Anybody who has watched the Celtics through their first five games has surely noticed the team suffers through its fair share of offensive struggles. It hasn’t been all bad, of course—the C’s did score 63 first-half points against Milwaukee, put in a strong first half against a tough Memphis defense last weekend, and also scored 84 points through three quarters against the Jazz last night. But every successful stretch for this young Celtics team always seems to be followed by a period of stagnation, often culminating in a frustrating fourth quarter.
Although Boston has had some positive moments in each game, the team’s offense as a whole has been mediocre at best in the season’s early going. Through five contests, the Celtics rank 30th in points per game (89.4), 26th in offensive rating (96.7), 25th in team assists (57), and 24th in the NBA in Pace.
That Pace statistic is especially crucial considering the Celtics have actually shot the ball fairly well, or at least better than their overall production might indicate. While Boston hasn’t scored many points compared to the rest of the league, the C’s actually place near the middle of the pack in both team field-goal percentage (45.3%, 12th in the NBA) and effective field-goal percentage (48.5%, 16th). The problem is they just don’t take all that many shots, ranking 18th among NBA teams in field goal attempts, though all the teams below them have all played one less game.
Looking at just where the Celtics have taken their shots reveals a similar trend. Boston has the 15th-best field-goal percentage within eight feet at 54.8%, according to NBA.com’s stats page. Yet the Celtics have attempted just 34 shots within eight feet per game, which is 25th among teams in the league. As a team they have struggled to get into the paint and, at the moment, lack a perimeter presence that can penetrate and create decent looks for himself or a teammate on a consistent basis.
Jeff Green is a player who could fulfill this type of role, and when he does drive to the hoop, the results have been encouraging. But Green is still unaccustomed to being the go-to option for an NBA offense, and much like the Celtics as a whole, prone to bouts of inconsistency and uninspired play. After all, his 13-point first half against Utah on Wednesday resulted more from strong perimeter shooting than any regular penetration into the lane.
Beyond Green, Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford are the next two Celtics who have driven into the paint most frequently, according to NBA.com, but neither is particularly adept at creating offense this way. In fact, Bradley is actually taking jump shots at a higher rate than at any point in his career so far this season, a development that helps explain his subpar 37.7% field-goal percentage, which would be his lowest rate since his rookie season.
Given Boston’s deep need for a perimeter threat and facilitator, it is clear how much this team misses Rajon Rondo. No one else on the Celtics possesses Rondo’s ball-handling ability, explosiveness, and knack for blowing by defenders, not to mention his elite court vision.
However, Rondo’s nightly presence on the bench does indicate that better times lay ahead for this Celtics offense. In each game, they have shown flashes of being a successful, well-balanced team, all of which finally came together versus the Jazz. Against better opponents, though, their offensive shortcomings remain an ongoing issue. Much of these struggles have arisen from players who are still adjusting to new roles, something that will only get better over time as Green becomes more accustomed to being the team’s primary option, Kelly Olynyk gets his feet wet in the NBA, and Jared Sullinger works himself into basketball shape.
Though the results have been ugly at times, this team has big potential for improvement as the season continues. We expected inconsistency from the start, and that’s certainly what these Celtics have given us so far. The team’s youth and inexperience (along with the coach’s, for that matter) suggests a fair amount of progress should be expected.
After all, there really is nowhere to go but up.
Alex Skillin is a regular contributor to Celtics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @AlexSkillin.