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Assessing the Boston Celtics Pick and Roll Defense: Part Five

The fifth part of the Boston Celtics pick and roll defense series takes a brief look at the team's performance when an individual big man is involved in the pick and roll.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

For the fifth part of the pick and roll series, we're going to take a look at how the Boston Celtics defended during the month of February when an individual big man was engaged in the play. Defense is a collective effort, since all five players must be on the same page, but it's especially important that the big man makes the correct play.

Boston played 11 games in February and "iced" the pick and roll nearly 75 percent of the time. Some of the bigs on the Celtics have years of experience playing this way, but others, like Kelly Olynyk and Joel Anthony, are doing it for the first time this season.

If you'd like some background on the advanced statistics and information being used in this article, it would be wise to read or skim part one of the series.

Bumpin' down Hump

Kris Humphries is having a weird season. After a successful month of January, where he played nearly 25 minutes per game, Hump saw his time on the court drop by over 7 minutes in February.

In 11 games, Humphries was involved in 76 pick and rolls and the team allowed 0.89 P4 and 1.13 PPP, which are below average numbers. Opponents also shot an incredible 50 percent despite attempting only 18.2 percent of their field goals at the rim. Perhaps teams were just hitting shots, and there's nothing more to it.

Film study does indicate two things though. First, that Humphries can sometimes be a little slow at making reads on the pick and roll. He doesn't always call out the "ice" and his teammates pay for it by getting crushed with screens. It's these not-so-obvious parts of his game that might explain his recent dip in playing time.

He does move his feet fairly well, and his length forces shooters into taking runners, leaners, or pull-up jumpers. Since so few shots were attempted at the rim, his subpar numbers this month might just be an indication that teams are simply hitting shots. However, it is interesting that Humphries has seen his playing time sliced though.

Embrace the Bass

But the team is dominating whenever Brandon Bass is involved with defending a pick and roll, which could explain Humphries' drop in playing time. In February, opponents scored only 0.67 P4 and 1.00 PPP on a 41.2 field goal percentage when Bass was engaged in the play. On 114 possessions, the Celtics forced a turnover or reset 33 percent of the time -- all of these statistics were the best of Boston's big men.

Bass' unique blend of length and quickness makes him a very good defender, but it's his vocalization that made him great in February. Before the year, Bass said that he wanted to take KG's role as rim protector, and while he isn't on that level, he makes players around him better by calling out to his guards that a screen is coming.

On Brad Stevens' defense, Brandon Bass said, "Our pick and roll coverage varies from night to night. You need to make adjustments." He has certainly done that, by coming to play at a maximum level for each game in February.

Olynyk is progressing

You know it, I know it: Kelly Olynyk is improving this season. His offense is obviously coming along, but so his defense. Sometimes he still moves like his feet are being dragged through the mud, but he is beginning to learn how to properly ice the pick and roll.

"I think at the start, I kind of had to analyze stuff a lot, and now it's coming a little more natural -- rotations and stuff. I had to do a lot of thinking for the first little while and some of it was kind of confusing, but I think I'll be more aggressive because it's just coming more natural," said Kelly Olynyk on his defensive improvements this year.

During the month of February, the Celtics allowed 0.90 P4 and 1.05 PPP on the 93 possessions Olynyk defended the pick and rolls. This is subpar, but it's a far cry from his awful early season numbers. His problems are mostly mechanical, but he's making up for it by becoming more aware of the system.

On comparing college to the NBA, Olynyk said, "It's not that it's more complex, it's just that it's different. Your movements are different, your rotations are different. It makes it a lot tougher when guys shoot from 27 feet instead of college, where the deepest they shoot is 20 feet."

Olynyk goes on to say that college players get more help defense via rotations, but now, a lot of the time it's all on one player. "So, you've got to be able to move your feet and help out other guys at the same time -- cover, rotate, get back, close out under control."

Anthony is slowly adjusting

Joel Anthony has been labeled as a stiff since he can't do much else besides defend, foul, and set screens, but players like him do have a role in the league (see: Jason Collins). But for seven years with the Miami Heat, he primarily "hedged" on the pick and roll, which is the only technique he has ever known.

Since coming to Boston, Anthony has had to quickly adjust to "ice," and it hasn't been pretty. In February, he was only involved in 17 pick and rolls, but opponents scored 1.12 P4 on 53.3 percent shooting.

These are ugly numbers, and film analysis supports them, since ball-handlers have blown by him on drives to the basket. "I'm able to adjust. It takes time, but it's not that difficult. It's just something that I have to change," said Anthony on his ability to change styles.

"But in some ways, it keeps me close to the basket, and that's a lot better since it's easier for me to get back to my man. It's not like one way is better than the other. Obviously that's what I've always been good at, but like I said, it's just an adjustment."

Anthony then clarified that being closer to the rim puts him in a better position to block shots. He explained, "I'm comfortable either way, and I think I'm pretty versatile defensively where I can stay close to the basket or go out there and defend. I'm able to do both. If anything, it helps me expand my game defensively in my ability to do different things."

With one year left on his contract (if he chooses to exercise his option), Anthony will have a chance to increase his free agent stock if he's able to improve on his defense with the Celtics.

Split Month for Sully

Jared Sullinger was dominating on the offensive end of the floor to start the month -- some green glasses-wearing Celtics fans even said he'd be better than Kevin Love. But it wasn't just his scoring and rebounding, because his pick and roll defense was great too. The team allowed 0.73 P4 and 0.91 PPP on 37.3 percent shooting when Sully defended the pick and roll during the first four games of the month.

But since then, the C's struggled when Sullinger was the "roll defender," allowing 1.06 P4 and 1.41 PP on 58.3 percent shooting during his last four games in February. After reviewing the film, it appears that Sully started slowing down; perhaps, he was feeling fatigue after his marvelous stretch of games.

Sullinger sustained a concussion in his last game of the month, but has since returned. Maybe that break will give him the extra juice he'll need to finish the rest of the season at a high level. But it could require the summer for him to fix all of his technical and physical problems though.

When a player ices the pick and roll, the goal is to keep the ball out of the paint. However, Sullinger frequently allows deep penetration, which leads to high percentage shots at the rim, or passes to open players on the perimeter.


The sixth part of "Assessing the Boston Celtics Pick and Roll Defense" will take the same approach as this section, but it will instead look at the team's production when an individual guard or wing is defending the pick and roll.

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