For the most part, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge usually speak with one voice. Whether that's the "company line", or whether the two are just in tune with one another, you rarely hear them contradict each other. In the last few days, however, they've done just that.
Here was Danny on last Thursday's The Big Show, on WEEI:
Kendrick wasn’t someone who really helped our offense. He has never been that type of player. He’s been a player that’s helped our defense. Our defense was not the problem. . . . I don’t buy into Perkins’ screening ability or Rondo’s struggles, but could he have helped our defense and help us get some more stops? There’s a legitimate argument there to be made, but it’s our offense that let us down pretty consistently and that was frustrating.
Today, Doc reflected on the trade, and noted the impact of the trade on the team's offense:
"Well it was more not that the trust went away, the know-how went away, the continuity went away," said Rivers. "That's what the trade affected more than anything. Obviously [Kendrick Perkins] was great to our team and all of that, but it was more that you had new guys playing different positions and you had a floor guy, who could literally reach back into a playbook and throw out something that was three or four years old and they all knew it, when Perk was there. When you lose Perk, you take that one guy out of that starting lineup. Now there's the fifth guy who doesn't know your offense three years ago. He only knows what he knows since he's been there, and that limited our group. With Rondo, because the way teams guard him, you need a massive playbook and that took more away from it than we thought."
So, which is it? Did the trade hurt the team's offense, and if so, why?
First, it's pretty clear that the team's offense suffered late in the year. The Celtics' averaged 98.9 points per game and 50.3% shooting in January. In February -- the month of the trade -- the Celtics averaged 93.9 points and 44.9% shooting, followed by a season low 92.5 points per game and 46.9% shooting in February, and 93.9 points and 48.6% shooting in April. In chart form:
In other words, all three of the Celtics worst months in terms of points per game and FG% were after the trade. While per-month offensive efficiency isn't easily searchable, we can find some information about the efficiency of certain lineups, which yields similar results:
Shaq-KG-Pierce-Ray-Rondo: 117.83 points scored per 100 possessions
Perk-KG-Pierce-Ray-Rondo: 114.47 points scored per 100 possessions
Krstic-KG-Pierce-Ray-Rondo:108.4 points scored per 100 possessions
JO-KG-Pierce-Ray-Rondo: 105.1 points scored per 100 possessions
Arguably, Perkins is the worst offensive center featured in the lineups above. However, with him on the court, the team performed at its second best level. (Should anybody think this was a one year aberration based upon small sample size, the team's offensive rating was 113.74 with Perk in the lineup last year, as well).
Based upon the above, it appears pretty conclusive that our team's offensive declined starting in about February, which coincides with the trade. Our team not only didn't reach its earlier offensive heights from November through January, but it didn't come close to approaching last year's offensive efficiency, either.
I think Doc's reasoning is probably correct. Our "Big Four + Perk" lineup was a well-oiled machine. Everyone knew their roles and spots on offense, and as Doc indicated, the team had access to the full playbook. When Perk was replaced with more talented but less experienced players, the on-court cohesion suffered, and the quality of play on the court suffered. Krstic may have been able to put up offensive numbers that Perk rarely did, but the product on the floor suffered because of the new guys' unfamiliarity with our sets.
The other thing to consider is that Perk probably wasn't as bad on the offensive end as some suggest. Perk was a highly efficient player who knew how to get garbage buckets in our offense, and who knew how to set screens for our shooters to get them open looks. I don't think that it's a coincidence that Ray's worst two shooting months were February and March.
So, who's right? Is it Danny, who suggests that Perk didn't help our offense? Or Doc, who says that Perk brought an added benefit due to familiarity and comfort in our system? Based on everything I've seen, I'm leaning toward Doc. On-court chemistry matters.