Following a scorching start to the season that saw them near the top of many offensive categories the Boston Celtics have regressed to being a below-average offense. The 103.3 points per game they are averaging is misleading due to the Celtics playing at the league's second fastest pace, as their 102.2 Offensive Efficiency has plummeted to 18th in the league. While there are several factors that account for this regression, one that stands out has been the Celtics inability to draw fouls to get to the free throw line.
Despite averaging the second most points in the paint in the league (46.8), Boston has been unable to translate that into drawing fouls. Only three teams average less than the 20.2 free throw attempts the Celtics take per game. You can't get to the charity stripe unless you get fouled and the Celtics don't have anyone that draws many of them. Jeff Green led the team with 3.6 drawn fouls per game entering Wednesday's game - which ranked 48th in the league. Nobody else on this team comes close, with only two other Celtics currently drawing more than 2.0 fouls per game.
NBA LEADERS - FOULS DRAWN PER GAME 1. DeMarcus Cousins 8.9 2. Dwight Howard 7.4 3. James Harden 6.5 48. Jeff Green 3.6 (leads Celtics)— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) December 31, 2014
Part of the reason for Boston's issues drawing fouls was that captain Rajon Rondo so often had the ball in his hands. Rondo's free throw shooting woes essentially made him allergic to getting fouled, which led him to avoid it as much as possible. He was also a master of finding open teammates around the basket and feeding them for open looks where they could score without be harassed by a defender that could foul them. With Rondo now in Dallas, this trend may start to reverse itself. Of course in order for that to occur, someone on this roster has to step up and make it happen.
One player that should be capable of that is Marcus Smart, who will inherit more minutes in the wake of the trade that shipped Rondo out of town. Smart is averaging 1.6 drawn fouls per game in just over 19 minutes. Expand his playing time out to starter's minutes and give him more control of the offense and he could surpass Green for the team lead in that category.
So far in his brief rookie season Smart is only averaging 2.0 points per 48 minutes on drives to the hoop, per NBA.com. That puts him outside the top 200 players in the league on a per minute basis. This doesn't seem anything at all like the player he was in college and one of the reasons for that is he hasn't been given enough of a chance with the ball in his hands. His 16.2 usage percentage is ahead of only Phil Pressey and Gerald Wallace on this Celtics team (not counting the three players they recently acquired from Dallas). If this truly is a lost season then developing young players like Smart needs to be the priority, which means it's time to hand their point guard of the future the keys and let him become the player they believed he would be when they drafted him.
In college, Smart was a wrecking ball who would often drive the ball aggressively into the paint to get himself to the free throw line. During his last season at Oklahoma State, Smart averaged 14.2 free throw attempts per 100 possessions, which is double the amount Green has taken per 100 possessions this season to get to his team leading 4.8 free throw attempts per game. As a rookie who is still developing, Smart won't be able to bully his way to the basket at this level as easily as he did in college, but his 6'4'', 220 pound frame is still big enough to take advantage of most opposing point guards to get to the rim.
Smart is only an average free throw shooter at 75% for the season, but there are several benefits to drawing fouls that go beyond a trip to the charity stripe. Forcing the opponent to rack up fouls to get them into the penalty early would help his teammates get more chances to shoot free throws as well. It can also get individual opposing players in foul trouble, which can limit their minutes on the court or turn them into timid defenders.
Losing a gifted floor general like Rondo was bound to have an effect on the Celtics offense, but in his absence they can lean more on having Smart do something Rondo wouldn't do for them - attack the basket aggressively to score easy buckets, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.