Under head coach Brad Stevens, the Boston Celtics have formed their identity on the defensive side of the ball. If the preseason is any indication of what is to come, that could change in a hurry.
Let’s face it, the Celtics had a lackluster showing at best in their four preseason games. After splitting their two-game series with the lowly Hornets, they dropped a goose egg two matches in a row to the LeBron-less Cavaliers.
While there is plenty to take away from these games, nothing is more interesting than what we saw from the team’s offensive production. Boston put up a whopping 92.5 shots per contest, including 104 attempts in the preseason opener.
Why does this matter?
Contrary to popular belief, more shots don’t necessarily equate to greater prosperity.
There is a direct negative correlation between the number of shots a team takes per game and the sustained level of success that team has. Last year, the Chicago Bulls led the league in shots attempted, with 88.8 per game. They finished the regular season with a 27-55 record.
In fact, only two teams since the 2006-07 Warriors have seen a playoff game after leading the league in shots taken. One of them (2013 Bucks) finished with a sub .500 record but slipped in as an 8th seed in an otherwise poor Eastern Conference.
The last team to average over 90 attempts per contest were the 2008 Warriors. They did not reach the playoffs.
Considering the major increase in tempo from the offense over the course of the preseason, could this be an area of concern for the Celtics moving forward?
It certainly could be. Yes, it was the pre-season. Yes, it was only 4 games. Yes, the team severely lacked effort and any sense of urgency in these contests. However, this is a much different team than the one that was knocked out a win shy of the NBA Finals last season.
Jayson Tatum is a year older, and, along with third-year wing Jaylen Brown, will look to take the next step in his development. Kyrie Irving is seeking to regain his image as the face of the franchise. All-Star forward Gordon Hayward is back from a major injury seeking redemption. Long story short, this team is immensely talented.
In order to accommodate such a deep and skilled roster, the pressure mounts to speed up the tempo of the offense. As a result, one of two things will happen.
A well-coached group that puts aside their egos and forgoes stat chasing for the greater good of the team will be in good shape to handle the uptick in the pace of play. Golden State is a prime example of a team that executes this well. The Warriors boasted four All-Stars last season (2 starters) yet finished 24th in the league in field goals attempted per game. Steve Kerr mans the helm well in Oakland and gets his guys to buy into the ultimate goal of raising another banner every year. As a result, the volume of shots are low while the quality of them are high.
Talented teams who fail to overcome the obstacle of managing such depth tend to fall victim to an inefficient playstyle that isn’t conducive to sustained success. Take the 2013 Lakers, for example. Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Steve Nash were a failed attempt at a big 3 because of their inability to put aside their individual agendas for the greater good of the team.
The Celtics are a well-coached group who have (thus far) correctly answered all of the questions around their talent ‘issue’. But talking the talk and walking the walk are two different things. If the preseason gives any insight into what the regular season has in store, this team could fall prey to the inefficient play style that has plagued many talented groups in the past.
Prior to the beginning of preseason, we noted a hope that Boston would play at a faster pace than their 20th ranked offense from a year ago because of the speed advantage they will have at most positions when Al Horford mans the center spot.
In their four preseason games, the Celtics did indeed push the pace, but they did so with an impatience that produced poor quality shots and led to the team shooting a cringe-worthy 24.7 percent from three-point range.
If Boston wants to improve on its offense from last season, the players will need to not only push to take advantage of fast break opportunities, but also display the discipline to demand a good shot down the floor each time, whether it comes as the result of a transition scoring chance, or 24 seconds of half-court offense. It’s a fine line to walk, but no team has more tailored talent and personnel to pull it off.
While the threat is real, it is unlikely that a team headed by one of the best and brightest coaches the league has to offer would fail to achieve success given the surplus of talent on the roster. As long as everybody continues to buy into Brad Steven’s game plan, this team is capable of accomplishing great things.