The Boston Celtics are an elite passing team, but their new shooting could bring them to the next level
The Boston Celtics flipped over a massive portion of their roster, and yet the sense is that they have not lost their identity. Brad Stevens’ system will govern everything and in the end, no matter who the personnel is, ball movement is going to be key.
The biggest difference this season should be the finishing. The Celtics will look to maintain the same phenomenal team ball movement from a season ago, but this time they have the players to hit all the open shots they create.
The problem is that the Golden State Warriors have set an absurd standard for passing in the NBA. The have great, natural ball movement, and they have more shooting than we have ever seen before.
The move the ball and they never hesitate to take any of the open shots, leading to arguably the most unstoppable offense the league has ever seen.
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The Celtics will not be able to put up the numbers that the Warriors do, but in terms of pure passing, they may be closer than we realize.
The Celtics will never catch up to the Warriors when it comes to shooting, but they are at a point where they will have fewer and fewer liabilities on the floor, and there is a good chance that all five starters will be trusted threats from three.
The biggest problem the Celtics had was missing their open shots. Their distribution numbers are already phenomenal, but missing open shots will always hold them back.
One key for the Celtics is how they move the ball. It is never a matter of one instigator making all the plays. Instead, it is much better to move the ball as a team. Everyone on the team will get assists, even though no individual will even come close to the league leaders.
It is all about team fluid movement, and the Celtics are just waiting for the shooting to catch up to the passing. With Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris on top of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Al Horford, the Celtics have one of the most dangerous offensive lineups in the league, and missing open shots should be a distant memory.
One remarkable aspect of Boston’s passing last season is how they had the third most assists per game, without a single player breaking even the seven assist per game barrier. The Celtics used guards who were all comfortable playing on and off the ball, spreading out the assists, as well as the best passing center in the league, to orchestrate one of the highest functioning offenses in the league.
The problem: the Celtics had just the 16th ranked shooting percentage in the league, while the top two assists teams, Denver and Golden State, were both in the top six. The problem has never been ball movement and the problem has never been getting open shots, it has been hitting those open shots.
Now that the Celtics have the shooters, if they maintain the same kind of ball movement, they will put up passing numbers that will stand with any team in the NBA.
When you take into account Boston’s assist to turnover ratio, you get another picture of the quality of passing. The Warriors are obviously first, then the Hornets are the only other team ahead of the Celtics in that respect.
The Celtics live off of ball movement but they never get reckless with it. Anything you look at, other than how well they shot, suggests the Celtics were probably the second best passing team in the NBA.
If the passing stays the same and the shooting increases the way it should, then the Celtics could have an outside chance at giving the Warriors some competition for the best passing team in the NBA.
Pace can often inflate some of these numbers, but that does not hurt the Celtics much. The Celtics played at just the 12th fastest pace in the NBA last year, meaning their numbers have not been inflated compared to other paces.
The Celtics know that they do not have the individuals to truly compete for a title, because the Warriors have done such a masterful job of combing the unbelievably talented individuals, along with unprecedented team play.
If the Celtics want any hope, it is not going to be getting an edge with the individual talent. If the Celtics want an edge, they need to be the best functioning offense in the NBA, and that will require a huge jump in shooting to go along with what just might be the best passing system currently in the NBA.