Should the Celtics be worried about their defense?

6 Comments

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.

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

Getty Images
2 Comments

Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.

 

Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

After 0-6 start, Raptors coach Nick Nurse celebrates successful challenge like he won a championship (video)

2 Comments

After the Raptors won the 2019 NBA title, Toronto coach Nick Nurse hugged Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri.

Some of the hug recipients changed, but Nurse’s celebration didn’t look that different last night.

Nurse missed his first six coach’s challenges then finally got one right during the Raptors’ win over the Lakers. He responded by hugging everyone – including a Los Angeles fan – around him.

This was a long time coming. Even after a couple early failed challenges, Nurse sounded exasperated.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

Maybe Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a noted challenge critic, will eventually experience this euphoria.

Report: Gordon Hayward to have surgery on left hand

Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
Leave a comment

How good would Gordon Hayward be if he could just stay healthy?

Hopefully we will find out someday, but probably not for the next couple of months after his agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Hayward will have surgery on his non-shooting hand to repair a broken bone.

There will be no official timeline for recovery until after the surgery, but after going under the knife Hayward is likely out at least six weeks. Stephen Curry is out three months after surgery on his non-shooting hand (that is a different injury, but it shows how long the timeline can be).

The play where the injury happened was innocuous.

Even so, it has left Boston with some big questions to answer through New Year’s Eve, or whenever Hayward returns. Hayward was having a bounce-back year, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics.

For Boston, this likely means a lot more Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, and maybe Javonte Green.