Nowhere is the Celtics’ one year overhaul more evident than the center position. Once manned sparingly by Amir Johnson—with Al Horford doing the heavy lifting along with smaller fours—the C’s now boast one of the largest rotations of traditional centers in basketball.
From one-to-five, Boston is already long and massive. With Friday’s report of the Greg Monroe signing, the once completely inept rebounding Celtics, who practically sacrificed that category every night in 2016-17, now feature expertise on the boards that the franchise hasn’t had since the late 1980’s.
Monroe enters with a career average 8.7 rebounds per game. No Celtics player has averaged that total in a season since Kevin Garnett’s 8.9 in 2011. With hopes of winning the Eastern Conference possibly elevating, the C’s can now potentially count on out-rebounding opponents.
After last night’s win over the Hawks, the Celtics have now won the rebounding battle 31 out of the 53 games this season;t hey’re 30-1 with the boards advantage, the lone loss in last week’s Steph Curry inferno in Golden State.
This season, Monroe earned less than 20 minutes per game with the Bucks, before a trade with the Suns bumped his average up to 23. In those short spurts of playing time, he pulled off five and eight rebounds per game respectively. That’s good for 12.2 per 36 minutes, the best mark of his career.
Many worry about Monroe’s fit in Boston, a back-to-the-basket player without a jump shot that doesn’t match the mold of a Kelly Olynyk who patrolled the team’s front court for years. But the identity of the Celts flipped 180 degrees to a group whose recent success rests on rebounding and defense.
Boston sat at the top of the league in total rebounding during its 16-2 start to the season, and has since fallen to 10th with 44.4 per game. They hold a slim positive in differential (+0.2) and only sit about two rebounds per game behind the 76ers for the league lead.
The 2016 Celts, to this point, stand as the best rebounding team in Boston since 2000 with 44.9 per game thanks to Jared Sullinger’s career year on the boards. This team is now poised to blow by that mark and definitively field one the best sets of personnel in that category the team has had in decades.
Heralded as possibly the best Celtics team ever, Larry Bird’s 1986 squad hauled in 46.4 per game (1st in the league). To this point, 1986 and 1990 mark the last two times the franchise eclipsed 46, with this current team rebounding at a 1989 level (44).
This isn’t to compare this roster to some of the greatest in Celtics history, but more to emphasize a clear organizational refocus on rebounds. Through the 2000’s, Boston ranked among the worst in the NBA, and even Paul Pierce’s Big Three teams struggled immensely and even once ranked last in rebounding. That era is over.
While some watch the standings the rest of the way, I’ll be watching the rebounding leaderboards with Monroe in tow.