Most Startling Statistics of Boston Celtics' Season So Far
The Boston Celtics are a hardly-startling 4-6 to open the 2014-15 NBA season. While the win-loss record was pretty much expected, there have been some eye-popping statistics which have contributed to their start.
Both good and bad, the Celtics have provided some interesting numbers for fans to examine over their first few weeks of play. Playing under a system developed by second-year head coach Brad Stevens, Boston has certainly upped its pace. This has led to some intriguing statistical developments.
While there is still no substitute for watching the team play a complete game, these figures, ratios and differentials can add to our understanding of what is happening on the court and why.
Boston is two games under .500 through about one-eighth of its season. Rather than just saying this is because the Celtics are bad or look terrible defensively, utilize some of the available information to back up your argument.
Here are some neatly organized descriptions and explanations to a handful of Boston's most startling statistics.
Tyler Zeller's Incredible Start
Playing with a point guard like Rajon Rondo, as opposed to a point guard like Kyrie Irving, was definitely supposed to provide Tyler Zeller with a better opportunity to be an efficient scorer.
This, however, has blown away his and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge's wildest dreams. Zeller is shooting 83.3 percent from the field, having missed just five of his first 30 shots in a green uniform.
Over the summer, Ainge acquired Zeller from the Cleveland Cavaliers for next to nothing. The move seemed to be merely a favor to help Cleveland clear salary-cap space for bigger things. However, it did give Boston a legitimate center who was still young and could be molded.
While the player is averaging a mere 6.6 points in 13.8 minutes per game, the efficiency with which he has been able to put up those numbers has been startling. He is 22-of-25 (88 percent) from the restricted area, meaning he has taken only five field-goal attempts that haven't been right at the rim.
The reputation Zeller has for being a very good offensive pick-and-roll player has only been accentuated by playing with Rondo. Boston's star distributor has been responsible for helping on nine of Zeller's 21 assisted-on baskets.
Zeller has been playing very well for the Celtics and recently posted his best game of the season. Against the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 17, he had 19 points and seven rebounds, shooting 8-of-9 from the field.
If he keeps his efficiency up, there will be more minutes for him as the season progresses.
Team-Wide Scoring Boom
For comparison's sake, the 2013-14 Celtics scored 100-plus points just 27 times total. They didn't reach their eighth such game until Dec. 18, 2013. The current Celtics are on pace to crush that total, and there are a handful of reasons as to why.
The most obvious one is the addition of Rondo.
It was Jan. 17 before he played a game last season, and the Celtics instantly scored 104 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. By the time March rolled around, Rondo was getting back to his old self. The team reeled off five triple-digit games in the 12 he played that month.
Outside of Rondo, the seeds for this high-scoring start were planted last year by Stevens. In just eight April 2014 games, Boston dumped 100-plus points on its opponents six times. Four of those games were played with Rondo on the bench.
Stevens has upped Boston's pace incredibly to open his second season at the helm. The Celtics are running in transition more often than they have in many years and doing so successfully.
We knew going into this season that Boston would face seven straight playoff teams from last year to open things, and 12 of their first 15 games would come against such opponents. This level of scoring is definitely something to take a deeper look at.
Rajon Rondo's Free-Throw Shooting
One major spot for concern has to be Rondo's free-throw shooting.
Boston's star point guard is now 8-of-24, or an abysmal 33.3 percent, from the free-throw line this season.
His overall shooting is still a point of contention for critics, as he is just 10-of-35 on jump shots this season. However, as long as he can get to the rim, his field-goal percentage will remain in the mid-to-high 40s.
The real concern has to be his shortcomings from the charity stripe. In a recent loss to the Suns on Nov. 17, Rondo shot 2-of-10 from the line. With his team trailing by four and with two seconds remaining, Boston's captain was fouled when shooting a three. He missed all three of his free throws, sealing the loss.
In his ninth NBA season, it is time to really consider this a permanent detriment to his game and overall standing in the league.
While he hasn't become a liability closing games the way DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond have, coaches will eventually catch on to his inability to ice games at the line.
Stevens has already begun trying to find solutions to this. He has had Rondo make the inbounds pass on late possessions in tight games to ensure he won't be fouled.
After spending a year recovering from an ACL tear, there was hope that Rondo was maybe working on his free-throw shooting during that time. There was little else he could do basketball-wise. The broken hand excuse doesn't hold much water considering it was his off hand (left) that was fractured in his preseason shower tumble.
He has sought help form free-throw expert Cob Carlson in the past, but it doesn't appear to be working right now. There is even a testimonial quote from Rondo on Carlson's website.
It is still early in his first season really back from a couple of injuries, but 8-of-24 is a terrible way to start and he has a long way to go to climb back to respectability.
Celtics' Defensive Rating Abysmal
While that is hardly an accomplishment worthy of merit, the Celtics haven't had much to praise on the defensive end this season. Just as we praised them earlier for scoring over 100 points in eight of 10 games this season, they have to be held accountable for allowing 100-plus points just as many times.
The Celtics are giving up 110.2 points per 100 possessions. As bad as they were last year, they finished the season 20th in the NBA with a 107.7 rating. During their title-winning season in 2007-08, the Celtics led the league with a 98.9 rating.
While all the scoring Boston is doing is great and a lot of fun to watch, when it comes to winning when it matters, this is the number the Celtics have to focus on. For a team with 17 banners hanging above its head, that supposedly is about championships and not regular seasons, its defense has been borderline insulting.
Perhaps some of this number can be attributed to bad luck, such as the Marcus Smart injury. However, a fair amount of it is poor planning and drafting. Fab Melo was supposed to be a rim protector but isn't in the league anymore.
In 2008, still riding high from its championship, Boston grabbed J.R. Giddens 30th overall.
Over the summer of 2013, prior to all the Doc Rivers drama and trade moratorium between the teams, ESPNLosAngeles.com and Yahoo Sports reported that there may have been a chance for the Celtics to get Jordan from the Clippers for Kevin Garnett. For whatever reason, that never happened and the current Celtics are much worse defensively because of it.
Boston has plenty of picks coming up, but the path to a legitimate defense doesn't look to be an easy one.
Consistent Rain in Boston
To go along with Boston's struggles on the defensive end, there are problems beyond those that a rim protector could solve.
Opponents are shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc against the Celtics in 2014-15. That is the 27th-worst mark in the league right now. Still, more concerning than just the defensive woes resulting in that number is the three-point differential.
Offensively, Boston is shooting just 30.5 percent from three-point land on 23.3 attempts per game. That represents 1.3 more attempts a night than its opponents, while being 9 percent less effective.
This is not a recipe for success.
To be fair, Boston has been missing arguably its best perimeter defender in Marcus Smart for the last half of its first 10 games. With his 6-of-25 three-point shooting, though, the ratio certainly hasn't been affected too badly.
Jeff Green has to be looked at as the biggest culprit right now. After shooting a very respectable 34.1 percent on 4.8 threes per game last season, he has taken it upon himself to jack up another 1.1 a night in 2014-15.
Unfortunately, that 34.1 percent has dropped to 28.8 percent and Green has bricked 42 of his first 59 threes this year.
Jared Sullinger certainly wasn't taken aback by his 56-of-208 performance from behind the line a season ago. He has missed 20 of his first 25 threes in 2014-15 and shows no signs of stopping his attempt to expand his game.
For a guy shooting 70.9 percent from the restricted area, maybe 2.5 three-point attempts per game isn't the best idea.
The Celtics made it a point to shoot more threes in the early going of this season. It has helped their pace, but without enough quality shooters, it is a detriment.
Through their first seven games of the season, the Celtics were averaging 26.1 attempts per game. Over the most recent three games, however, they have shot just 50 combined. Whether that is a new trend or not remains to be seen, but it is a startling statistic to keep an eye on.
Speedy Celtics on the Move
One thing Stevens has definitely been implementing since his hiring a year-and-a-half ago has been pace.
The Celtics are the NBA's third-quickest team, getting off 100.1 possessions per 48 minutes.
This has aided in a lot of the different statistics we have talked about here, including the scoring boom, Boston's defensive woes and the three-point shooting issues. The Celtics are getting off shots very early in the shot clock and are right now only out-paced by the Golden State Warriors and 76ers.
Clearly, by those two teams ahead of Boston, one can tell that this isn't a stat that will determine wins and losses. However, it does show us a bit of the differences between Stevens' Celtics and Rivers' Celtics.
Immediately upon taking over, Stevens quickened things up. Utilizing the skill set of Jordan Crawford, the Celtics had a pace of 95.85 in November of 2013. They finished Stevens' rookie season with a pace of 95.88.
Now, through 10 games of 2014-15, the Celtics are moving as fast as they have in a long time. It signals a shift in philosophy among the coaching staff just as much as it illustrates the change in personnel.
Individually, Rondo is the guy to look at as a gauge. While healthy for the first 38 games of 2012-13, Rivers' final season in Boston, his All-Star point guard held a pace of 94.87. Through nine games played in 2014-15, presumably fully healthy again, Rondo is at a pace of 100.74.
Like we can see from the league's two leaders in this category, it isn't a definitive path to success. However, if you're looking for a reason as to why Stevens' 2014-15 Celtics are a little funner than in a few of the previous years under Rivers, here you go.
New season, new Twitter handle.