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Deep dive into Celtics' shooting woes: missing open shots

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Boston is getting the shots they want, but they're just not falling.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It's a small sample size of games, but tell that to guys like Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.  After Boston's two point loss in Indiana, IT4 and AB had some strong words as the Celtics fell to 1-3 on the season:

"I don't know what it is, but we've got to figure it out sooner than later," Thomas said. "I'm tired of losing."

...

"I don't want us to continue this bad habit," Bradley said. "I want us to break it as soon as possible, because these games come back and haunt us, especially these close ones. We don't want to look later in the season and say, ‘Man, we should have had that one.' "

The team addressed the slow starts from the last two games at yesterday's practice, citing a lack of ball movement as the source of offensive stagnation in the first quarters despite using two different starting lineups against the Spurs and Pacers.

So, what's happening?  While the losses to unbeaten Toronto and a stacked San Antonio are somewhat forgiveable, Boston could have easily won the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  Turnovers in the first half doomed the Celtics, but they were only down six at halftime.

A cursory look at the stats shows that it's no secret that Boston has been shooting horribly this season.  They're 25th in the league in three-point FG% at a dismal 29.2% while tied for 8th in threes attempted at 26.5 per game.  They're shooting a ton and missing a ton.  That makes them 26th in the NBA in eFG% at 44.6%.  But last year when they finished the season 20-10, they had similar deficiencies behind the arc, but still finished the season strong.

This season, they added outside shooting, but it just hasn't materialized yet, but it should.  R.J. Hunter saw his first meaningful action on Wednesday and his added shooting should bring those percentages up.  Bradley and Thomas are both shooting below their career averages from three and at some point, Kelly Olynyk should round back into form.

This is why I'm not worried.  Here's a breakdown of how well Boston did on contested shots vs. open shots.  For the 2014-2015 season, I'm using numbers after February 22nd after Danny Ainge dealt for Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko.



2014-2015

2015-2016
Closest defender Frequency FGM FGA FG% eFG% Frequency FGM FGA FG% eFG%
0-2 feet (very tight) 15.6% 6.1 13.7 44.4% 45.0% 19.2% 7.0 16.5 42.4% 43.2%
2-4 feet (tight) 35.2% 14.0 30.9 45.4% 48.0% 39.8% 15.8 34.3 46.0% 48.5%
4-6 feet (open) 32.4% 12.0 28.4 42.1% 48.9% 25.0% 6.8 21.5 31.4% 37.2%
6+ feet (wide open) 16.8% 6.5 14.7 44.3% 54.9% 16.0% 5.0 13.8 36.4% 48.2%
TOTAL 38.6 87.7 44.0% 49.0% 34.5 86 40.1% 44.6%

Two things stick out: 1) the Celtics are shooting more shots with a hand in their face or a defender near by, but to their credit, they're making nearly as many as they did last season and 2) they're generating fewer open looks and shooting way below their average on those shots.

In training camp, Stevens stressed the importance of getting easy, more efficient looks.  He wanted to turn long 2's into threes and to get more shots near the rim.  That focus translated in the preseason, but even though the team has reverted back to some of their old shot selection, they're still generally getting what they want.  My guess is, the increase in contested shots (vs. tight to very tight defense) is due in large part to the additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee rolling to the basket.  The two big men have combined for 41 attempts in the restricted area or in the paint with only 11 shots out of the key.  In addition, the Celtics increase in FTA's have kept them afloat during this cold spell; they're 10th in the league at 26.0 in free throw attempts shooting a healthy 83.7% from the line, up from 20.5 FTA at 75.4%.

2014-2015 Regular Season

2014-2015 shot chart

2015-2016 Preseason

2016 preseason

2015-2016 Regular Season

2015-2016 shot chart

Shots at the rim have increased from last year, they're shooting less from the mid-range, and they're taking more threes and directing them towards the corner, but that's a lot of red.  So many guys just haven't popped yet.  Kelly Olynyk has shoot 2-for-11 on uncontested shots and is only 1-for-10 from behind the arc.  David Lee and Evan Turner, despite their little mini-resurgence against Indiana in the PnR, have made a combined 19 of their 56 shots for 35.7 FG%.  Tyler Zeller, who was one of the league leaders in FG% last season as a mid-range shooting big, has only made six shots this year.

Thomas also said, "we're not gonna panic, but at the same time, changes need to be made."  I think that's partly true; more ball movement and off ball player action could open up more open looks, but ultimately, guys have to make shots and that just isn't happening.  It's all just stats vomit because schematically, the system is working and the Celtics are getting good looks.  But hey, maybe we can just let Jae Crowder do this every time.