Defense has consistently been termed as something that is all about effort. If a guy tries hard he’ll be a good defender, if he’s not a good one, then it has to be about his effort. However, for the most part, defense isn’t an individual statistic, It’s a puppet show in which 5 guys have to coordinate together in order to stop a team from scoring. If one misstep happens, it leads to a compounding mass of mistakes lead to other things that go beyond just stopping a team from scoring.
In the Celtics case, that other thing was rebounding deficiencies. For a team that had prided itself for having some of the fiercest perimeter defenders in the league, Boston was only 12th in overall defensive efficiency last year. A big part of that was their putrid defensive rebounding that ranked them at 27th in the league. Defensive rebounding is important because it’s how you finish a defensive possession. When you’re bad at that, you force yourself to expend more energy defensively by giving a team multiple possessions.
This offseason the Celtics had that in mind when they changed up their roster. They decided to move on from the undersized, overachieving, and feisty, for the long, athletic, and talented. The transition doesn’t on it’s face seem to be something that was put to address rebounding concerns. But in the pursuit of chasing talent that fit the mold Stevens wants, the Celtics may have also just made built a stronger defense as well. The main reason why? For one, replacing IT means less overcommitting which took guys out of position, but an even bigger factor is the addition of have a legitimate presence in the paint.
The first defensive possession of the game pointed out a new interesting wrinkle in the Celtics defense. With Aron Baynes able to bang with centers like Dwight Howard, Horford is able to be the guy to glide in and grab rebounds as opposed to being the one to box out. There’s been talk about Horford being the best used at the center, but that might be a little premature considering the Celtics didn’t have a legitimate center in his first year. Here’s what Horford said about playing alongside Baynes:
“He makes everything a lot easier for us, for me, It’s exciting because it allows me to be all over the place on the court helping, blocking shots off the help side, and just doing different things. Very excited to have him on board. He looked very good (Monday) night.”
-Al Horford via Scott Souza
As the power forward, Horford is not only able to grab rebounds more freely, but he can patrol the floor and make plays like this:
Because Baynes is able to hold his ground against other bigs, Horford can focus on being more active on the perimeter which he didn’t get the chance to do as much under the construction of last year’s team. This also allows for Boston to use Horford at the center position strategically rather than always out of necessity. Near the end of the 2nd quarter the Celtics ran out a “position-less” lineup of Irving-Smart-Tatum-Hayward-Horford. Horford had the Howard assignment, so when the Hornets tried to run Walker-Howard pick and roll to get Walker going downhill, they were instead greeted by the mobile Horford who is able to do stuff like this:
None of these plays above were any stats for Aron Baynes, but a big part of the Celtics being able to take a step up from defense can be directly associated with the effect his presence has on the surrounding pieces. In just 19 minutes Horford was able to gather 6 rebounds, including two offensive rebounds, against the 2nd best defensive rebounding team in the league whose biggest addition was adding Dwight Howard. To put that in perspective, Horford averaged 6.8rpg all of last season.
Can the trend continue? That’s still yet to be seen, but if the first game was a preview of things to come, pundits may need to re-evaluate how they view the Celtics defense.