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By The Numbers: The Moneyball Celtics


If you are an avid Celtics radio network listener like I am, then you have heard Sean Grande have David Locke, the voice of the Utah Jazz, on as a guest when they are in the same building. Both of these two radio announcers enjoy sharing numbers with their respective audiences, and they seem to engage more with analytics than most of their fellow men in the booth. There is one interesting statistic that I distinctly remember Locke mentioning earlier this season: the corner 3-pointer differential, which equals the team’s corner 3-pointer makes minus its opponents’ corner 3-pointer makes.

When looking at the league’s best teams in terms of corner 3-pointer differential, every single one of them is a projected playoff team … except for the Celtics. Let me explain: there are 13 teams with a differential of at least positive 15 — 12 of those squads would be in the playoffs if they started on Monday. The Celtics own the ninth-best differential at positive 34 (153 makes and 119 allowed).

The top six teams in the NBA in terms of the differential – the (1) Trail Blazers, (2) Spurs, (3) Suns, (4) Heat, (5) Clippers and (6) Warriors – currently own top-10 records. Even the seventh- and eighth-best squads in the category are still much better than the Celtics: the Raptors and Wizards. If someone were just looking at these numbers, they would be baffled at seeing the Celtics surrounded by all of these succeeding teams.

However, the Celtics are only participating in one part of the “Moneyball” equation. As a team with limited talent, the C’s need to take advantage of both the 3-point line and the paint. By being successful with the corner 3-pointer, the Celtics are winning that battle, but by not going to the hoop, they are not taking advantage of the other “Moneyball” shots. In addition, they are neither drawing fouls on opponents nor shooting free throws.

Daryl Morey’s Rockets are close to the perfect team that statistically maximizes points. Although they are not the best corner 3-pointer differential team, they still attempt the most 3-pointers and free throws in the league and own the NBA’s third-best effective field-goal percentage. The Rockets maximize this percentage by attempting just 638 mid-range shots this season, which is 542 fewer than the 29th-place team in that category. Conversely, they have attempted the fourth-most shots in the restricted area.

The Celtics are 28th in effective field-goal percentage for many reasons. I understand that talent is one of them, but the Celtics could do a better job at maximizing their percentage. The Celtics attempt the fifth-most mid-range shots in the NBA this season while they are near the bottom of the league in terms of field goal makes in the paint. Jeff Green’s game on Sunday served as a microcosm for the season. He attempted seven mid-range shots, five corner 3’s and two shots in the paint.

http://espn.go.com/i/magazine/new/antoine_walker1.jpgThe offseason question on this topic will be the following: will Brad Stevens want this trend to continue in 2014-15 with a new roster? Right now, the 2013-14 Celtics are bringing back flashes of Antonie Walker. Heading into Monday’s game in Chicago, the C’s have attempted at least 18 shots from 3-point distance in each of their last 15 games, their longest streak since 2003.

While Jared Sullinger might have to pull out the shimmy soon with people thinking he is Walker 2.0, Avery Bradley is an interesting person to keep an eye on as the team’s volume shooter. Although Bradley is among the leaders in corner 3-pointer attempts this season, he is also the culprit when it comes to the mid-range jumper. He is in the top 10 in terms of mid-range shot attempts.

So, what say you? Are you a fan of this “Moneyball” brand of basketball? Do you think it could work for the Celtics in future seasons?

For more Celtics coverage and statistics, follow CelticsHub and Adam Lowenstein on Twitter: @CelticsHub and @StatsAdam