Boston Celtics Need Elite Rebounding From Their Guards

The Boston Celtics Need their guards to make up for the rebounding they lost this offseason

The Boston Celtics finally got their highly coveted big name free agent in Al Horford, and he will be able to have a significant impact on both ends. Horford alone puts the Celtics in a much better position than they were in last year, but this offseason was not only about gains. Two of the more prominent players in the Celtics’ rotation last year were Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner, and they also happened to be the two most important rebounders on the team.

There was a point last season when Sullinger looked like one of the elite offensive rebounders in the league, and Turner has proven that he is one of the better rebounding guards in the league the last couple seasons. For a team that had a negative rebounding differential last year, there is great cause for concern about what they will be able to do on the boards.

Horford alone should be able to make up a lot of the difference. He has never been an elite rebounder in his career, but he is going to be joining a small team that has little competition for him on the boards. In Atlanta, Horford had Paul Millsap taking on a lot of the rebounding opportunities, and there is no one with that kind of presence on the Celtics.

Horford’s rebounding percentage of 15.4 for his career cannot match Sullinger’s mark of 17.1, but most of that difference is with offensive rebounding. Horford’s defensive rebounding percentage of 22.3 is right behind Sullinger’s career average of 22.8. Sullinger was able to have a significant impact on the game with his offensive boards and Horford will not be able to duplicate that. That being said, he can easily make up for anything that was lost on the defensive boards.

Unfortunately, the best case with Horford is effectively replacing Sullinger on the boards, and that brings them back to where they were as the 20th ranked rebounding team in the league. Taking into account what is lost with Turner, and the Celtics are going to need multiple players to step up or that is going to be a big problem this year.

Turner’s 4.9 rebounds per game are not as important as Sullinger’s but they have no wiggle room when it comes to losing contributions on the boards. Turner’s defensive rebounding percentage of 18 was vital to a Celtics team that could not rebound the ball. The Celtics knew their bigs were not giving them enough rebounds, and Turner did a stellar job of trying to overcome that.

Horford alone cannot hope to make up for losing both those players on the boards, and with how they embrace small ball they need their guards to step up. Isaiah Thomas will not have an opportunity to help in that area, and Avery Bradley‘s 2.9 per game was actually less then Thomas’. The Celtics do, however, have an opportunity to get elite rebounding out of their backup guards, and Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are Boston’s best chance at being a positive rebounding team.

Feb 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) and guard Marcus Smart (36) speak during the first half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Smart was actually not too far behind Turner with 4.2 rebounds per game last year and he is entering a season where he should have a bigger role on the team. Unfortunately, Smart’s rebounding percentages suggest that he needs to be vastly improved to catch up to Turner. His mark of just 7.4 total rebounding percentage means he will need to make big strides this year if he wants to help make up for what they have lost.

Smart plays with the kind of style that could allow for him to have an impact with the boards. The energy and fearlessness that he plays with is a great way to steal rebounds and with Turner off the second unit he should have more opportunities to prove he can have an impact as a rebounder.

The biggest wildcard for the Celtics and their best opportunity at an elite rebounder at any position is Rozier. In limited minutes, his rebounding was nothing short of spectacular last year and there is no doubting that he will get the opportunity to prove he can maintain that over significant playing time.

Per 36 minutes, Rozier collected 7.3 rebounds per game last year, a mark that tops both Smart and Turner. For some league wide perspective, Russell Westbrook, the triple double machine, has a career average of 5.9 rebounds per 36 minutes (although he was over eight last season). What Rozier did was in a far too small sample size, but he always managed to have an impact as a rebounder no matter what situation he was thrusted into. Rozier plays the same kind of intensity that can allow Smart to be a strong rebounder, but he has an added level of athleticism that should lead to better opportunities at collecting the boards.

In terms of rebounds per game, Horford will certainly have the biggest numbers, and will do the most to make up for the loses of Sullinger and Turner. That being said, the Celtics are doomed to regress into an even worse rebounding team if other players do not step up. Jordan Mickey and Jaylen Brown could also come in and have an impact on the boards, but they first need to establish their roles.

Both Smart and Rozier have proven that they can have an impact as rebounders. As it stands right now Smart and Rozier are expected to be two of the three most important players on the second unit. They will certainly be in a great position to have an impact on the boards and if they can both prove to be elite rebounding guards, then the Celtics could actually see improvement from last year.