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Can the Celtics’ young centers turn Boston into Lob City?

How can the Celtics make the most of their new group of bigs? How about more dunks?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Errant lob passes left a lot of points on the table for the Celtics last season. What the current big rotation may lack in experience and defensive prowess, it can potentially make up for in athleticism. While we see the current NBA as a three-point shooter’s league, I would argue that scoring in transition, off cuts, and at the rim remain equally important. The efficiency of a shot - not the distance - is what counts. And for the sake of my own sanity, I’d just like to see the Celtics generate more easy scoring opportunities next year instead of relying on contested shots in isolation. That means more cuts, more free throws, and more dunks. With Vincent Poirier, Daniel Theis, and Robert Williams all looking to carve out a role on a murky depth chart, I’d like to see Boston to become the NBA’s next Lob City.

Smart passing

I dug up some clips with the goal of finding patterns in some of Boston’s successful alley-oop plays involving lobber-in-chief Marcus Smart as a passer. Here’s a nice one:

And for comparison, here’s a Poirier slam:

There are two things I’d like to point out here:

  1. The effectiveness of faking a pick. Al Horford and Gordon Hayward both set picks without really putting a body on the defender, yet D’Aaron Fox still reacts as if Horford is blocking him from staying in front of Smart. I’ve always thought of lazy picks as something that would ruin a play, but I’ve begun to notice that a lot of ‘lazy’ picks are crucial to a successful play if you can get a defender to hesitate like Fox does. The pick set by Poirier was about the same: a quick tap up top before going to the basket.
  2. The off-ball movement. Jaylen Brown switching places with Hayward tangled up the defense enough that Corey Brewer and Harrison Barnes weren’t in position to give any weak side help. With Smart blowing by Fox and Harry Giles moving over to stop him, Horford has an open path to the rim.

Another thing to note about a lot of Poirier’s highlights is that he can get away with silly stuff like this, where the defense doesn’t have a clue:

Although, the NBA isn’t all that different sometimes…

One development I’d like to see next season is Daniel Theis further developing his skills as a roll man as one of Boston’s more experienced bigs in the absence of Horford. He’s already got some experience to build on, shown here:

Same idea as before, but with a good, hard screen up top before rolling.

Adding Kemba Walker

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics have ranked 27th and 24th in attempts at the rim over the past two seasons. In 2018-19, they were seventh in long mid-range attempts. Irving and Horford made up a sizeable portion of the team’s total mid-range attempts, while Kemba Walker has eliminated them from his diet in favor of shooting threes. Check out this progression (credit to CTG):

Boston ranked 29th on corner threes (34 FG%) last season while ranking 10th in attempts (8%), so while I’m not expecting Kemba to be a miracle cure for all of Boston’s issues on offense, I’m hopeful that he can take the right shots and improve the team’s overall efficiency. Or, look at it this way: finding more opportunities at the rim is a realistic payoff to drawing defenders out to the perimeter. Mid-range shots can still be valuable, but it takes exceptional efficiency to benefit from them as much as league-average three-point shooting would.

My greatest hopes for the next season are setting a pretty low bar compared to some of you. I want the team to be likable, and I want to watch good basketball games. That’s it. This team can exceed expectations (which I assume are lower than before) if they can overcome some of the mental barriers of last season and take advantage of their athleticism, particularly at the center position. And while I think Boston’s bigs have a lot of potential, I’m not getting so far ahead of myself as to assume we have even remotely enough depth at center, barring immense summer improvements across multiple players. Robert Williams is seriously one of the most athletic centers I’ve ever seen, so I’ll have a close eye on his progress during Summer League.

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