The New NBA Model for Success: How Close is Boston to Title Contention


Jun 27, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Lucas Nogueira walks on stage as he is selected as the number sixteen overall pick to the Boston Celtics during the 2013 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is, like almost every other professional sport, a copy-cat league. When the Boston Celtics were proclaimed world champions in 2008, they won it using the revolutionary (at the time)  “big 3” model, comprised of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen. Predictably so, this was quickly mimicked by all teams competing for championship honors, as Miami and others began to assemble their own versions.

Fast forward to this season, and the model for success the Warriors used was dominant across major postseason contenders. Space the floor with proficient (to say the least of Golden State) shooters and keep just enough size to dominate the defense end of the glass. The Hawks used this model by spacing out Paul Millsap, the Spurs to an extent space with Duncan, and the Warriors were able to use team MVP’s Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green as pseudo-bigs to run the Cavaliers off the floor.

However, the model may be slowly changing, and the Boston Celtics may have just the right pieces to stay just ahead of the curve and project back into the forefront of the thin and dissipated Eastern Conference.

Sampling this postseason’s last eight remaining teams, I broke down their most successful lineups, which displayed a very intriguing trend.(per

I defined “successful” as net points per-5 man lineup, using data from both the regular season and the postseason. The figures are not per-48 minutes, but rather a cumulative season total, eliminating lineups that were seldom used (lineups that accrued a less realistic plus/minus against weaker opposition).

Team NameLineup (PG, SG, SF, PF, C)Net Plus/Minus total
Cleveland CavaliersIrving, Smith, James, Love, Mozgov+225
Golden State WarriorsCurry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut+397
Chicago BullsRose, Butler, Dunleavy, Gasol, Noah+83
Atlanta HawksTeague, Korver, Carroll, Millsap, Horford+233
Washington WizardsWall, Beal, Pierce, Seraphin, Nene+46
Memphis GrizzliesConley, Lee, Carter, Randolph, Gasol+56
Houston RocketsBeverly, Harden, Ariza, Motiejunas, Howard+79
Los Angeles ClippersPaul, Redick, Barnes, Griffin, Jordan+481

Now, this can be interpreted in a variety of ways. First, you could argue that 7 of the top 10 point guards in the league are on that list with the exception of Houston’s Patrick Beverly.  You could also say that the most successful teams had above average outside shooters at the 2 guard spot with Courtney Lee in Memphis being the only exception there.

Teams with talented rim protectors display a higher net point per-5 man lineup. Championship teams are built around rim protectors who can shoulder the team’s rebounding and defensive duties which allows the 4 spot to be filled by players like Draymond Green, who can create offensive mismatches due to their abilities to put the ball on the floor and shoot from long range. Players like Tristan Thompson and Rudy Gobert will most likely receive max offers, which displays the premium the league places on capable big men.

Think about Cleveland as a smaller sample size. Cleveland was 19-16 on January 5th, sitting in the fifth spot in the lowly East. They dealt for Mozgov and other players in multiple team trades, and the difference was very clear.  The Cavaliers were allowing sixty three percent on field goals within five feet before the acquisition of Mozgov, and since, that number has dropped to fourty six percent on shots around the basket (per Sport VU). Mozgov also kept over eleven percent of offensive possessions alive, good for 20th in the league. These major statistical changes led the Cavaliers to the eventual 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and a trip for Lebron and co. to the NBA finals for the first time since Lebron’s first departure.

The NBA model for success right now seems to be clear: space the floor with shooters, run the offense through a play-making point guard, and anchor the defense with a rim protector.

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Celtic faithful, remain calm, we are almost there. Breaking down the copy-cat model of success in the NBA shows just how close Boston really is to being title contenders again.

At point guard Isaiah Thomas is an above average player who can control play. He was one of the best players in the entire league once he landed in Boston, and was certainly the team’s most valuable player. While he can create a shots for himself, if he could increase his assist-to-turnover ratio while finding teammates for open looks, he can put himself into top-10 point guard discussion in the next two seasons.

At shooting guard Avery Bradley, quietly, has transformed his game into a spot up shooting and defensive specializing combo guard. He works best when he is running off of screens and finding his areas of the floor. He is good enough on the catch and shoot to draw defenders in, and is crafty enough to dish out of those looks to create offense for his teammates. That is a winning model for a starting 2 guard, much the same way Memphis used Courtney Lee.

With the backcourt in order, the Boston Celtics need to make some changes before jumping into title-contention status. However, based on the most successful models used in the NBA, with a solid backcourt and an above average bench, Boston is a dominating center away from being able to line up with the elite teams in this league.

How they can acquire this:

There are a few different ways Boston can acquire this type of big man, and this seems to be the year it could most likely happen. With access to a ton of draft picks, as well as trade exceptions and cap space, Boston could possibly be lining up a move in this years NBA draft for a few players who fit the mold.

Willie Cauley-Stein is projected as the number 8 overall pick to the Detroit Pistons. However, with Andre Drummond already in the ranks, this could be a tempting pick to trade with Detroit. WCS fits the rim protector and inside finishing characteristics that successful big men possess, as many watched him dominate at Kentucky throughout his college career. He could be a player to watch on draft day.

The top free agent centers in this year’s class includes Marc Gasol (arguably the top NBA center), Deandre Jordan, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Timofey Mozgov, and Bismack Biyombo. While I do not see any of these players going to Boston, keep an eye on this space, as it could unfold if the draft doesn’t go according to plan.

Basically, Danny Ainge has proven the unpredictable is always in play. Now, more than ever, he has the pieces in place to make moves for big time players.

The Boston Celtics are close to becoming a force in the Eastern Conference, and if league trends are to hold any insight towards the future, there could be a rather “large” acquisition, either via the draft, trade, or free agency, in the next few weeks.

By: Mikey Fowler