Getting Defensive

The great Red Auerbach coached Celtic teams of yore did two things really well. Running and defense.

It's all well and good that this team can score with the best of them. I think they are coming around on the running and figure to emphasize that even more with a younger lineup. What concerns me, however, is the defense.

Sure, we scored 101.3 points per game last year. We also gave up 100.4 points. For those scoring at home, the Pistons and Spurs led the league, allowing under 90 points per game. About the only thing I miss from the O'Brien era is the emphasis on defense. It didn't work against the better teams in the league, but at least the emphasis and effort was there.

So do we have any hope for this team? Sure. We've been drafting and developing some great defensive players. If each Celtic were to draft up a resume, listing their best qualities first, you'd see defense towards the top of the list for Marcus Banks, Tony Allen, Justin Reed, Kendrick Perkins, and Orien Greene. When the spirit moves them, our veterans (Pierce, Davis, LaFrentz, and even Blount) have shown shut-down ability. But that's not a consistent, reliable effort you can hang your hat on.

I dislike leaning on numbers too much as I believe in the old adage; "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." However, they can develop a hazy picture for you to build on. Recently Dan Rosenbaum published his Defensive Ratings. Some of the numbers might surprise you.

Tony Allen was ranked the top defensive shooting guard. Marcus Banks was ranked the 2nd best defensive point guard and Paul Pierce the 5th best small forward. On the other hand, right near the bottom of their positions we see Ricky Davis, Raef LaFrentz, Mark Blount, Al Jefferson, and the recently departed Antoine Walker.

Now it doesn't take a statistician to tell you that these numbers have varying degrees of accuracy. There are 100 different reasons why they could be skewed in one direction or the other. For instance, I don't remember Ben Gordon being any great shakes on defense, but there he is at number 2 on the list behind Allen. However, the big picture can tell us a little bit of the story. Clearly our perimeter defense was ranked miles ahead of our interior D.

Hopefully we can count on Reed, Perkins, and Scalabrine to upgrade our interior defense somewhat. Taking Walker out of the mix, according to the stats, should help matters too. But I have no delusions that we'll start shutting teams down to the low 90's any time soon.

The team used last year to focus on and develop an offensive system. That's fine. After years of O'Brien chuck and duck, this was a welcome change. However, I hope that with that offensive system established, they can spend the next year or two building upon that and installing the running game and defensive system that would make this team complete.

So far, I'm not impressed with Doc's stress on defense. He pays it lip service during the year, but he never taught it in training camp and during the season it is too late. In addition, he hasn't consistently doled out playing time according to a player's defense. Still, if you keep the long term agenda in mind, you can give him a mulligan on year one and look for it in year two. If it isn't a main emphasis in training camp, red flags will be waving frantically.

On the other hand, Doc has a golden opportunity to teach these young players how to play winning defense and install a commitment to it in the team's psyche. That's the sort of thing that would even make Red proud.

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