Despite the fact that the Celtics are off to a 10-2 start, there is cause for some concern if their goal is to remain at the apex of the NBA's elite.
While much of the focus has been on the slow starts to games, the major problem is that they are not dominating teams like they did last year. Teams may have a little extra energy (the seemingly ubiquitous buzzword that everyone likes to cite as the reason for a victory), especially right off the tip, when facing the Celtics this year given their defending champion status.
However, this is not statistically significant and probably balances out during the duration of a game. What do the numbers say about the differences between this year's team and last?
The Celtics shooting is down across the board, with Ray Allen the only starter to post something close to last year's numbers. Many of the Celtics had career years or close to it in True Shooting Percentage (combination of FG percentage and FT percentage that also accounts for three-point shooting) last year, as players became more efficient with their shot selection.
So, while we may expect somewhat of a regression down towards the mean, we should see the team's shooting improve from where it is now.
Even more concerning has been the play of opposing PG's. Last year, the green had an advantage (albeit a small one, +.7) in terms of PG production, while this year the C's have thus far had a significant deficit (-3.6;PER production stats are from 82games.com).
This is something that needs further review before making a blanket statement. Shooting guard has been a bright spot as one can point to Ray Allen's consistency combined with Tony Allen's defense of opposing shooting guards for the improvement there.
Overall the production of the frontcourt has been down significantly, which can be elucidated by a few key points.
The loss of James Posey clearly hurts on both ends of the floor, in particular on offense because of his ability to spread the floor. Because there are fewer shooters on the court, defenders are able to help on penetration without having to pay the piper. With defenses collapsing a little more this year, inside shots have become tougher and thus the overall drop in shooting.
Beyond the numbers, one would expect defenses to catchup to a new offense, similar to a new pitcher in baseball struggling a little more his second time through the league. The book on the stopping the C's offense would be to stop penetration by PP and Rondo and let the jump shooters beat you.
Thus far, in the two losses and some of the close wins PP and Rondo have been dreadful, meaning the good teams are executing the strategy to perfection. Combine that with Garnett's playmaking opportunities minimized this year due to less frequent double teams and you can see why the offense hasn't quite found it's rhythm.
One of the major keys for the C's going forward is Rondo's development. From what we have seen thus far, Rondo has lost confidence in his shot and has taken steps backward. He has to find a way to be Tony Parker effective from 15-18 feet during the year.
If his jumper can find any kind of consistency then they don't have to bring in House at the end of the game.
The starting five have played quite poorly together, so it's worth asking is there a better combination?
I like Perkins' game and it's nice to have Powe coming off the bench, but it's worth taking a look at Powe starting at PF with KG at C. Alternatively, if Rondo struggles, another option would be to start Powe in lieu of a PG, but that presents another whole set of issues. The reality though is that Doc will most likely not tinker with the starting lineup.
On the other hand, we can be sure he will make changes to the lineup closing games out.
Check back for more insightful thoughts on the C's.