Boston Celtics: Lack of Efficiency Key in Early Season Woes
The Boston Celtics have dealt with a myriad of issues to start the season, but none more harmful than a noticeable lack of efficient play from everyone not named Kyrie Irving.
Christmas is upon us, and as the NBA season churns over to the new year the Boston Celtics sit smack in the middle of the playoff standings with a lackluster 19-13 record.
To many, it feels as if the sky is falling in Beantown. With the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, most felt as though the Celtics were going to stomp right through the rest of the league and cruise into the NBA Finals.
Instead, the Toronto Raptors look like the best team on the planet and the Philadelphia 76ers bolstered their roster with the addition of All-Star guard Jimmy Butler in a mid-season trade. The Milwaukee Bucks rank in the top 5 in the NBA on both sides of the ball, and the Indiana Pacers are deadlier than ever with Victor Oladipo in tow.
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So, where did the Celtics go? What happened to the team that got within one win of trumping arch-rival LeBron James to reach the NBA Finals minus two All-Stars?
With the pace of play in today’s game ever-increasing, making shots at a high level is the key ingredient in the recipe to sustained success. Typically, high-octane offenses thrive more so than halfcourt based groups. If slower paced offenses wish to succeed, it is more crucial than ever to be a well oiled, efficient machine.
The Boston Celtics are a prime example of a slower, halfcourt based team. They haven’t been successful because they lack the efficient production necessary to win consistently.
Let’s break it down on a player by player level. First, let’s get into the advanced analytical term PER. According to ESPN, this metric is a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity. It takes into account positive accomplishments such as field goals, assists, rebounds, and so forth while also factoring in negative ones such as turnovers, missed shots, and fouls.
Here is a breakdown of the Celtics’ opening day starting lineup player efficiency ratings as of December 24th:
- Kyrie Irving – 24.5
- Al Horford – 17.6
- Jayson Tatum – 16.6
- Gordon Hayward – 14.6
- Jaylen Brown – 10.5
The most notable takeaway from this list is the failure of a single player outside of Irving to crack an 18 on the PER scale. Note that the league average on this scale is set at 15.
Rookie big man Robert Williams is technically 2nd on the roster in this metric with a PER of 22.3, but he has only appeared in 14 games for the Celtics this season.
Let’s see how these numbers rack up against the current top teams in the league.
- Kawhi Leonard – 26.4
- Serge Ibaka – 20.4
- Jonas Valanciunas – 25.3
- Kyle Lowry – 18.4
The league-leading Raptors are led by superstar Kawhi Leonard and have utilized a highly lethal offense to dominate the rest of the NBA. With 3 players all above 20 on the PER scale, there isn’t a more productive team in the league.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo – 28.3
- Eric Bledsoe – 19.4
- Malcolm Brogdon – 16.6
- Christian Wood – 24
While Christian Wood has yet to see a ton of floor time for the Bucks, his 24 PER is notable as the season progresses. Giannis ranks in the top 5 in the NBA in this metric, as he has shouldered most of the load for the Bucks this season. With Bledsoe nearly hitting the highly coveted 20 mark, Milwaukee has proven to be a wildly talented offense.
- Victor Oladipo– 19.4
- Kyle O’Quinn – 20
- Domantas Sabonis – 23.8
- Myles Turner – 17.2
Indiana boasts two players over the 20 mark, with their fearless leader Victor Oladipo just a hair under. Myles Turner adds an above average rating, making the Pacers a much more than serviceable offense.
- Joel Embiid – 24.9
- Jimmy Butler – 21.8
- Ben Simmons – 21.5
It is truly remarkable when a player with only the 3rd highest PER on the team is averaging 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game. The 76ers have a real shot at being the league’s top offense sooner rather than later, particularly with the addition of Jimmy Butler.
- Nikola Jokic – 25.5
- Paul Millsap – 19.9
- Will Barton – 22.7
- Mason Plumlee – 17.6
The Denver Nuggets have certainly turned a few heads as the team currently sits atop the Western Conference 30-plus games into the season. But by diving deeper into the advanced metrics, it is easy to see why. The Nuggets boast three players near the 20 mark, two of which that come off the bench. Impressive.
Golden State Warriors:
- Stephen Curry – 27.2
- Kevin Durant – 26.5
The Dubs may not have a ton of efficiency outside of their top two players, but when the duo combine for an absurd 53.7 rating they don’t necessarily need it. The league’s 3rd ranked offense runs entirely through Durant and Curry, both of which rank in the top 6 in the NBA in PER.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
- Russell Westbrook – 20.6
- Paul George – 24.1
- Steven Adams – 20.9
- Nerlens Noel – 20.2
If there’s a team that gives Toronto a run for their money in efficiency, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. With a total of 4 players rocking above the 20 mark on the scale, the Thunder are a well-oiled machine that makes the most out of their possessions on offense.
So, What does all of this mean?
There is a clear positive correlation between team success and player efficiency ratings. The top teams in the league boast several players well above the league average in the metric, which leads to consistent play at a sustainable level. These teams know what to expect out of their top players every night. The result is wins in bunches.
The Boston Celtics, on the other hand, have not been so lucky as to have the level of consistency necessary to achieve the success expected of them. The theory is that the chemistry issues and growing pains have worked as a sort of roadblock that has limited production on the court.
The solution? Celtics legend Paul Pierce said it best.
“We’ve got the ability to win and all the talent in the world to win a championship, but it can’t be on our individual terms,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to be ready to sacrifice and doing what it takes to win it. If it’s not your night, it’s just not your night. Jayson, I know you’re capable of putting up 20. Jaylen, I know you’re capable of it. But that’s not always what this team is going to need. There are going to be certain nights you do shine, but it may not be every night because we have so much talent on this team. And you’re going to have to swallow that.”
Winning games can be done with individual talent. Winning Championships takes individual sacrifices for the greater good of the team. Up to this point in the season, this team has been rather selfish. Selfish play leads to lack of productivity, as shown by the group’s abysmal PER ratings. Lack of productivity leads to inconsistent play, and eventual failure to achieve goals.
I urge the Boston Celtics to remember Paul Pierce’s words. Instead of taking that 28 foot pull up three, make the extra pass to the guy cutting from the corner. Give the ball up early, and get rewarded later. The more selfless this team plays, the better they will be. Let’s just hope they figure it out before it’s too late.