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Assessing the Boston Celtics Pick and Roll Defense: Part Six

The sixth part of the Boston Celtics pick and roll defense series takes a brief look at the team's performance when an individual guard or wing is involved in the pick and roll.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the sixth and final part of "Assessing the Boston Celtics Pick and Roll Defense" series. To wrap up, we're going to take a glance at how the team performed in February when an individual guard or wing was screened on a pick and roll. The sample sizes are small, but it's worth looking at.

For some background on the terminology used in this article, read or skim part one of the series. For more statistically reliable studies, check out parts two and three.

Is Bayless for real?

Jerryd Bayless' defense has been knocked going back to his college years, and in the NBA, some have gone as far to say that he's worthless if he's not scoring. But with the Celtics, he's been scoring and playing defense at a high level. Maybe he's playing for a new contract since he's a free agent to be, but either way, Boston is defending the pick and roll extremely well whenever he is the player being screened.

In 103 possessions, the C's have allowed 0.61 P4 and 0.81 PPP on 36 percent shooting, which are the highest marks on the team. After reviewing film throughout the month to come up with these stats, Bayless' effort was admirable, but so was his awareness. To see these remarkable statistics wasn't much of a surprise, but nobody could've predicted this type of production before he was acquired.

Bayless lacks height, bulk, and length, but he made up for it in February by playing with a high motor. He also puts himself at an advantage by properly angling his body on pick and rolls, which allows him to "jump the screen" and get back to the ball-handler more quickly.

The reader may experience some doubt, and figure it's the rest of the defense making a large influence on the play, not Bayless. While that could be true, it's noteworthy that the Celtics have their most productive P4 and PPP when Olynyk, Bass, and Humphries are paired with Bayless. Coincidence? Probably not, because Jerryd Bayless has just taken his pick and roll defense to a new level.

Switching leads to success

Boston dominates whenever Jeff Green or Gerald Wallace are switched on a pick and roll. In this case, the statistics being reviewed only look at instances when they switch on the play, which Wallace did 23 times in February. Opponents scored 14 points, with a PPP 0f 1.08 and a P4 of 0.61. Most impressive of all is that the team forced 4 turnovers and 6 resets.

"That's the beauty of having a guy like Gerald who [can defend different positions]," said Jeff Green. "Nobody knows if he's a 2, 3, or 4, so when he's out there he gives us a lot of energy and we play off him."

What Green said about Wallace should be said about himself, because the Celtics shutdown opponents whenever he switches on the pick and roll. Last month he was engaged in 39 total possessions and the team allowed only 22 points. On 30.8 percent shooting, they had a 0.73 PPP and 0.56 P4.

Those are lockdown numbers, and they speak to Green's ability to defend multiple positions. Of course, in some of these instances, it's the big man defending a wing player, but the team's overall success is all that matters when they choose to switch anyway.

At 6-foot-9, Green can defend many stretch power forwards, but his elite length and athleticism allows him to cover most shooting guards as well. This versatility helps explain why Boston values him so highly, which might be another reason why Danny Ainge didn't just deal him away at the trade deadline.

Rondo's not all the way back yet

Rajon Rondo has been great since returning from his torn ACL, but his defense isn't back to what it was pre-injury just yet. This is to be expected, since lateral agility is the last thing to return. However, he has still been very productive. The Captain was involved in 115 pick and rolls this past month and the team allowed 0.83 P4 and 1.15 PPP.

That PPP is not a productive number considering opponents are shooting 48.1 percent, but the P4 speaks to how many plays he and his teammates are preventing from ever occurring. They've forced 11 turnovers and 21 resets, which means they've prevented a shot attempt on 27.8 percent of pick and roll possessions.

In most cases, this is due to Rondo's headiness when playing defense. He does a great job of adjusting his body to best avoid the player setting a screen, but he also does a sensational job of communicating switches or recoveries (when he gets back to his man) to his teammates.

As Rondo regains his full mobility, his defense will likely improve, which will only help the team since he is screened more than any other player. For now, the numbers as of now are great considering his circumstances.

AB is sorely missed

With an increased role on the offensive end of the floor, Avery Bradley hasn't been able to expound as much energy defensively this season. He is still having a great year, though, and the numbers showed in his three games this past month.

When AB was screened in 22 total possessions, the Celtics allowed only 0.64 P4, which was the second best number on the team. Teams also shot only 40 percent, even though they had a 1.08 PPP.

Bradley's foot speed is extraordinary. When a big ices the pick and roll, Bradley is able to get back to his own man so quickly, which caused a reset 36 percent of the time. To put it simply, teams aren't able to get what they want offensively when he's on the floor.

But the issue with Avery Bradley isn't necessarily his on-court production, it's his health. He only played 3 out of 11 games in February, so even though he made a huge impact in his games played, it's his absence in the others that really hurt the team.

Remember, they're just rookies

Both Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson struggled when defending the pick and roll during the month of February. They lack the awareness veterans on the roster have, but also the athleticism of someone like Green or Bradley, and it shows on the team numbers.

Pressey was involved in 74 pick and rolls this past month and the team allowed 0.92 and 1.10 PPP on 50.8 percent shooting. The field goal percentage is a team-high, which isn't surprising considering 35 percent of the opponent's shot attempts were at the rim.

The rookie point guard just lacks the athleticism required to defend effectively at this level. He's nimble on his feet, but the blows of screens from 7-footers crush his tiny frame. When playing off the ball, Pressey is one of the best on the team at communicating things like "back screens" or "down screens," so he'll need to use his voice and awareness to improve his pick and roll defense.

Chris Johnson defended only 34 pick and roll possessions, but the team allowed 1.03 P4 and 1.18 PPP when he was. These are both the worst numbers put up by an individual guard or wing on the roster. Perhaps it speaks to his lack of experience, since he was essentially thrown into the fire when the Celtics signed him in January.

On a positive note, film analysis does indicate that Johnson hustles hard and that he does everything he can to prevent a basket. With him, it seems like it's more about gaining experience and improving his body over the summer. You can only expect so much from a rookie.

Closing Thoughts

This series was a lot of fun (and work...and time) to write. There were plenty of late nights listening to Pink Floyd and St. Vincent with four different files open, recording what happened during each play, but I really wanted to accomplish three things with this, and it was worth it.

First, I wanted to educate readers about an in-depth basketball concept. I think the pick and roll is a good place to start because it's relatively simply and it's something you'll see in any game, whether it's on the playground, in college, or in the NBA. The differences between a "hedge" and "ice" might be complicated, but they can be easy to understand, and I hope readers learned something.

Secondly, I wanted to learn more specifics about Boston's defense for myself. I knew they iced almost all the time, but I wanted to find trends, like when they would decide to switch or hedge instead of ice. Some of these stats weren't included in the articles since I bored you enough with six parts already. No one wants more, do they?

Lastly, that these types of stats like "P4" could be used for almost anything in basketball. Instead of "how many points did so and so score against the Celtics?" it could be, "how many scoring chances did the Celtics prevent from ever occurring?" In a sport that is so much about the process and preparation, it makes sense to look at individual plays from that same perspective, instead of just the result being two points or not. That's why I created P4, and I hope to see more similar statistics in the future.

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