The myth of poor rebounding and the Boston Celtics

David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Celtics have notoriously been one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. In fact, they ranked last in offensive rebounding and were the worst in the history of the NBA last season. And that's just the way they like, but not for long.

Basketball is a pretty simple game: put the ball in the hoop and stop the other team from doing the same. Where it gets complicated is trying to figure out the best way to do one thing without sacrificing another. The game is constantly moving and you're always robbing Peter to pay Paul. Today, Henry Abbott at TrueHoop talks about the Celtics offensive rebounding woes but how that translates into their defensive philosophy:

I always wonder about that bit of coaching. Let's say Doc Rivers told his bigs to crash the offensive boards more. They would certainly get more easy putbacks in particular and more field goal attempts for their team generally. More shots per possession. Better offensive efficiency overall.

But at what cost? How much would the team be giving up on all those possessions where the bigs didn't get the rebound. That's the most common outcome, right? In those cases, the bigs would simply not be back which hurts the team, for sure. Does it hurt the team more than now-and-again offensive rebounds are worth?

Basketball experts have been calling out the Celtics for their lack of rebounding and fans have used that to fuel their angst. Sure, a defensive rebound here and an offensive board there could have made the difference in a close game. But in the grand scheme of things, we all have to recognize that this is by design. Let's address Abbott's (and John Hollinger's) claim that the Celtics were "the worst offensive rebounding team in NBA history." Well, the numbers don't lie. When Boston hit the offensive glass, they grabbed 19.74% of their misses. By comparison, Chicago led the NBA at 32.63% and the league average was 26.93% per HoopData.com. At best, an offensive rebound can lead to easier buckets and at worst, it's at least another offensive possession. Considering that the Celtics were one of the best shooting teams last year, you'd think they'd want more cracks at scoring.

However, basketball is a game of give-and-take. If you close out on a shooter, it's easier for them to drive past you. Deny someone a pass and they can cut back door for a layup. And when a team commits to offensive rebounding, they're susceptible to lapses in transition defense and being outnumbered on the fast break. Over the last five years, the team was built to execute offensively in the half court, make buckets, and race back to set up their D. Even at its deepest in 2010-2011, their front court players were well past their primes (Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal) and their wing players weren't exactly spring chickens either.

You also have to consider the style of offense that the Celtics have played in the Big Three era. As much as rebounding has been the bane of every Celtics fans' existence, so has the streakiness of their jump-shooting. Outside of Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, Boston hasn't had a slashing player that creates easy buckets at the rim. Even their post players have predominantly been mid-range shooters like KG and Brandon Bass. With guys launching shots from afar, you're naturally going to get long rebounds, long rebounds that a) are already difficult to track down even if you have your man boxed out for an offensive board and b) lead to run outs on the other end. It's a murderous combination and the only remedy has been for Doc to put less emphasis on offensive rebounding and more attention to getting back on defense.

But that all changes this season, or at least, maybe a little. First of all, we're going to see more of a variety in the offense this year. Gone are the days when Rondo and Doc would call an offensive set for #20 where he'd come off a series of screens just to free him up for a quick hitter. Allen was replaced by two guys that can not only shoot, but are willing to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. Against Milan on Sunday, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry showed their versatility by driving the ball and finishing with a 10-foot floater or a monster dunk off a Princeton cut. You don't need offensive rebounding when you get easier looks like that.

Also, the fact that our wing players are more athletic than last season will help, too. Frankly, I just want to post this video of Jeff Green:

Assist of the Night - Darko Milicic | Boston Celtics Vs Fenerbahce Ulker | 5th October 2012 (via TheNBAorbit)

We haven't had a player of Jeff Green's athleticism in a long time. If he's got a beat on the ball, he'll hit the offensive glass and get a couple of put back jams just like that and he's quick enough to sprint back on defense if he doesn't. I think you'll see that kind of action from Rondo and Lee, too. With older guys like Ray and PP, the directive on a long miss was to hustle back and play defense, but with the infusion of youth this season, we should see an uptick on highlight plays like that. It'll be more instinctual than conceptual, but I'd expect Doc to loosen the reigns a little if the young guys want to track down their own missed shots.

Second, we've got two young players in Darko Milicic and Jared Sullinger that just love to rebound. Although Sullinger's got a jump shot, it wasn't featured in the offense in Turkey or Milan. Doc has given him his role: rebound the ball and if he's not doing that, try again. The same goes for the 275-pound seven footer from Serbia. Both these guys are in there to hit the glass and hit it hard. With that added athleticism on the wings, there will be less pressure to get back, too. Doc announced today that he's considering moving both big men into the starting lineupdepending on matchups. I think it's a great move because it lowers the odds that they'll be on the floor together and adds a little toughness to the first and second units that was lacking last year. In both guys, you have two young players who know their roles, don't care about scoring, and are hungry to help the team.

When training camp opened up, I missed Kendrick Perkins for about five minutes. I thought about those scenes in The Association two years ago where the team was working in the O'Neal boys and Perk was working out alone as he rehabbed his knee. I missed what he brought to the team: just an absolute dogged determination to do the dirty work and sacrifice his ego for the team. Like I said, I missed him for about five minutes because Sullinger and Darko have stepped up. Before Media Day, those guys were huge question marks and Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox were going to be our veteran bench bigs that weren't going to do anything spectacular but be consummate pros and get the job done. We still have that of course, but in Sullinger and Milicic, there are two guys that can fill Perk's shoes. Rebounding, offensive or defensive, is often just a test of wills. There's footwork and positioning involved, but the best rebounders in the history of the game were always guys that just seemed to want it more than the guy hanging on his back. With how the team is built and with Jared and Darko on board, I'm betting this is the last time I write something where "rebounding" is a bad word in Celtics' circles.

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