Think about this question for a second: Who was the best rebounder on the 2011-12 Boston Celtics?
Was it really Rajon Rondo? The Celtics' best rebounding player happens to be their 6'1", 185-pound point guard.
Boston's rebounding woes were somewhat understandable given the injury decimation and personnel they went through last season. While understandable, however, they are still entirely unacceptable. For a team that prides itself on defensive basketball as much as the Celtics, 38.8 rebounds per game is purely unacceptable.
The Celtics finished dead-last in rebounding in 2011-12. This hasn't been a recent development. Boston finished 29th in rebounding in both 2010-11 and 2009-10. The rebounding deficit has been going on for quite a few years without being properly addressed.
This consistency tells us that we can't simply blame last season's frustrating debacle on injury. This has been a multi-year study, with a lot of changing variables.
So, what is it that causes the Boston Celtics of the past three years to fail at rebounding? With all the emphasis that gets placed on defense, particularly thanks to the culture change implemented by Kevin Garnett, one would assume rebounding is included. Apparently, it is not and that has become an issue.
It has become an issue, when in the four losses to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston surrendered an average of 11.25 offensive boards a game. They were out-rebounded by 7.5 in these games as well. These types of things make it very tough to win against good teams. Teams like Miami make you pay for second-chance opportunities.
As ESPNBoston.com analyst, Chris Forsberg puts it,
The Celtics have always been a defense-first team, but they've shot themselves in the foot by struggling in those three facets [turnovers, pace of play and rebounding] of the game. Turnovers and sloppy ball-handling have limited Boston's offensive chances (as Rivers noted, his team is actually pretty good when it gets a shot at the rim). Those missed opportunities put a larger strain on the defense, which hasn't helped its own cause by being atrocious on the glass and allowing second- (and third- and fourth-) chance opportunities.
This season, it appears Boston has gone the route of stock-piling big men in hopes of finding a rebounder or two.
The first step was using two first-round picks on frontcourt players, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. On top of that, they obviously retained Kevin Garnett with a new contract, re-signed Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass, and went after Jason Collins and Darko Milicic in free agency. Together this will make up the majority of the frontcourt in 2012-13.
By virtue of their previous success, Boston will begin this season with Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett as the starting frontcourt. Immediately, there is a problem with the rebounding. Not to say either of these players are subpar rebounders, but their tendencies lean toward perimeter-oriented basketball. Both starters are jump-shooting bigs which leaves them out of position on the offensive end.
Offensive rebounds? That is just another category Boston found themselves looking up at the entire NBA in. Their measly 7.7 offensive boards per game was a little embarrassing. This is a stat in which the Celtics have ranked last in each of the past three seasons. The 7.7 was a full two rebounds less per game than the Golden State Warriors, who finished 29th in 2011-12.
In all fairness, this is talking a lot about the past. Boston made some changes this summer and are undoubtedly a better team for it. Still, their frontcourt depth isn't going to drastically affect their rebounding problems. Not when the core remains the same, with the same laissez-faire action towards rebounding. For some reason, the Celtics defensive intensity ends at the moment an altered shot leaves the opponent's hands.
The Celtics utilize a more team-oriented rebounding approach. They have a lot of players who grab a fair amount of rebounds. However, observing the teams who finished atop the rebounding list in 2011-12, there is a trend. Chicago, Los Angeles, Utah, Indiana and Minnesota make up the top five. Each team has one or two elite rebounders. Eight of the top 10 rebounding teams were playoff teams, as well.
Boston has no elite rebounders. Garnett just isn't there anymore. He may never lose steps on defense, but he has lost a step or two rebounding the basketball. His per-48 minute numbers are down a full rebound from the 2007-08 season, and down three boards from his final seasons in Minnesota.
Pairing Garnett with Bass, a player whose per-48 minute numbers are somewhat alarming, doesn't grant you even an average rebounding team. The past two seasons for Bass, he has averaged roughly 29 minutes per game, but only six rebounds. The six boards mean there isn't a concerted effort being made to rebound. Any power forward in the league, with his minutes, height and size, can grab six loose rebounds a game on uncontested misses or free throws.
The Celtics depth in 2012-13 should be more talented than the past few seasons have granted, but rebounding takes more than talent. Rebounding is an effort statistic, and it involves a particular player or game plan to execute. One the Celtics have not had in recent years.
Milicic isn't going to come in and change a culture, nor are Sullinger or Melo. They may have more ability rebounding than Greg Stiemsma, Jermaine O'Neal and Ryan Hollins, but how much an impact will that really make? This is something that has to change within the core of the team, and that includes Doc Rivers.
However, with winning can come complacency. Complacency isn't something you worry about with a veteran team, particularly one with as much intensity as Boston. Still, complacency isn't quite the same thing as seeing something that is working (in this case deep playoff runs) and continuing on that path.
Boston has finished at the bottom of the NBA rebounding barrel, and still succeeded. There is no alarming need for change, because this can be swept under the green rug.
For most franchises, playing seven games into the Eastern Conference finals is a very good season.
For Boston it can't be. Lest they continue on with this rebounding ignorance, I'm afraid it will once again be their demise.