Essay: An Insight Into The Celtics Offense
“Defense wins championships” is the old adage that everyone knows by heart, but a little offense never hurt anyone. The ultimate example of this has been the Boston Celtics, a team that regularly has an elite defense and a terrible offense. In fact, since the Kevin Garnett era started in 2008, the Celtics offensive ratings have ranked like this: 10th, 6th, 15th, 18th, 27th, and, currently, 24th.
An obvious decline has occurred in every season after 2008-09, and many interesting theories have risen to explain the cause. One theory that seems to be growing in popularity is the idea that the emergence of Rajon Rondo has led to the collapse of the Celtics offense. While this sounds reasonable, it seems to be a case of “correlation does not equal causation” in my eyes. Rondo has not exactly helped due to his lack of scoring ability, but the Celtics offensive problems stem from much larger issues.
I have one idea implanted into my head on offensive systems: “The best offenses shoot a lot of 3s and draw a lot of free-throws.” While this is only a basic description, it has some truth. And the worst thing about the Celtics is that they do neither. In the championship year of 2007-08, the Celtics ranked in the top 10 for both threes and free-throws made. The Celtics not have cracked the top 10 for either category since. A real correlation seems to exist between a team’s offensive rating rank and how many 3s and free throws they attempt.
What was the reason for this decline? After all, the Celtics still employed Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, two of the greatest three-point shooters in history. And Pierce has always been pretty good at drawing fouls.) The main reason was the failure of the role players to support Boston’s aging offensive stars.
In 2007-08, the Celtics had James Posey and Eddie House to give them some juice. The role players that would follow would not be able to replicate this. Nor were they aggressive enough in attacking the basket in order to help the team accumulate free-throws. Danny Ainge has done a great job as GM, but the failure of Boston’s role players post-championship is a blemish on his record.
Now, how does Rondo fit into this? It is true that Rondo was a reason that the offense suffered. He directly could not help in those two areas due to his limitations. His own utterly inefficient scoring also hurt. But Rondo cannot be considered a major reason for the downfall of the offense. In fact, his own playmaking ability is one of the things that keep the offense afloat. While the Celtics offense is nothing special with Rondo on the floor, it gets worse with him off.
Here is the main problem I see in the Celtics offense: the system. The Celtics offense is designed around the worst shot in basketball, the long 2, which caps its ceiling. While it allows for a lot of assists to be racked up, depending on so many jump shots can have a team at the mercy of percentages. This concentration on jump shots curbs aggression, which might be channeled into attacking the basket and drawing free throws. While it seems that this system was designed with the personnel in mind, the lack of change despite poor results has been disheartening.
Boston’s offense is as bad as ever this season, but it seems like there is a better chance for a turnaround offensively. Boston’s bench was revamped in the offseason with more talented offensive players. While they obviously have not performed up to expectations, there is still time to come back. While it does not seem reasonable to have a system change in the middle of a bad season, I would like to see the Celtics embrace a fast-paced offense. It finally has the personnel to do it, and it seems easier than settling into the half court for jump shots. “Run and Gun” may suit a team that is claimed as “Rondo’s”.
Offense, whether it be the Celtics or not, is an intricate thing. You cannot win solely based on defense (although there have been exceptions). A versatile and efficient offense combined with a smart defense gives a team the best chance of winning. The Celtics have gone without the former for a couple of years now; only time will tell if this season will be different.