Breaking Down the Boston Celtics' Playbook for 2012-13
With a new-look roster for 2012-13, the Boston Celtics' playbook will also look a bit different. So, what will be the main plays that we see Doc Rivers use most this season?
Now that the Celtics have infused some youth and athleticism into their lineup, you will likely see a notable difference in pace. Boston is now more apt to get out on the break and run, and that could end up making all the difference in what was a frequently stagnant offense last season.
This doesn't mean that the C's will abandon their classic and well-known sets; it just means that we will see more variety in the types of plays that Rivers runs for his team.
So, let's get to those plays (in no particular order).
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This is the bread-and-butter set for every team in the NBA, and it is generally the first play that kids learn when they are just beginning to play the game.
In the Celtics' case, though, the pick-and-roll is actually more of a pick-and-pop. Boston has two of the best (if not the two best, period) mid-range jump shooting big men in the league in Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, and those two formed a deadly combination with Rajon Rondo last season.
It's pretty simple, really. One of Garnett or Bass sets a screen for Rondo, Rondo goes through, and then the player who set the screen steps out for a—hopefully—uncontested jumper. It seemed like we saw it an unlimited amount of times during the C's' 2012 postseason run, and we will continue to see it this season.
It may not only be with K.G. and Bass anymore, though, as the Celtics drafted a good jump shooting big in his own right in Jared Sullinger. Sullinger displayed some fine range at Ohio State, even connecting on 16 of his 40 three-point attempts during his second and final year there. Last year, Boston didn't have any other weapons outside of the aforementioned two in the pick-and-pop game, but now it adds a third in Sullinger.
Again, the play isn't the least bit complicated, but it has proven to work time and time again.
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Now that Ray Allen is gone, we probably won't see this set as often. However, when Allen was there, the Celtics ran this play more effectively than any other team in the league.
Trust me; if you've watched Boston, you've seen the misdirection before, but for those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, I'll explain.
The misdirection generally starts with the point guard passing to one of his wings. The point guard then cuts through the paint and circles back to the spot on the floor where he originally passed the ball. As this is happening, the wing dishes the ball of to one of the big men out on the perimeter.
The big man then hands the ball back off to the point guard as the point guard is finishing his "route" and then sets a screen for the wing. The point guard then passes the ball off to his wing for what is intended to be an open jump shot. The key to all of this though? The basketball stays on one side of the floor the entire time, hence the name "misdirection."
I understand that that is a lot to digest, so click here to see a great video which demonstrates it.
The C's mainly ran this for Allen, but they did run it for Paul Pierce on occasion as well. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee may be new candidates for that role this season.
Still, don't expect to see Boston go with this set as often as it used to. Being the all-time three-point leader, Ray was absolutely perfect for it. Now that he is no longer a Celtic, expect to see the Celtics open up the book a little bit more.
Low Pick and Dish
"Low pick and dish" was the name that I came up with for this play, and it will make sense in a minute.
The Celtics run this simple play an awful lot. It mainly consists of Garnett and Rondo, although Avery Bradley was sometimes involved in place of Rajon last year. Boston also ran this with Rasheed Wallace back when he was a member of the C's.
It starts with a simple entry pass from Rondo (or whomever) into the post to K.G.. Then, Rondo runs baseline. Garnett--even though he has the ball--screens Rondo's man, generally leaving the point guard wide open underneath the basket for a layup. Now you see where the name "low pick and dish" comes from. Get the ball into K.G. down low, dish to Rondo for the easy bucket.
There is another variation of this set as well, where Rondo does the same thing by getting the ball into the post to Garnett and cutting baseline. However, this time, Rondo continues his route and goes to the other side of the floor, giving K.G. an isolation on the low block.
This set has proven to be very effective for the Celtics.
Work Through the Post
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Last year, Garnett was the only player the Celtics could depend on to score down low. The offense seemed to flow best when it was run through K.G. in the post, as it opened everything else up.
Now, it doesn't look like K.G. will be alone in that regard anymore. Boston selected the best post player in the draft in Sullinger, and he could very well maintain the C's' offense on the low block when Garnett goes to the bench.
Working through the post is not just about scoring, either. It's also about drawing double teams and, in turn, opening teammates up for easy looks underneath the basket or from the perimeter. If Sullinger can take the skills he demonstrated in college and put them on display in his rookie season, the Celtics' offense may end up being deadly.
Historically, Doc doesn't like playing rookies all that much, but the reasoning behind that is that Boston hasn't had any truly impressive rookies since K.G. arrived in 2007. The C's just haven't had good enough draft picks to accumulate that kind of talent.
This time, however, they were fortunate enough to have Sullinger fall into their laps. Don't kid yourself: the kid will get minutes.
Paul Pierce Isolation
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This is a play that Rivers generally goes to late in games. Pierce is one of the best in the league at scoring in big moments, so it's only natural that this play is run for him.
There really isn't much to it, to be honest. It generally consists of Pierce getting the ball—by way of a pass from Rondo or an inbounds pass—at the top of the key and simply going to work.
If you have watched Pierce at all, you know that his sweet spot is the right elbow. He likes to take a few dribbles, stare his man down, and then shoot over the top of his defender from about 15-17 feet out.
It's so ordinary and so repetitive, yet Pierce still finds a way to make it work.
That said, this play should only be used under special circumstances. I don't think it takes a basketball guru to realize that running a high volume of isolations throughout the game is likely to kill any kind of flow a team has offensively.
This is somewhat similar to the "low pick and dish," but, as a whole, different.
Last year, Bradley demonstrated an uncanny ability to get himself open by cutting to the basket, and Rondo would deliver his usual pinpoint passes to a wide open Bradley for an easy two. Expect to see more of that this season.
Pierce is also good at getting himself free for high percentage looks, and don't be surprised to see Terry follow suit with his new team. He was more of a shooter and slasher with the Dallas Mavericks, but now that he is a part of a different offense, he may be more inclined to add more features to his offensive repertoire.
To be brutally honest, it is puzzling how NBA teams can frequently allow players to so effortlessly get themselves open like this, but it works, and the Celtics do it as well as—or better than—anybody.
One Word: Run
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For the first time in years, the Celtics have a group of players who can be effective in transition.
It's no secret that Rondo is most dangerous when he can utilize his extraordinary court vision out in the open floor. With new additions such as Lee and Terry and guys like Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox making their way back, expect to see a whole lot of that this season.
If there was one thing that caused Boston's scoring droughts last season, it was the fact that the offense was too slow. Too many times, a possession would be wasted on waiting for Allen to run through multiple screens to get open while Rondo dribbled the air out at the top of the key.
That tended to work a couple of years ago when Ray was healthier and the C's had better pick-setters (like Kendrick Perkins). Last season, though, Allen was playing on a bad ankle, and Garnett was really the only one who could set effective screens.
This year, that will no longer be a part of the Celtics' playbook. Replacing it will be, quite simply, scoring on the fast break.
Now that Rondo has more personnel that fits his style, look out for a monster year from the floor general.