TEAM STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
Not much to summarize here. The team is giving up a progressively higher level of efficiency in the critical areas of the court while maintaining a stagnant level of efficiency themselves. The team needs are clear - interior presence and superior perimeter threats.
The three areas of improvement that stand out the most are the reduction in free throws given up per possession and the work on the Off/Deff boards. Boston has done a better job a reducing their fouls, though the increase in both opponent three point efficiency and volume/efficiency of paint touches somewhat deflates the gain. Boston's defense has regressed during Q3 - in no small part to Avery Bradley's absence and his ability to limit lane penetration and clean perimeter looks.
However, the Celtics work on the offensive glass has been incredibly encouraging as they've maintained a consistent level of transitional defensive play. They are also doing a vastly superior job limiting their opponents 2nd chance possessions, which was near crisis level proportions to start the season. If the team can add some key elements to their base Off/Deff talent level, the potential gain in boardwork could yield more substantial dividends than the current results suggest.
INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES (courtesy of NBA.com stats)
Jeff Green's Q3 performance reflects a significant change in both shot selection and productivity. He has shot more three's above the break and is also taking more midrange shots than at any point in the season. His spacial shooting efficiencies have suffered due to this shift in shot selection, however it may be an indication that the team is focused on using the latter part of the season to grow his game beyond the typical sweet spots.
Green's per 100 possession stats show a fairly consistent output across all three quarters of the season. A deeper look into his scoring breakdown tells a different story. The composition of Green's shot attempts has changed progressively since the beginning of the season. His ratio of Assisted/Unassisted two-point baskets has shifted dramatically, even as his conversion percentage has decreased. This indicates a dramatic increase in his off-ball usage as a scorer, which would be consistent with his anticipated role in any future incarnation of the team.
On the other hand, Jared Sullinger's season has been a story of offensive regression. Sullinger's overall FG% has decreased substantially in both mid-range, (40%|33%) and above the break threes, (27%|17%) over Q2 to Q3. Nowhere is this more evident than in his percentage of assisted two point baskets, which has risen nearly 8% since the season's beginning. This nearly matches his increased percentage of points in the paint, which has risen by 8% as well.
Sullinger's shift in assisted baskets on the interior can be attributed to Rajon Rondo's return. However, the decrease in effectiveness on both mid and long range shooting is counter-intuitive as both those shots should be coming with less defensive pressure as Rondo draws defenders into the paint and away from the perimeter. His overall mix of shots has maintained consistency, but the results suggest that his legs simply aren't there at this point in the season. This is understandable based on the fact that Sullinger has played more games than ever before, while not having the benefit of a full off-season to work on conditioning. This will need to be an area of focus for Sullinger if he hopes to make a 3rd year leap in productivity, especially at the power forward position.
Kelly Olynyk's year one trends have been quite encouraging. His production per 100 possessions has improved throughout each quarter in a number of key areas, despite suffering an injury which cost him substantial time. An uptick in aggressiveness is reflected in not only total volume of shots, but particularly in the spacial zones. Olynyk has improved his two point shooting by 9% overall. His interior splits from Q2 to Q3 show a 15% improvement,(47%|62%) on 32 more total shots coming at the rim. His three point shooting has regressed from Q2, but the total attempts are not substantial enough to draw conclusions. Looking back to Q1, it is clear that he is getting more comfortable from the perimeter and starting to convert with a more acceptable frequency.
Rondo's presence doesn't fully account for Olynyk's improved play. Despite the clear advantages Rondo creates in terms of spacing, Olynyk's percentage of assisted two point baskets has dropped nearly 10% over Q3. This is evident when reviewing game film to verify these tendencies. Olynyk has drastically decreased his reaction time during a possession - either shooting immediately or using the threat of the shot to initiate a drive. The results have led to a more active, more successful offensive player. This improved comfort level has also translated into his offensive and defensive rebounding as well. Olynyk still suffers from "rookie" foul bias, but has improved both his technique and his certainty when battling for position or making aggressive dives out-of-area for his boards.
Bayless has been a somewhat intriguing addition to this team. the former lottery pick has bounced around quite a bit and has not had a consistent opportunity to perform a larger, consistent role since his Toronto years. Bayless has many limitations, but is an interesting case-study due to the pending free agent status of Avery Bradley as well as the team's need for player's who can create offense.
Bayless has shown a willingness to streamline his offensive game to fit his efficiencies during his time in Boston. He has cut away the amount of three point shots he takes, limiting himself much more to the corners and away from the above-the-break area where his range is really stretched. Additionally, Bayless has really started to hone in on his strengths as a mid-range shooter, particularly off the left-side pick-n-roll.
In contrast to Jeff Green's usage patterns, Bayless has been utilized in a limited number of areas that play to his strengths. This suggests that that team is evaluating his ability to perform at a certain level within a defined role. Ironically, this role falls into three spacial areas that are also strengths of Green's. It will be interesting to see how Bradley's Q4 usage alters the collective patterns of all the perimeter players - including Rondo.
In an otherwise forgettable season, there has been some interesting areas to watch for development. The deficiencies in personnel - caused by injury or otherwise - have certainly hindered individual development in certain ways. Rondo's early season absence and the lack of a back line defensive presence have likely contributed to a number of inefficiencies among the players above. Both spacing on the offensive end and defensive positioning has suffered without these two essential elements.
Despite this, there have been improvements to be found - in process if not always end result. Players are being utilized in different ways as the season has progressed, which is a clear indication that coach Brad Stevens has not stopped tinkering with the tools at his disposal to see what they're capable of in a multitude of scenarios. Proper team-building requires a careful evaluation of the assets in hand and it is evident that Stevens has made sure not to allow his player's to settle into complacent, well-practices roles that do not push the boundaries of their capabilities and force growth - this is a huge win for the team as it trudges to the finish line.
Hopefully, by the end of Q4 there will be enough data on everyone to make the critical evaluations necessary to make the personnel decisions required post-draft. Avery Bradley's return perhaps being one of the most critical, as he returns to play with Rondo for an extremely limited sample of games. The turnaround of this team will require much more than what the lotto balls yield this June. What this team looks like going forward will have a lot more to do with who is currently on the roster and how their value is parlayed into next season's success.