No more Rajon Rondo, no more Jared Sullinger and no more Leandro Barbosa. This Boston Celtics team is doomed, right? It's clearly time to blow up the roster, move stars and mentally prepare for a tumultuous immediate future, right?
Not so fast Celtics fans. Despite being stricken with an injury bug comparable to the plague that effectively ended the 2012 campaign of the Boston Red Sox, this basketball team is alive and fighting.
After a very convincing streak of eight wins in nine games including a season-high seven in a row, I am personally convinced that this team has what it takes to make a deep playoff run. That's not to say they don't need to make any adjustments on the floor.
In fact, there is one major strategic flaw that stands out to me, and the Celtics must fix it if they stand any chance at a legitimate title run: shot selection.
Before I dive into an analysis of the Cs' field-goal choices and efficiency in the first half of the season, let's clear a few things up.
If you're one of the thousands of fans screaming for a trade to add a big man to improve team rebounding and interior defense, I sympathize and tend to agree that it couldn't hurt. But bear with me here because I no longer believe the Celtics' rebounding—or lack thereof—is the most detrimental element of this year's team.
In order to see where I'm coming from, I need you to open your mind to some important aspects of NBA play in 2013.
First, the league—led by its biggest and baddest superstar LeBron James—is transitioning toward a battle of athleticism, where pure size isn't necessarily the most valuable asset. The NBA champion Miami Heat team won the whole thing without a true center just last year. Mid-sized forwards are becoming the most potent offensive players both in the post and from the perimeter.
Second, the teams in the Eastern Conference that the Celtics would need to beat to reach the Conference Finals—we're legitimately talking Knicks, Bulls and Heat—are going to go as far as their guards and forwards can take them.
Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the importance of All-Star Tyson Chandler to New York and Joakim Noah to Chicago, but neither of the two will be impossible to scheme against in a seven-game series against Boston. Most dangerous are Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks, as well as Luol Deng and potentially Derrick Rose pending a healthy return for the Bulls.
Lastly, the Celtics did not have a competitive advantage at rebounding before this host of injuries. If anything, the three big personnel losses force them to finally accept an identity and play without trying to be something they never were.
Which is why it is simply unacceptable that the Celtics are ranked No. 22 in the league in shot attempts at the rim, and No. 28 from within three-to-nine feet.
Let's clarify. Boston averages 23.6 attempts per game from point blank. We're talking under the rim, in the paint, can't get any closer to the cup without going out of bounds. The Celtics' average is good for a full 12.2 attempts per game behind the league-leading Denver Nuggets, who average 35.8.
Also please notice that despite the fact that Miami takes less shots at the basket than Boston on average, they convert 72.3 percent to Boston's 65.6 percent.
Even more striking is the average of only 7.2 attempts per night between three and nine feet. This is a huge problem. Considering that Kevin Garnett is one of the best post players of his generation, Jeff Green can virtually fly and the team is shooting only 34 percent from beyond the arc, failing to consistently bring the ball to the cup is a bad choice.
Again, the Celtics aren't converting a high percentage from close range—or long range. While I advocate for them to continue to work the ball inside, they could cover up the fact that they shoot more from outside the key if they drained more of their inside looks.
So how can Doc Rivers address this issue of shot selection without disrupting the rhythm that Boston created before the All-Star break?
The Celtics are leaning on a committee of guards—none of whom are truly designed for the point guard position—and an undersized frontcourt consisting of Garnett, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. Rondo is no longer around to facilitate the half-court offensive designs that Doc draws up on the sidelines.
In my humble opinion, the Celtics need to pick up the pace. It's finally time for Green, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley to grab the season by the horns and get this team running. The youthful athletes need to attack the rim more consistently to create high percentage inside looks for both themselves and teammates. This team does not have the shooters to live and die by the deep ball.
Jeff Green flourishing as Boston Celtics harness his energy es.pn/12I0PvZ— ESPNBoston (@ESPNBoston) February 15, 2013
While a slowed-down strategy may benefit the Celtics' half-court defense—among the grittiest in the league—it severely hampers the potential for Boston's most gifted physical athletes to take advantage of the opposition in transition.
Further, some guys admittedly have older legs—looking at you Paul Pierce, KG and Jason Terry—but that won't be an excuse come playoff time. Hustle and burst to both the ball and hoop will be a defining factor in the 2013 postseason.
If they can accomplish a higher rate of play after retrieving the ball on defense, the primary scorers and the quality of their opportunities should benefit greatly. Until then, the Celtics are definitively on the outside of the NBA Finals picture looking in.
Heck, they may be anyway. But they can still get better and give it one more shot. I'll definitely be tuned in to see them try.
All stats used are courtesy of Hoopdata.com