Rim-protection and rebounding — it’s almost a “category” on these pages.
A year later, as Boston struggles in this area, what is to be done?
“If there is no solution,” as Disraeli put it, “there is no problem.” There are at least five solutions to the Celtics’ issues with rebounding and rim protection — two short term, three long term.
None of these solutions, though, are really being discussed. Not much, anyway. Let’s start with the conventional -answers that everyone seems to like talking about.
1. Expecting Al Horford to become Anthony Davis
Many Celtics fans point the finger at Horford over the rim protection and rebounding woes. This is understandable. He’s an all-star and by far Boston’s most skilled big, and is one one of those Summer of ’16 max contracts.
Understandable or not, Horford’s not AD. It’s not what Ainge paid for. The Celtics acquired Horford to be an extremely sound, fundamentally impeccable, starting quarterback on defense and secondary quarterback on offense. His advanced stats on both ends of the floor are at career-high levels; he’s shooting effectively; he leads the team in assists.
But he’s not Anthony Davis. Who else in the NBA is?
2. Expecting Olynyk/Johnson/Baynes/Monroe
to become athletic.
(Daniel Theis may “break the mold.” Emphasize “may.” At this point, though, it’s more accurate to say he plays with “extreme hustle” than “extreme athleticism.” He has the Bird Man’s energy, but probably not his freakish vertical.)
In the famous words of many basketball minds, “you can coach better shot, but you can’t coach height.”
Athleticism falls somewhere in between, but it’s much closer to height.
There are sound reasons for the Boston approach. As Ainge often puts it, if you acquire an athletic big who’s a poor shooter, it hurts your offense — the rebounding and paint protection you gain is offset by a corresponding loss.
In the long term, however, this tradeoff imposes a feedback tradeoff. There’s a real shortage of long, tall, fast, tenacious guys who can make three-point shots.
How to get around that is a long-term problem. Where the Celtics are now is, they have four skilled, relatively non-athletic big guys. That’s not going to change until the summer of 2018 or 2019.
3. Abandoning long-ball for big-ball
Please don’t call it “small ball,” for reasons discussed before. What successful teams (Boston, Golden State, Houston, Cleveland) actually do is put lineups on the floor that are long and skilled. They’re “big,” height-wise, reach-wise, and skill-wise. The only way they’re really small, in many cases, is “width-wise.”
Do the Celtics really need to “get more big guys out there” in order to improve their rebounding and rim-protection? Well, honestly, no.
d'accord. we're just… you know…us. saucy.
when Brad Stevens puts Monroe, Al, and Baynes on the floor at the same time, you know he's desperately searching for answers.
— Celtics 24/7 (@celts247) February 15, 2018
Telling moment: At one point in the Clippers game, the Celtics had Horford, Monroe, and Baynes on the floor at the same time.
As point #2 makes clear, the Celtics don’t select their big men for great athleticism and rebounding ability. Putting more “rebounders” (in the conventional understanding) on the parquet not only imposes costs in other areas –such as defensive foot-speed and offensive spacing. It actually doesn’t solve the opposing points-in-the-paint issue — and makes the team rebounding effort worse.
(If you think the opposite, ask yourself, which Celtic do opposing teams regard as the biggest offensive rebounding threat? It’s Terry Rozier. Hmmm. Ask yourself also: who was the greatest rim-protector and rebounder of all time? Probably Bill Russell. Six-feet-9. Playing against 7-1 Wilt Chamberlain. Hmmm again.)
This is not a criticism of Brad Stevens — it’s a commiseration. And, if anything, a salute to his flexibility in desperate times. DeAndre Jordan was killing the Celtics. It was great coaching to try something outside the usual toolbox. It’s just not the answer.
4. Pick someone up that gets released
This doesn’t appear to be a solution now — especially considering all the points above. Long, athletic players don’t get released after the trade deadline, and if they are — you can be sure it’s not someone who would help the Celtics on the floor this year.
Such an acquisition — or, more likely, getting such a guy in the draft — might be a long-term solution. In fact, it’s probably the sine que non for #Banner18. But for now, “rim protection and rebounding” will have to come from within.
5. Guard-ed optimism
The guards, it’s often said — especially on the Celtics — need to do “more” rebounding. The bigs need the wings to “come down and get the ball.” And the bigs themselves just need to “win more battles.”
Now we are onto something. This answer is so close… but as worded here, it’s another no-stogie solution.
In fact, what is needed is very different than “more” rebounding, whether from the bigs or the longs.
Something close to the opposite is the case. What’s needed is “better” rebounding.
What’s the difference? Coming in part two.