This season, every contender has shown a chink in their armor. We talked about the Spurs defense struggling lately. Miami and Los Angeles have had ugly losses to weak teams. Chicago is untested and unproven in the playoff cauldron.
And Boston’s defense may be a concern.
Ever since the Kendrick Perkins trade there was the question of if the Celtics defense would be the same. Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward broke out the numbers and found that overall the defense is pretty close to what it was pre-trade.
However, overall includes the outlier of the Bucks scoring just 56 points Sunday (and with their terrible offense it is an outlier). Lowe takes that game out of the equation and finds Boston has allowed 102.8 points per 100 possessions since the trade. That’s not bad (it would be about 10th in the league) but it is worse than Boston’s season average of 97.7 (using Hoopdata’s numbers).
What’s more concerning is why the defense is worse.
1) Opponents are hitting a much better percentage of inside shots. In those nine games, teams have made 123-of-193 at the rim (63.7 percent). For the season, Boston ranks second in this category at a shade worse than 60 percent. That 63.7 percent mark would rank about 17th overall…. Another small red flag: Those nine foes have assisted on 58.5 percent of their close baskets, a huge jump from an average assist rate on close shots of about 51 percent for Boston’s opponents this season. No team has allowed an interior assist rate as high as 58.5 percent over the full season.
2) Opponents are shooting about 37 percent from three-point range during those nine games, up from a season average just shy of 34 percent. A small change, but perhaps a notable one, given the close relationship between a team’s interior defense and its ability to protect the three-point line.
We must point out that nine games is a very small sample size, so we want to be careful about jumping to conclusions. There also are mitigating factors, for example Nenad Krstic is not a bad interior defender and is working hard to learn the Celtics system and fit in. Shaquille O’Neal will be back for the playoffs and he certainly is a big body that can alter shots and change things in the paint. Finally, they still have Kevin Garnett healthy and he is the heart of the defense.
It’s no time to panic. But it is something to watch as we head toward the playoffs. Because it is a chink in the armor.
The No. 28 pick, R.J. Hunter became the first first-rounder from last year’s draft to fall out of the NBA when the Celtics waived him.
He won’t be out of the league for long.
The Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot, appear close to adding him.
Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:
Hunter belongs in the league. Though he must knock down shots far more reliably than he has, Hunter has potential as an outside shooter with complementary ball skills to provide value. Boston just had more NBA-caliber players than roster spots.
He’s far from a lock to succeed in the NBA, but I value Hunter about as much as Tony Snell – whom the Bulls just traded for an upgrade at backup point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. That they could so cheaply replace Snell makes that deal look even better.
Gerald Green was drafted by the Celtics and spent two seasons with them before being traded (in the Kevin Garnett deal).
After stints with the Timberwolves, Rockets, Mavericks, Nets, Pacers, Suns and Heat, he signed with Boston this summer.
Think he’s happy to be back?
Abby Chin of CSN Mid-Atlantic:
Joel Embiid couldn’t endear himself by playing in an NBA game, because he’s been too injured to do that in two pro seasons.
He’s had to resort to witty nicknames, practice-gym dunks, fun-loving stunts, attention-seeking tweets and self-deprecating humor.
Embiid is scheduled to make his NBA debut tonight, when the 76ers play the Thunder. Soon, we’ll judge him more for what he does on the court.
But, first, Embiid went out with one last bang of a quote.
Embiid, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:
“You know how I learned to shoot?” Embiid says. “I watched white people. Just regular white people. They really put their elbow in and finish up top. You can find videos of them online.”
LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.
But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.
He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.
Just where does LeBron stand physically?
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:
Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”
It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.
This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?
That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.
LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.
Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.
But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.