Celtics Storylines: Four factors that will impact ball movement
BOSTON – Since Brad Stevens arrived in Boston, sharing the ball has been a strength of the Celtics.
The strength of the collective sum has always been greater than the talents of any individual player.
We see this in the numbers related to ball movement.
According to nba.com/stats, the Celtics have ranked among the NBA’s top-10 in passes made in three of the four seasons Stevens has been in Boston.
And as much as that has been a part of the team’s game plan every year, that approach was also predicated on how the roster was constructed.
But this is a different season, one in which Stevens has arguably the most talent-rich squad he has ever coached at any level.
And that talent includes players who have shown the ability to create their own shot consistently to the point where they rank among the league’s best players in large part because of that skill.
But how will their ability to create their own shot mesh with the team’s strength as a ball-moving club?
Here’s a look at some of the factors that will affect how this storyline plays out for Boston this season.
Adapting To Change
No matter how many players return, coaches and players will tell you every season and every team is an entity unto itself that’s different than the one from the previous year. For the Celtics, it’s not just coach speak this year.
They have 10 new faces which speaks to how different the Celtics will look and potentially play this season.
But the biggest concern is how quickly will both players and coaches adapt to their new teammates and for some, new roles.
The Celtics will look to attack more in isolation situations which play to the strengths of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.
Last season, Irving averaged 5.7 points per game in isolations which ranked third in the NBA.
Irving’s Passing Game
We know Boston’s ball movement will likely create a lot of great looks for Irving. But he also has become better at setting his teammates up for easy scores, too. He’s never averaged more than 6.1 assists per game which isn’t all that surprising when you consider a large chunk of his career has been played with LeBron James who has been the primarily ball-handler.
Irving has often said he is a willing passer.
We’ll find out this season.
Because he has more scoring weapons around him than he’s ever had, and he will be the man they will be looking to direct the offense whether it’s creating his own shot or creating shots for others.
One of his favorite targets will likely be Hayward.
As part of Hayward’s All-Star worthy play last season, he ranked eighth in the league in points (2.1) off of hand-offs.
And knowing how Irving will likely drive into the lane a lot this season, Hayward will be good option to turn to as far as someone to kick the ball out to on the perimeter.
Last season, he averaged 4.1 shots between 20-24 feet last season. Among the players to take as many shots from that range, only Carmelo Anthony (44.2 percent) had a higher shooting percentage from that range than Hayward (40.5 percent).
The Rise of Rozier
At some point, Irving will need a break on the bench which means the Celtics will be counting on another playmaker to help direct things off the bench. Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin and potentially Marcus Smart if he’s not a starter, could be called upon to fill that void.
There hasn’t been much talk about Rozier this summer, but he may be the team’s best option in terms of being a difference-making playmaker off the bench. Last season he appeared in 74 games off the Celtics bench and averaged 29.7 passes per game which was tops among reserve guards who appeared in as many games. In addition, Rozier had a solid 2.79:1 assists to turnover ratio not to mention he has established himself as one of the better rebounding guards in the NBA off the bench.
His 3.1 rebounds were second among guards in the NBA last season off the bench to appear in as many games, which was aided by Rozier having a league-best contested rebound percentage of .264.
Passing with More Efficiency
The Celtics a year ago were ranked among the top two or three teams in several passing categories.
Boston averaged 49.5 potential assists (2nd in the NBA); 61.6 points created by assists (3rd) and 6.8 secondary assists (2nd).
However, the Celtics were down to ninth in assist to pass percentage, which gives a clearer indication as to how well a team that passes, delivers passes leading to assists.
By no means is this an area of weakness for Boston, evident by them ranking among the top-10 in the league.
But it is an area in which they can get better, and should get better with a roster that has more options offensively.
Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will help with spacing, and that should create more opportunities to not only get the ball in the hands of wide-open shooters, but also improve the team’s assist to pass percentage.
And of the eight teams ahead of them in this category, six made the playoffs last season including the other three conference finalists (Golden State, 1st; Houston, 2nd; and Cleveland 8th).
The goal for this team is to continue trending towards Banner 18, and improvement in this particular category would indeed be another positive step in that right direction.