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The Celtics’ putback problem

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When it comes to put backs, the Celtics are the least efficient team in the league. How can they make the most of their offensive rebounds given their struggles finishing around the rim?

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The last few iterations of the Boston Celtics haven’t been known as strong rebounding teams. This year is no exception. Offensive rebounding specialist Enes Kanter was added, and yet the Celtics can’t finish around the rim to save their lives. Or can they?

Only four teams in the NBA average less than one point per possession on put backs, per Synergy. From best to worst: the Portland Trail Blazers, the Orlando Magic, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Boston Celtics. Cut out Portland, and you’re left with the only three teams shooting less than 50% on those attempts.

Here’s the breakdown on individual numbers:

If you haven’t realized by now, Jaylen Brown has been really efficient this year. Robert Williams has had some great moments cleaning up the boards in his limited playing time as well. Enes Kanter is known for this exact stat, and yet he’s been average at best. So what gives?

In many cases, the Celtics’ lack of size holds them back on the boards. There are, however, a number of missed shots where size has nothing to do with it. Here are two plays I picked out of the Philly game to explain my biggest gripe with the team’s rebounding habits.

First of all, the Celtics’ tendency to try and slap an offensive rebound through the net is driving me insane.

Second, look where the Sixers are in the second clip. There are four in the paint, with the fifth standing just outside of it. Furkan Korkmaz is in somewhat of a position to close out on Jaylen Brown on a kick out, except he isn’t even looking at him. Matisse Thybulle is briefly in a position to close out on Jayson Tatum before turning his back completely.

Let’s quickly review the two most important shots in basketball: dunks and three-pointers. Layups are good, too. I don’t want to argue whether or not Grant’s tip-in attempt in the second clip was a good shot or not. We already know what the best shots are and we know which one of them was available. A tip-in from that distance is undoubtedly worse than the other options.

Adding insult to injury, Grant also shows us why offensive rebounding numbers have been declining league-wide by getting plowed by an Al Horford screen after the second rebound attempt and allowing the Sixers to play their next possession with one less defender to worry about.

My proposed solution is sticking to what Grant does in the first clip above. Even if it takes an extra second to score, most of the team is well capable of scoring down low over an outstretched arm. In fact, the Celtics have taken the league lead in efficiency on post ups. And who might their most efficient post player be?

On a tiny sample size, Grant is the league’s most efficient post player, taking Jaylen’s spot at the top. This isn’t enough data to make the case for anything, although I think it would warrant more than seven minutes of action against a physical team like the Sixers.

I wrote recently about how post-ups are rightfully dying out, so it’s not like I’d typically advocate for turning offensive rebounds into post-up opportunities. But in this particular case, where we have a team that is simultaneously the least efficient on put backs and the most efficient on post ups, I think some middle ground could be reached. Of course, a kick-out for an open three is even better, but anything other than haphazard tip-ins works for me.