You Can't Break Without the Ball
When will the Celtics learn from their own glorious history? They were a fast-breaking, poor rebounding team until Bill Russell came along and changed the history of the world. Kendrick Perkins is no Russell, but if history is any indication, this young rebounding prodigy should get a lot more minutes.
The Celtics are among the league leaders in fast break points but among the worst in rebounding. GM Danny Ainge has remained committed to his desire to make Boston an up-tempo team and head coach Doc Rivers has made it a reality. You only have to watch Paul Pierce turn in midair to look for the outlet pass as he grabs a defensive rebound, or Marcus Banks go coast-to-coast almost as fast as a pass, or Ricky Davis and Tony Allen filling the wings, or Mark Blount beating every opposing center down court, to see that this is a team that is built to run.
But you can't run without the ball. Otherwise you're not running; you're running away.
Rivers has recently started to make a point about defense and rebounding, after focusing on, and preaching, fast break, up tempo, unselfish, quality movement basketball. The offense is fine. Everyone has bought into the system. Pierce's field-goal percentage is up. His assist-to-turnover ratio is up. The team has good perimeter and interior passing. Blount is making some terrific entry passes into Pierce in the low post, the same play Antoine Walker used to do for hours on end.
But the defense and the rebounding need work. This should sound familiar to Celtics fans with a long memory. It's the exact same situation Boston faced just before the arrival of Russell. Sure, they won some games, but you can't run if you don't have the ball.
To be an efficient fast-breaking team, you need to rebound and you need to make blocks.
More generally, to be a terrific basketball team, you need to get the ball in your hands without it going through the hoop. That can come in the form of steals, blocks, 24-second shot clock violations, taking charges, backcourt violations, offensive three-seconds in the lane, palming, carrying, or double-dribbling by the opponent, or, and this is key, a rebound off of a missed shot.
The beauty of basketball is that anybody can get a shot off against anybody else. Put Spud against Shaq and Spud will find a way to get a shot off. Put me in against Kevin Garnett and I'll be able to get some kind of shot off. If I am able to hit a running, fade-away, three point high-arcing hook shot with high accuracy, I will be the world's best player. The key is that the shot that comes off against good defense is typically a bad shot.
That means, to put it in simple terms, that it's likely to miss. That means it's going to bounce off somewhere. That means you have to grab it.
Who is the team's best rebounder on a per-48 minute basis? It's not starting center Mark Blount. Blount is sixth. It's not starting power forward Raef LaFrentz, though LaFrentz is actually third.
It's not even rookie phenom Al Jefferson, though Big Al is indeed the second-best per-minute rebounding Celtic.
It's Kendrick Perkins, of course. Perkins is averaging 16.2 rebounds per 48 minutes. If he had enough minutes and games under his belt, that would put him in the top ten in the league, ahead of, for example, Tim Duncan.
Perkins is currently the third big man off the bench, if he's lucky. Big Al is one of the first to get in the game and then it's usually Walter McCarty. When Tom Gugliotta gets back up to speed, Perkins may find himself relegated even more.
That's a mistake.
Perk gets you 75% more rebounds per unit time than the starting center. That would be a difference of about 7 rebounds over the course of a game. That difference in and of itself would move Boston from 22nd in the league in rebounding to be far and away the best.
Perk gets you some blocks as well. He provides an intimidating presence. He can even score in the low post or take a jumper if he has to.
But his rebounding is what will get him his upcoming increase in playing time. Rivers knows it. It's just a question of when to get him in there.
The best part about Perkins is he can almost smell the outlet pass. He is always looking up court. In one play a couple games ago, he got a steal, dribbled downcourt, and found Al Jefferson for the break. He has vision, both in the open court and in half court sets.
He is the best passing big man on the roster. The only Celtics who average more assists per game than Perk are guards; even the much-vaunted (and duly deserved) passing of Raef and Gugliotta pale in comparison to Perk's nearly 3.9 assists per 48 minute average. That's nearly double Raef's 2.0 average.
It's time to remember the glory days and get the rebounder back on the court. Because there was one other thing that was amazing about Bill Russell. Well, one of many, to be sure. Russell was a winner. You put him in the game and somehow, whether the stats reflected it or not, he would win the game.
When you put Perkins in the game, the Celtics win. When he's in, they outscore their opponents by an average of 15 points per 48 minutes, using data and results from 82games.com.
The guy is a winner. He's no Russell; no one is.
He's Perk. And he should be getting a lot more playing time.