Brad Stevens' unique methods have Celtics surprising
By HUNTER KOSSODO
College Contributor Network
Several games into the NBA season, teams are starting to take their shape. The most potent offenses around the league are finding their groove and they belong to the Trail Blazers, the Raptors and the Celtics?
It seems like it should be a typo, but in fact after six games the Boston Celtics are averaging 106.3 points per game, more than the Warriors and Mavericks. It's not the result of a creampuff schedule either, Boston has played against playoff hopefuls in the Nets, Mavs, Rockets, Raptors and Bulls.
The beginning of the NBA season is a strange and confusing time where overreactions fill the airwaves after just a handful of games. The Celtics won't average 106 points the rest of the season, but it's incredible that they even have in the first place.
Boston came into this season with Rajon Rondo and his broken hand, Jeff Green coming off a year where he proved he couldn't be the number one scoring option and no true centers in sight. If anything was supposed to be this team's bread and butter, it was perimeter defending and losing games.
But this team has been, in a word, feisty. Rondo is back to his old ways, leading the league in assists and flirting with triple-doubles just about every game. For the first time since the Ricky Davis days the Celtics can fly up and down the court, and Rondo finally has teammates that can keep up with him on the fast break. Boston clocks in at just over 99 possessions per 48 minutes, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart have been hounding opposing ball handlers like a three-headed doberman, yet Boston is still a mediocre defensive team. The Celtics have relied on simply scoring their way to victories, a far cry from the defense-first mantra of the Big Three era. In their first six games, the Celtics have scored at least 35 points in a quarter four times, something the Warriors have only done twice in as many games.
Much of the credit for Boston's sudden scoring proficiency goes to coach Brad Stevens. Stevens saw that while his team lacks star power, they're a young group with some offensive capability. The game plan from that point on was to make sure fresh legs were on the court at all times to wear the opponent down.
Stevens has stuck to his plan, and it's produced wins over the older and slower teams like the Nets, Pacers and Bulls. No player on the team plays 35 minutes per game and all but two, 32-year-old Gerald Wallace and rookie James Young, average over 10 minutes on the court.
Even with the constant substitution method that Stevens is employing, he still needs most of the production coming from his starters. Much to the joy of the coach and fans alike, Green has been a consistent presence on the scoring sheet. Not only is he averaging nearly 20 points per game on a respectable 45 percent shooting, but he hasn't scored in single digits once this season. Last season that's something he did in 14 contests, just about once every six games.
The starting big men, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, continue to develop as scorers. Sullinger showed flashes as a high-volume scorer last season when he introduced the three-point shot to his arsenal, something that hasn't been falling for him this season. Perhaps in response to that, Sullinger has taken his game back to the paint which has resulted in higher-quality looks and better rebounding position.
The point about rebounding is an important one. The Celtics don't have a player with proficient rebounding skills on the team. Sullinger has shown to be very good on the offensive glass, which makes up for the lack of rebounding on the other end. Boston needs Sullinger in the paint on offense and defense, because while he leads the team in rebounding with 8.2 a game, the 6-foot-1 Rondo is second on the team in that category. That should speak to how much the Celtics struggle on the subject.
So far it seems that the Celtics just flat out care more about the offensive side of the spectrum than they do the defensive end. While they are fifth in the NBA in offensive rebounds averaged a game and first in offensive rebound percentage, they are a below-average defensive rebounding team. Their offensive rating, a measure of how many points a team scores per 100 possessions, is seventh-best in the league but their defensive rating is seventh-worst.
A lot of that has to do with that the majority of their players are one-sided and only capable on offense. Only Rondo, Bradley and Green carry the reputation of being NBA-level defenders. Smart will eventually be a force on the defensive end and he's shown that already, but he's still getting used to the pros.
As the NBA season goes on, surprise teams and players will regress back to the mean. The Sacramento Kings won't win five out of every seven games they play, and the Cavaliers won't lose three of every five. The Celtics won't continue to be the among the most explosive offenses in the league, but maybe it's time to stop thinking they will roll over and wait for the lottery.
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo