Jared Sullinger rooting around the restricted area for offensive rebounds and going for second chance points. Jeff Green slashing to the cup and creating body contact for the and-1. Courtney Lee up faking his defender in the corner and driving to the basket. These are all signs of a more diverse offense, but what a lot of people aren't talking about is the secondary benefit of a more aggressive approach: FTA's.
The Celtics had 19.8 free throws attempts per game last season, ranking them ahead of only three teams including the run-and-gun Warriors and the offensively-inept Sixers. However, the Celtics were 5th in the league in free throw percentage at 77.8%. Put plainly, they could make 'em, but just didn't get a chance to. That's all changing this season.
Against the Knicks, they shot 27-33. Last night at TD Garden, they were 21-24. Over five games, the Celtics are averaging 25.2 FTA's. It's a small sample size, but if they keep up that pace, that would rank them 5th last season, just behind offensive juggernauts Denver and OKC. Keep in mind that these are preseason games, too; Doc has emptied his bench for the majority of the fourth quarters when free throws are usually at a premium. Against the Nets, Boston shot twenty-two in the first half and only two in the second.
We're not just talking about the potential of 5-6 points either. Not only are they easy points, but it slows the game down for the veterans and lets the team set its defense on the other end. Those three or four possessions when our D benefits on a reset could mean 5-6 points on the other side of the plus/minus and at the end of the night, we could be talking about a 10-12 point swing in our favor. Putting teams in the penalty also loosens up their defense and muzzles their aggressiveness, especially in the playoffs when the games tighten and every whistle matters.
What makes the Celtics different than most teams is that they don't have a viable superstar that's going to get calls down the stretch. With guys like LeBron, Kobe, and Durant, they're practically guaranteed 8 free throws a game because of the name on the back on their jersey. Boston is doing it FTA's-by-committee. With the depth of the roster as it is, every player can attack a defense off the dribble. Remember when Doc would camp out shooters on the perimeter for PP and RR to find them as they broke down the defense? Well, that's still going to happen, but instead of the lower percentage, long distance shot, guys like Terry, Lee, Bradley, and Green will be able to put the ball on the floor and create that second and third rotation by the defense.
Oh, and by the way, Rajon Rondo made his first eleven free throws in a row. Yeah, this year is going to be a lot different.