Celtics Should See Boost in Interior Scoring

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics won’t deny that they were putrid at scoring in the paint during the 2011-12 season, but they plan on being much better in that category during the 2012-13 campaign.

Chief among the reasons why Boston’s interior scoring should drastically improve this season is the fact that Kevin Garnett will be playing center for an entire season. Garnett takes a lot of jump shots, but he can and will continue to get it done on the block when Doc Rivers calls his name.

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett's presence around the basket nearly sent the Celtics to the NBA Finals last season.
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Garnett’s impact on Boston’s points in the paint output is as clear as day. Prior to last season’s All-Star break, when KG was playing only power forward, the Celtics scored just 33.6 PPG in the paint. His move to the center position following the All-Star break helped the C’s bump that number up to 36.2 PPG.

With Garnett manning the center position for the entire season, Boston should benefit even more from his interior presence. The team will enjoy his scoring and the points he creates with his phenomenal passing skills.

While the C’s will be happy to see Garnett handling the center duties for an entire season, there are several other reasons why the team’s interior scoring should increase.

First of all, Rajon Rondo, who lives in the paint as much as any point guard in the league, should be more efficient around the basket this season. He finished 2011-12 with his lowest field goal percentage (44.8 percent) since his rookie year and the lowest points in the paint percentage (57.8 percent) - the percentage of his points that were scored in the paint - of his entire career. Both of those numbers should increase next season.

Additionally, Danny Ainge has crafted a roster around Rondo, KG and Paul Pierce that has superior athleticism and wing play compared to the 2011-12 team that reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Two players who will play large roles in the athleticism department are Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox. Heart surgeries caused Green to miss the entire 2011-12 season and Wilcox to play in just 28 games, but both are now healthy and ready to go.

Ainge had a vision when he signed both of those players to contracts prior to last season and that vision is still intact. His thought, in large part, revolves around those long, athletic players running alongside Rondo in the open court and scoring easy baskets in transition.

We saw part of that vision begin to take shape toward the end of Wilcox’s season. He turned into a force during his final few weeks, notching four of his six double-figure scoring efforts during the final 11 games of his season. Most of those points arrived in transition or via athletic putbacks in the paint.

Now Boston’s point guard will not only have Wilcox at his disposal in transition for an entire season, but also the 6-foot-9 Green. Green is loaded with talent and is viewed by many as a long-term running mate for Rondo. Green may actually be the most athletic player on Boston’s roster. He possesses small forward skills but is strong enough to handle power forward duties. He drives to the basket with grace, has a smooth jumper and has shown the ability to finish difficult shots around the basket.

All of those skills will be vital to the Celtics this season, particularly when it comes to scoring in the paint. Green, along with Wilcox, should provide the team with a heightened level of athleticism that would result in many more easy baskets.

But those two aren’t the only additions that should help in this department. In fact, another trio of players may prove to be even more important to Boston’s interior scoring.

First comes the 21st overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Jared Sullinger. He may only be a 6-foot-9 rookie, but he has made his name as a post player throughout his young career. He was one of the top post players in the country during his two years at Ohio State and the Celtics posted him up time and time again during their two summer leagues in July.

Kevin Garnett

Courtney Lee brings an added level of athleticism to the C's that should pay dividends in the paint.
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Sullinger’s presence will double the number of low post threats for Boston in comparison to last season’s roster. Instead of only having Garnett, the C’s will now have Sullinger at their disposal to pound the ball down low. Will the rookie command a double-team on the block for 82 games? Probably not. But make no mistake about it; he will create interior points for the Celtics while his back is to the basket.

Two other additions are more likely to create points in the paint while they’re facing the hoop. Courtney Lee and Jason Terry were both acquired this summer and both are much more proficient at scoring in the paint than the departed Ray Allen.

NBA.com’s advanced statistics tool tells us that only 20.8 percent of the points Allen scored last season arrived in the paint. Lee, on the other hand, uses his speed, strength and athleticism to score in the paint. He scores an average of 32.4 percent of his career points in the paint, while Allen’s best season in that category was 30.5 percent in 2009-10.

Then there is Terry, who is a marksman from downtown yet also manages to score off of the dribble. Terry actually scored in the paint at the exact same rate as Allen last season, but he displayed a far better ability to create his own shot than Allen. A whopping 49.9 percent of the points Terry scored last season were unassisted. In comparison, Allen was only able to score 22.1 percent of his points without an assist. These numbers indicate that Terry’s off-the-dribble scoring could result in more points in the paint for the C’s next season.

As the old adage says, the stats don’t lie. With Rondo’s probable improvement, Garnett’s presence at center and a handful of talented acquisitions, the pieces seem to have fallen into place for the Celtics this summer. The statistics surrounding those pieces indicate that we’ll see many more interior shots fall through Boston’s basket in 2012-13.