One of the best ways to size up a team is to look at the different phases of the game and see where the strengths and weaknesses are. Since this is pretty much a whole new roster, stats from last season don't mean anything. Still I'll throw some of last year's differentials in to give this some foundation and to indicate just how far the Celtics have come during the enchanted summer of 2007.
The boards have been a recent team weakness for the Celtics (which tends to happen when you play Mark Blount at center and Walter McCarty at power forward) so I was a bit surprised to see that last season's inexperienced and injured group actually held their own on the glass. They were 14th in the league at -.01, virtually getting the same number of rebounds as the opponent.
Oddly, rebounding differential is not a great indicator of success. The best at it from last year were Utah at +5.5 and the Knicks at +4.4. San Antonio was down the list a ways at +1.6 and Phoenix was near the bottom at -2.3.
This year's team is going to play the main men a lot. They have big plus rebounders in Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo at three positions, and the new healthier leaner Perkins should also come out ahead. As long as Garnett and Perkins can stay on the floor the team should do very well here. Leon Powe and Hisbabyness will also chip in.
More after the break
Last year's Celts were near the bottom at -2.2 in assist differential. By far the best three teams were Phoenix, Utah, and San Antonio. No surprise there.
The current Greenies have dramatically improved their passing. Perkins and especially Garnett can both really toss it from the big positions. Ray Allen and Pierce have often been the best passers on their respective teams. Rondo should just have an eye popping year in this category. He's going to have his choice of wide open all-stars on a regular basis. Assists do come a lot more easily if you have some real shooters.
Unfortunately this is one of the categories last year's squad did really well in. They were adept at giving the ball away, coming in fifth in TO differential at +1.1. The Knicks ran away with the crown here with a whopping +3.0, giving back most of what they gained on the boards. This stat can sometimes be misleading as running teams tend to throw it away (what they call good turnovers) and deliberate teams tend to keep turnovers down. (Last year's young Celtics just didn't cherish the ball. This year's vet team will.)
Which leads to a note on Tempo. Doc Rivers has stated that this year's squad will be an uptempo team though not a running team in the Phoenix Suns mode. They don't have the roster to be out and out sprinters, but they are mobile and skilled, and will benefit from a quick motion offense. They have the talent to impose their tempo on just about any team in the league.
Boston was 7th from last in point differential at -3.4. That's actually not bad for the second worst team. San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas dominated this stat. In straight up FG% the Celtics were second worst overall at 44.3% despite shooting well from three point range. In FG% differential, the Celtics were dead last in the NBA at -2.5%. Needless to say, this year's star laden roster should be near the top of the league in both scoring differential stats. They could even go all the way from worst to first.
The other side of the FG% deficiency was the lack of defense last season. The Celtics gained a truly gifted, agile frontcourt defender in Garnett, fortifying their #1 weakness from the previous year. Perkins is more mobile than he's ever been. Posey, Tony Allen and Rondo are all very good to great defenders. Paul Pierce is poised to have his best defensive season ever now that he doesn't have to spend every possession on that end replenishing his oxygen.
I have no doubt at all that the starting unit will play very well and also play a lot of minutes. You just can't take these type of quality players, put them on the court together, and not see success.
Are they tough enough? Do they have intangibles going their way? Are they hungry? Yes, yes, and where's the buffet table?
If there is a concern it's still with depth, at least to some degree. There's no surefire Antonio McDyess coming in to spell the big men, and some say the back up point situation needs to be watched.
A healthy ankle for Scot Pollard would help a bit. Other than that someone needs to emerge as a reliable back-up large guy whether it be Scalabrine, Powe, or the esteemed Mr. Baby.
There are still possibilities for another acquisition at back up point. Rumor has it that Memphis has the potential to be involved here and one look at their roster tells you why: They have Conley, Lowry, Stoudamire, and Navarro all at the position; and it's hard to see them carrying four point guards very far into the season. They may wait to see how their young guys look before dealing Stoudamire, but they'll make a move at some not-too-distant date. Maybe they did bring Navarro in mainly to pal around with Pau, but few clubs carry four points. (Juan Carlos is too short to play much shooting guard, right?)
Likewise Portland has four at the position, not to mention another stashed overseas. Blake and Jack seem like they'll stick with the Blazers. Taurean Green has looked good so far. That leaves flashy Sergio Rodriguez as the possible odd man out. The Celtics might be looking for someone a little more experienced and poised than Rodriguez (they already have their own young developing point in Pruitt).
Personally I think Eddie House will be the back up point and will do just fine. Whatever remaining assets the front office has would be much better spent acquiring an unusually tall person.
Finishing this thing off where it began- Evaluating the new Boston Celtics obviously can't be done based on any team statistics from last season or before. You look at what it takes to win on the basketball floor in every phase of the game (and I mean REALLY win) and all you see are strengths on top of strengths. There remain a few questions of depth, and a lot of unknowns in chemistry and tempo, but overall this is one formidable looking group. No matter what the game situation calls for —defense, rebounding, or an end of game play— the Celtics have the personnel to match it.
I actually was not setting out to statistically prove that last year's team was bad. Everybody's already painfully aware of that. Instead the point is this: The 07-08 Celtics look really good in every aspect of the game. When you do that, you win big.