Boston has established itself as a defensive force. Teams know that when they face off against the green and white that they are in for a fight. That's a great identity to have as defense is an essential cog when it comes to contending.
The problem is that Boston isn't that great at putting the ball in the hoop. How bad are they? They can't even make shots when there is no one around them.
Celtics 22nd in eFG on “open shots” https://t.co/sSNNQPL8HJ 30th on “wide-open” shots https://t.co/ngCHI2eyHW— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 16, 2015
Boston's 89-77 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night was a great example of this. The Celtics did a superb job keeping LeBron James and company below 90 points, but only managed to score 77 themselves by shooting an atrocious 32.2 percent from the floor.
Surprisingly, the Celtics score the seventh most points in the league at 103.1, but they do it very inefficiently. Boston's field goal percentage currently sits at 43.2 percent, which is good for 23rd in the NBA. Shots from deep are hitting at a clip of 33.2 percent, 22nd in the league, despite the fact that they sit in third place for most three pointers attempted. They also don't get to the charity stripe much, coming in at 24th in the NBA in free throw attempts.
Something has to change and the answer likely isn't on the current roster. Isaiah Thomas is doing everything he can, averaging 21.2 ppg and 6.6 apg, both career highs. But Thomas can only do so much and when teams key in on him or have bigger guys who can shut him down, like what Cleveland and Golden State have done, things get bogged down quickly.
James Young and R.J. Hunter were drafted for their scoring ability, but they are still developing and can't be expected to take on big scoring roles just yet. Third-year man Kelly Olynyk has shown flashes of why the Celtics traded up for him in the draft, like putting up 28 points against a very good Warriors defense. But he's far too inconsistent to be depended on. Avery Bradley has upped his offense by posting career highs of 18.1 ppg and shooting the deep ball at 41.7 percent. He too, however, has shown some inconsistency such as during the first quarter against the Warriors scoring five straight buckets and netting 15 points only to finish the double-overtime game with 19 points.
Those hoping the expected return of Marcus Smart will fix these issues should think again. Anyone who is a regular to this site knows I'm one of Smart's biggest fans. That being said, his calling card is his defense, not offense. Boston will be getting back a player averaging 9.8 ppg and 3.2 apg while shooting 33.3 percent from the floor. The offense will flow more smoothly with another ball handler to go to, but Smart is still working on his scoring in his second year in the NBA.
Boston's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is aware of the team's shortcomings. Ainge went on 98.5 the SportsHub Thursday and talked about what he wants to add to the roster. From ESPN's Chris Forsberg:
"I think the one thing that we could really use is a go-to scorer," said Ainge. "We have some guys that have carried us -- Kelly [Olynyk has] carried us, Avery [Bradley has] carried us, Isaiah [Thomas has] carried us, [Jared Sullinger has] carried us at moments during the season, Evan Turner has carried us -- but it would be nice to find another player that’s a reliable scorer at the end of games, night in and night out."
Thomas scored 38 points during Wednesday's loss to the Detroit Pistons and has been one of the league's best fourth-quarter scorers since arriving in Boston, but the Celtics clearly could use another option, particularly when teams put an emphasis on stopping Thomas.
Ainge said it didn't matter which position that go-to scorer played, but given Boston's current roster configuration, he added, "Ideally, it’d be a big man, but it doesn’t have to be."
Exactly who that scoring big man could be is anyone's guess. It's not as if teams are looking to get rid of go-to guys. Ainge has plenty of assets in draft picks and young players to deal so he can pounce when the opportunity does arise. Some names that are said to be available are Ryan Anderson in New Orleans, Markieff Morris in Phoenix and Terrence Jones in Houston. All fine scorers in their own right, but not what anyone would call a "go-to" option.
There's also no need to find that solution right now or even before the trade deadline in February. Boston is finding ways to win despite its poor shooting. If the team wants to take that next step to contention, however, Ainge will have to find scoring either through the draft or free agency next summer.
stats via Basketball-Reference Eric Blaisdell 12/17/2015 06:54:00 PM Tweet Edit