Wanted: easy buckets

Jared Wickerham

It's the playoffs and the Celtics aren't in them, but you can bet Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are already hard at work figuring out how to get back to the postseason.

During Game 1 of Nets-Raptors, they mentioned that Toronto was one of four playoff teams that ranked in the top-ten in offensive and defensive efficiency according to John Hollinger's statistical formula.  That puts them in rare company with the Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers.  Maybe I'm just being a homer, but on paper, I think the Celtics as currently constructed are just as good as they are.

Wrong.  The Celtics ranked 20th in defense (meh, not bad for a rebuilding team) and even worse 27th in offense (ugh).

With a Choose-Your-Own-Adventuresque series of decisions that Danny Ainge must make over the next five months that includes two first round draft picks and a handful of decisions on free agents, he has to start thinking about which guys make this team better.  Who is a role player?  Who can you build around?  Who is part of this franchise long term?

Defensively, Ainge has been pretty honest about the lack of a rim protector in the front court.  As well as he played at the end of the season, Kelly Olynyk isn't the answer at the 5 and we didn't see enough of Vitor Faverani to know if he can anchor the defense.  That's certainly a need that Danny will look to fill on D, but offensively, there's much more to consider.

Basketball can seem so simple at times.  All you gotta to do is put the ball in the hoop, right?  The closer you are, the easier it is to do that.  But wait.  Bigger and taller guys tend to be slower and three-point shots are worth more than dunks and lay-ups.  It also depends on where you shoot those threes.  There's also free throws.  Now how do you get those?  They're not exactly free.  This is where it gets complicated.

Let's look at how the most offensively efficient teams get there "easy buckets."  Eight of the top ten are in the playoffs and here's how they stand in restricted area field goals made, free throws made, and corner threes (the most efficient of the three point shots):

Los Angeles Clippers 109.4 17.2 21.2 3 64.6
Miami Heat 109 18.6 17.5 3.6 65.5
Dallas Mavericks 109 18.6 16.8 2 53.8
Houston Rockets 108.6 20 22.1 2.5 69.6
Portland Trailblazers 108.3 14.9 19.1 2.5 56.4
San Antonio Spurs 108.2 17.5 15.7 2.7 58.8
Oklahoma City Thunder 108.1 16.4 20.2 2 59
Toronto Raptors 105.8 13.7 19.6 2.5 54.5
Boston Celtics 99.7 14.9 16.2 2.1 52.3

At first blush, it's surprising to see the Celtics compete in that Raptors/Blazers/Mavericks range.  They roughly pace at the same rate, but unfortunately, Boston's deficiencies in the mid-range, long 2's, and 3's above the break lowers their true shooting percentage to 28th in the league.  We're being kind though.  Check out the Clips, Heat, and Rockets.  For teams that average above triple-digits, more than 60% of their scoring comes from "easy buckets."  We're talking about a points differential in the teens compared to the Celtics.  Losing 3-and-D man Courtney Lee and Gerald Wallace crashing towards the rim didn't help, but those guys weren't exactly going to turn the season around.

A lot of fans lamented some of the shot selection this season.  Jeff Green shot a career high 4.8 threes a game at 34%.  Sullinger shot 2.8 at an even worse 26.9% clip.  We saw Rajon Rondo extending his range and taking more jump shots.  Kelly Olynyk, who seem paint-averse early in the season, put the ball on the floor more in the second half and shot more free throws in two weeks of April than any other full month of the season.  What many see as a team struggling and maybe tanking, I see as a team trying to expand everybody's game for future benefit.  It's all about improvement.  This is a team rebuilding and trying to get better in aspects of the game that contenders excel in.

For Boston to be successful in the summer, next season, and especially in future playoffs, Ainge has to target players this summer that can help pick up these gimmes.  Avery Bradley was a proficient shooter in the corner (46 out of 126) and Ainge will have to decide how much he'll improve and more importantly, how much that is worth as a restricted free agent.  No player on the roster averaged more than three buckets at the rim this season; could Danny target athletic rim runners like Aaron Gordon or Andrew Wiggins?  It's all food for thought as we watch the post-season and enter the off season.

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