Celtics Lead

How Boston Can Fix Its Rebounding Woes

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As the harsh New England winter draws to a close, the Boston Celtics also appear to have put the recent long, cold stretch of basketball behind them. The C’s recently won a tightly-contested game against the Sacramento Kings thanks to a clutch shot by Gordon Hayward. Before that, they routed a sluggish Golden State squad in a needed “prove it” matchup.

 

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These two games have restored hope in a roster that has the talent to make the NBA Finals. However, to say that team chemistry was the only flaw in the struggling Celtics is a serious understatement. Rebounding has become a team-wide issue, particularly during the recent skid. Over the last twelve games, Boston ranks dead last in offensive rebound percentage. This is despite also placing first in defensive rebounding percentage. They’ve corralled the 22nd-most rebounds in that period and the fourth-fewest offensive boards. Luckily, there is still time before the playoffs to address team rebounding.

Option One: Alter the Bigs’ Playing Time

Currently, not one Celtic averages seven rebounds per game. Al Horford is the team’s leader at 6.8, but that number is extremely low considering he is the sole paint presence in a perimeter-oriented offense. Both Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes outrebound the 32-year-old per 36 minutes, yet they play sparsely relative to Horford.

Horford vs. Baynes

Of course, Big Al should not be benched. His fluidity, defensive awareness, and passing continue to place him among the top centers in the NBA. However, it should be noted that Boston’s best five-man lineup this year has featured Aron Baynes with the other four starters. That group boasts a net rating of +27.4 points per 100 possessions. Baynes is an excellent screen setter — 3.1 screen assists per game to Horford’s 3.4, but in 14 fewer minutes — and a capable rebounder, with over four offensive boards per 36 minutes. Giving him time with the starting lineup to close out quarters or halves could help the Celtics keep energy level high.

Theis Efficiency

Meanwhile, Daniel Theis has quietly put together the most efficient season of the three rotational centers. While canning a remarkable 42 percent of his treys, Theis is also the team’s best shooter inside the arc, making a spectacular 61 percent of his looks. He also rebounds well in limited action, averaging 9.3 boards per 36 minutes. Theis fits with the trey-centric style coach Brad Stevens has been working to integrate into the Celtics offense this year. He adds ability on the glass as well, helping to cover a weakness.

While Horford should still be the focal point at center, his age should warrant rest time as the regular season winds down. Rookie Robert Williams is still too raw to warrant meaningful minutes. Hopefully, Stevens will give Baynes and Theis opportunities to play with the starters to improve rebounding.

Option Two: Available Free Agents

Due to the Jabari Bird trade at the deadline, Boston has one open roster spot to sign a free agent. They should be prioritizing a big man who can rebound the basketball. Horford, Baynes, and Theis have all dealt with on-and-off injury struggles, so adding depth at center makes sense. At this point in the season, the Celtics likely don’t want to spend time developing a raw prospect from the G League. Instead, they should focus on veterans who can be playoff-ready.

Al Jefferson, PF/C– In another lifetime, Jefferson was a top prospect for the Boston Celtics (and also played good minutes against them).

Now age 34, he won’t be relied on much outside of his rebounding ability and locker room presence. Averaging 8.4 boards over his career, Jefferson is also a solid finisher in the paint. He’s played in four playoff series and can be a steadying veteran on a team that has struggled with leadership.

Brandan Wright, C- Wright last suited up for the Houston Rockets in the 2017-18 season, playing only one game. At 31, he’s not young, but Wright brings more athleticism than Al Jefferson. In addition to his solid rebounding, Wright is a remarkably efficient scorer. Though his range is minute, the former eighth overall pick is a career 74 percent finisher inside of three-feet, making him the ideal lob target.

Willie Reed, C/PF- Reed has fought through the G League and made it to the NBA level multiple times in his short career, though only starting in 17 career game. Now back in the G League with the Salt Lake City Stars, the 28-year-old is putting up spectacular numbers. His averages of 20 points and 11 rebounds on 66% shooting look perfect for a rebounding role on a contender. His work ethic and toughness have taken Reed from going undrafted to making the NBA, and he can do it again in a role with the Celtics.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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