Amidst all the constant chatter about trades - big / small / stand pat - I thought it would be useful for folks to look at some of the Celtic's numbers from the pre-all star break.
This might help folks understand just what is and isn't working with the team as they toss trade idea after trade idea out and about.
First and foremost, the most important thing to point out is that despite much lip service given to defense and a supposed 'lack of athleticism' to stop other offenses, largely the problems are on offense.
Specifically offensive turnovers. I'll dive into specifics after the jump.
Let's start with the two most important stats - points scored and points surrendered. From these we will see quickly that the problem is very clearly on the offensive side and not the defensive side.
Offense: 98.7 points per game. Below middle-of-the-pack for the NBA.
Defense: 93.7 points per game. Best in the NBA.
That means our scoring differential is a misserable 5 pts per game!!! That is NOT a lot of margin.
To be a championship contending team, we need to have a ppg differential of at least 8 and preferably better than 10 ppg.
Let's rule out some misconceptions first: Our problem is not defense and it is not rebounds. Further it is probably not raw athleticism.
As noted, we have the best scoring defense in the NBA at just 93.7 ppg. We rank very high in defensive rebound efficiency (73%) - as good or better than all the top playoff contenting teams. We also create turnovers at an extremely high rate (17 per 100 possessions). And contrary to popular opinion, we do NOT rank that high in getting called for defensive personal fouls - we are slightly below middle of the pack.
The latter three all suggest that we are NOT as 'athletically challenged' as some think. For example, we grab defensive rebounds at a rate HIGHER than the supposedly much-more-athletic Hawks (69%). We create turnovers at a higher rate than they do (15%). We grab defensive boards just as good as the Dwight Howard - led Magic (73%).
Let's talk a little about rebounds. Much woe and crying has gone on across the land about our supposed lack of rebounding ability. That is bunk. Most of this wailing is based around the fact that the Celtics have very low rebound TOTALs. Rebound totals are, like RBIs in baseball, a very poor indicator of anything. They are to dependent on the raw number of opportunities. The style of play that the Celtics employes purposely depresses those opportunities in several ways. First and foremost, the Celtics do NOT try to secure offensive rebounds except if they are easy. The guards are under explicit orders to immediately get back on defense the moment we put the shot in the air. The bigs have the option to fight for an offensive board if its there, but it is not a priority. Because of this (along with the fact that we take fewer shots and miss fewer shots - discussed below) we simply will never have high offensive rebound totals. I will note that, despite not really trying, we still grab a reasonable percentage (26%) of offensive rebound opportunities (identical to the Magic, for example). Next, while we definitely try for every defensive rebound we can get (and as mentioned above we are among the best at getting them) our TOTAL number is still depressed because we run a slower paced game that results in fewer possessions and shots by our opponents and thus fewer total rebound opportunities.
So basically, it is important to realize that raw rebound totals are a poor, nearly useless statistic. The most important rebounding stat for us is the defensive rebounding percentage - and we are among the best at that.
On offense, however, we are not doing so good.
Repeat: We are only scoring 98.7 ppg - a little below the middle of the pack in the NBA.
If you go back over this recent stretch of games where we have been 'blown up' in one quarter each game. The problem is less often how much the other team has scored on us (look at the game score totals). Its that our offense will have gone completely to sleep. When you score only 11 pts in a quarter of a game that you lose by less than ten, your offense has let you down. Not scoring also hurts on the defensive side because the other team has a small step advantage on the transition when you don't put it in the basket.
I'm going to talk below mostly about averages and rates for the season to date. But it has been worse lately. Since mid January, we have scored over 100 pts exactly once. Not surprisingly, we have gone 6-8 despite only giving up 100 pts twice (and we won one of those two).
So why aren't we scoring so well?
Well, it isn't our shooting percentage - we are one of the best in the NBA in FG% at a whopping 48.4%, good for 4th best in the NBA and just a couple of weeks ago we were ranked #1. This is largely driven by our determination to score in the post. So we are taking high-efficiency shots. Note - a side effect of that is that we don't create as many offensive rebound opportunities as a poor-shooting team wood so that is one of the two reasons our offensive rebound totals are low. Our FT% is not as good as it should be - middle of the pack at 74%, but that's not a disaster there.
Overall our eFG% is 52.8% and our offensive efficiency is ~1.08 pts per possession. Not bad. So we are definitely capable of converting a possession into points. The raw talent and ability are still there.
So if it isn't our shooting accuracy, it can only be ... yes, the number of shots we actually take. We are dead last in the raw number of FG attempts taken (3791). And that is WAY behind the rest of the NBA (only one other team - Bobcats - has taken less than 4000 FG attempts).
Basically we are only attempting about 76 shots per game.
Yet we average about 91 possessions per game.
When you factor in that we do occasionally miss (half the time) and do grab SOME offensive boards (about 26%) and thus take those 76 shots on fewer than 76 possessions - around 65ish - that is a difference of around 26 possessions per game that we are not taking a FG attempt on. Why is that?
Well, sometimes it is because they commit a shooting foul before we get a shot off. But primarily it is because we keep turning the ball over!!!!
Yes, the sad truth is that our turnover rate on offense is just as bad as our turnover rate on defense is good. We turn the ball over at a rate of 17%!!!!
To compare - the better teams like the Lakers, Atlanta, Magic, etc. only turn the ball over about 13-15% of the time.
That may not sound like a huge difference - but it is 2-4 possessions per game that should be converted to 2-4 points per game (remember, our offensive efficiency is ~1.08 pts per possession).
That number right there makes up a huge chunk of our net scoring shortfall that we talked about at the top.
So now you ask, "Why, Mr Smarty-Pants, are we turning the ball over so much?"
Beats me. What do I look like? Karnak the Magnificent?
Just kidding. There are some clues.
First off if we break down the turnovers we see the following profile:
Celtics Bad Guys
Off. Foul 127 79
Bad Pass 305 316
Ball handling 269 325
Other 18 10
(I suspect the 'Other' category includes technical fouls.)
Okay, so we look at the above and the thing that just jumps off the page is the offensive fouls!
Ouch! We are killing ourselves with offensive fouls. That's about 2.5 offensive fouls per game and one more per game than our opponent is committing! For comparison, Atlanta has only committed 85, LA only 100, Dallas only 83, etc.
The Bad Passes aren't great as a total - but a lot of that probably has to do with the lack of stable rotations - people not used to playing with each other and not being where Rondo expects them to be (he has 93). I think that will improve if everybody is healthy.
Now, the most visible 'offensive foul' that most folks think of is charging - so the knee jerk reaction is to think that it is our slashers who are creating these fouls. That's part of it - Pierce has 20 offensive fouls - but that obviously isn't the whole story.
Let's look at our high-minutes players (our top-11) to find the following offensive foul totals (% of team minutes played in parenthesis):
Ray (75%) 10
Pierce (65%) 20
Tony (21%) 5
Scal (16%) 2
Okay, the obvious guy to pick on here is Perk. But two of our bench bigs, Williams and Davis also have a lot especially considering their low minutes. Most of Williams' were last fall. Most of Davis' have been this last month. Those three guys alone account for 50 offensive fouls - played mostly out of the C position. KG's number is probably a little high for his minutes as well but no where near as bad. These guys don't generally slash to the hoop so most of these calls are probably moving screens. I.E. they are getting called when they set picks out around the perimeter. Some might be for the occasional push away from the ball but I think that is not a big contributor.
[Aside - I'll bet everybody is surprised to see how low Sheed's number is. Heh - I know, some critics will claim that his feet are glued to the floor so he could never be called for a moving pick! We couldn't possibly give him any credit for maybe being good at it.]
The picks by our big men alone doesn't account for the total disparity in our offensive foul totals, but it is a big chunk of it and overall, our younger big men seem to be just plain being sloppy when setting picks - too many happy feet. And the fact that it is the younger guys (Perk, Davis & Williams) who are the worse offenders might be telling. Are they just lacking in experience? Are they getting called unfairly by refs? Is some of this, again, people playing in different roles with different fellows because of all the roster changes due to health? Is it poor coaching that is maybe expecting these guys to learn better with veterans like Sheed, KG & Scal around?
At any rate - this (getting called for offensive fouls) is one area of our game you can point to and fairly legitimately say, "This is costing us points each game!"
And oddly - it is NOT our OLD GUYS!
Some other key areas people talk about:
Technical fouls - some of those showed up above in the 'other' category. We have committed 65 TFs so far - second worse behind Orlando's 72. I'm not sure how much that has 'cost' us in points though. The average team has committed about 40 so we are way above 'average'. But other top TF teams include Lakers (3rd, 59) & Cavs (4th, 52). I.E. the top 4 TF teams also happen to be 4 of the top teams overall. So I don't think that getting a lot of TFs necessarily correlates with 'not winning'.
Three point shooting - As mentioned above, our team FG% and eFG% are very, very good. However our 3pt% is mediocre - a league average 34.7%. That's improved from earlier in the year - but it is nowhere near where we should be if Ray & Eddie were shooting at their career averages. They have trended upward, but we need them (or Ray's replacement, if traded) to shoot hot enough to bring this number up to around 37%. That would not add a ton of points, but it could amount to another half point on the net differential. As a weapon in the offense, it also helps space the floor, which improves the efficiency of our other weapons.
Similarly with FT%. Again, we aren't doing 'terrible' there -but we should be doing better. I'd feel better if that number was up around 77% or better.
Da Wrap Up
Okay, so hopefully this post helps provide some sort of picture of what's been going on with our Celtics that you may not have realized from just 'watching'.
I've tried to just let the numbers above speak for themselves.
Folks should be careful to not interpret things as "Perk is causing too many offensive fouls - he sucks, lets trade him!!!" That would be stupid. Perk is a huge reason both our FG% and our defensive rebound efficiencies are so high. I personally regard him as one of the premier young Centers in the game. He just needs to work on his footwork a little more.