewhere.

Much of Boston’s inside-out offense is based off the drive and kick— Jordan Crawford or Jeff Green attacking the basket and either scoring or passing out to a wing or a stretch post player (and Crawford is the one doing most of the passing). This drive-and-kick offense is good for a team full of moderately talented wings and mid-range shooting posts like Brandon Bass. But if the Celtics ran it exclusively, their offense would be easily scouted and limited. Passing lanes would begin to become predictable and ball movement would become difficult. Given how the Celtics rely on a team concept to get points at this stage in their development, this would essentially be the death of their offense.

The post-up can be used two ways: To score (ie. Sullinger with his back to the basket or Bass’ face-up game) or to facilitate. The scoring option is what Synergy calculates. But facilitating is also posting up, and it’s the more efficient way to play in the post, working the ball inside out. The post-up creates space for other players to move and provides misdirection while the offense flows around the posting player. This leads to spot-up jumpers and cutting layups, which are two of the most efficient play types according to points per possession. But they aren’t exclusively spot-up or cutting plays — it’s not like a point guard will just dribble up the floor, make one pass and have an open jumper.

Stevens understands this, and he runs his offense inside out using the post. The Celtics use spot-up and cutting plays a combined 23.1 percent of the team — slightly more than they use the pick and roll (23.0 percent). Here’s how it looks when they use a post-up to help with the spot-up or cut:

In the first clip, Vitor Faverani does the most basic post pass — a little drop-off to a backdoor cutter. Wallace does a nice job of freeing himself up just enough to use Faverani both as a passer and as a screener.

Faverani’s post-up takes place slightly lower than the elbow but higher than the block, which is what gives Wallace the space he needs to get around and open. It’s a very simple play, one run by high schools across the country, and here it works to perfection.

The second clip seems to have less to do with the post-up. Twice, Jeff Green gets the ball in the post against J. Crawford the LAC edition, twice he is forced to pass out of it by a double team. But notice how Chris Paul and Blake Griffin rotate seamlessly to cover Jordan Crawford. On the first kick-out, Griffin is the closest defender, so he guards Crawford. CP3 heads to the corner. After the second kick-out, Paul gets back into place as a defender. These rotations are the Doc effect — Vinny Del Negro did not have this defense on a string.

But all the rotations also throw the defense off a little bit, and when Crawford is able to get into the lane against Paul, Jared Dudley rotates off Sullinger to help. Crawford immediately sticks the pass to Sully, who scores.

The third clip features two post-ups, and as you can see, the defense is weighted pretty heavily toward their side of the court.

When Jeff Green throws a cross-court skip pass out of a post-up, it catches the defense (and the cameraman…Bradley isn’t even in this shot) unawares. Bradley’s open corner 3-pointer splashes in.

In the final clap, Bass is posted up far from the basket. The inside-out action has little to do with Bass’ post position — it’s hard to call where he is standing “inside,” and he’s not exactly a threat to score from that distance. But we see the inside-out come into play when Bradley drives, draws Andrea Bargnani, and kicks to Jared Sullinger who drains a 3-pointer and forces Bargs into a frustrated gesture which is difficult to interpret. Is he mad at Sully for having more range than he thought? Is he mad at someone (there’s no one else in that corner) for not rotating over to help? Is he mad at himself for getting sucked in (doubtful)? Regardless, even though the post-up wasn’t the focus of the play, the Celtics utilized it to get an open shot in the end.

Boston doesn’t have a LaMarcus Aldridge- or a Marc Gasol-type threat who can score with his back to the basket. The Celtics’ Synergy post stats are never going to be overwhelming, although right now they are good. But as long as Stevens is focused on playing an inside-out game, the post-up is going to be a valuable and efficient weapon, even if it doesn’t directly lead to points.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

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