Analyzing the Celtics: A Look Back at 2009-10 Season

| by David Berri

Much has been said of the amazing run that the Boston Celtics had during the 2010 NBA Playoffs. Famous Celtics fan Bill Simmons himself predicted that the Celtics would lose in the first round to the Miami Heat. This was based predominately on the facts that he felt the Celtics were a disappointing regular season team, and that the team with the best player, always wins the series.

While in theory, this makes some sense (if my best player is better than your best player, and all others are equal, then my team is better), it appears that this year, the Celtics became the exception (Wade: 0.291 vs. Rondo: 0.290). And then again (James: 0.401). And again (Howard: 0.376).

Looking back at each series, most of the Celtic victories can be explained very simply via Wins Produced. Boston was the better team than Miami in the regular season, Jermaine O’Neal had a terrible series, and Boston had home court.

Versus Cleveland, as has been discussed, Maurice Williams was terrible, and Rondo was amazing. LeBron underperformed a little, and Cleveland mismanaged their minutes.

Orlando was another regular-season upset, since again, the Celtics did not have home court advantage. However, a couple of Orlando’s main players underperformed, namely Dwight Howard, and Vince Carter.

Finally, the post season reverted back to the regular season, as the Lakers defeated the Celtics in 7 games.

As a Celtics fan, this run was unexpected. While the Celtics were a 60 win team the last two seasons, they fell to only a 50 win team this year. Typically 4-seeds, do not make the NBA finals. Some of the reasons for the Celtics defeating these 3 Eastern Conference teams have been noted, but also, the fact that each playoffs series is only 7 games, allows for some random “noise” to produce a string of results as above. Let’s take a look at the regular season numbers for this year’s team.

As you can see, the team who is known as the Big 3 (+1), is really the Big 2 (Star players are 0.2+).  Also, if you compare the team to last year’s version…

You can see that even the Big 2, were not as good as they were last year when the team won 62 games. Last year, by Wins Produced, they were both Superstars. This year Rondo fell just short of that mark, while Garnett fell well short. Paul Pierce had a gentle decline, while Ray Allen had a significantbig drop. Leon Powe’s minutes went mainly to Sheldon Willams (good), and Rasheed Wallace (not so good), costing the team about 5 wins, or about half of the total difference between the seasons.

Rasheed came into this season with high expectations. He was previously the starting PF on the 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons. Some experts had projected him having the biggest impact of all of the signings in the off-season. However, Rasheed Wallace is 35 years old and far removed from his NBA prime.  So his poor season was not completely unexpected. Rasheed posted a WP/48 of 0.079 in 2008-09, which was a good number for a 34 year old. However, it seemed that year 35 was not as kind to Wallace, as his WP/48 dropped to -0.038. This mainly was because of a drop in rebound rate, and his poor 3pt shooting.

Beyond just aging an extra year, Ray Allen, 34, did not shoot as well as he did last year either. Now, it is important to note that it was not that Ray Allen didn’t shoot well relative to NBA standards, as he posted his 3rd highest TS% of his career. However this was a decline from last season in which he posted his highest TS% ever. Most of this decline stemmed from his drop in 3 point shooting percentage. Ray had a bit of an outlier season in 08-09, so this was more a regression to the normal than anything else. Ray Allen was able to stay very productive, despite most of his athletic marker rates (rebounds, steals, blocks, FTA) dropping the last few years. He has been in a steady decline over the last few years, but his great shooting season from last year made this decline smoother.

Garnett , 33, saw his rebounding numbers drop from his previously unworldly levels the day he came to Boston, and they saw further decline this year. While he has shot a higher percentage from the field as a Celtic than he did as a Timberwolf (I think the Maple Leafs have defied grammar for the sake of bad writers like me), he no longer gets to the line as often, and thus his TS% remains about the same. He also saw a big decline in blocks this season. Another issue, remains his inability to stay on the floor. Always a leader in minutes played with Minnesota, Boston have “saved his legs” during the regular season. The 10% bump he saw in MPG in the playoffs, would have added another 1.2 wins to his regular season projections, adding in the fact that it could take away minutes away from Rasheed and Big Baby. Plus, further wins could have been gained from his increased health. However, part of the reason aging is bad for NBA players, is because it results in an increased risk for injury.

Paul Pierce, 32, on the other hand actually shot a better percentage this year, but faced a decline in his rebounding numbers. His overall productivity drop-off was slight, but it should be noted that he aged well this year all things considered.

Okay, let’s simply summarize.  All of this discussion leads to one conclusion: The Boston Celtics are an old team.

Up until this point, I’ve stated some of the more obvious observations about the Celtics team from this year. But I’d like to point out a couple of other possible reasons that could explain their performance for 2009-10.

One unexpected reason for the Celtics 12-game drop-off, was Eddie House.  I say unexpected because very few prognosticators mentioned Eddie House being a reason why the Celtics could or could not win 60 games. Last year House, 32, produced almost 5 wins, while posting a TS% of .592. This mark was a career high, eclipsing his previous high of .536. Eddie House had an amazing season last year shooting the basketball (especially for a guard who does not get to the free throw line). As he fell back down to earth — his .527 TS% with the C’s was just a little above his .506 career mark — so did his Wins Produced. Even after he was traded (basically) for Nate Robinson, Nate only produced about one win for the Celtics. These two players combined to equal a loss of about four wins for the Celtics at the backup PG position this year.

So while the Celtics are getting older, a big contributor to their decline in performance was the loss of Leon Powe (about 5 wins), and the decline/trade of Eddie House (about 4 wins).  

I’ve also included the Celtics playoff numbers below. I’ll discuss where the Celtics can go from here based on these numbers, in a later post.

Finally, I just wanted to add a comment about the finals. Much commotion has been made of the rebounding numbers, or Rajon Rondo’s in ability to shoot, being the reason as to why the Celtics lost in 7 games to the Lakers. But I approach this a little bit differently.

My explanation is very similar to what I noted here; the Celtics did not have their shots fall in game 7. Via Wins Produced, the Lakers were the favourites, and they also had home court advantage; but in reality, if the Celtics had hit a couple shots down the stretch against the Lakers, they would be the NBA champions.  Then very few would have written about the age of the Celtics, and instead people would be discussing their experience carrying them through their playoff push. What most teams attempt to do, is either build a team that is far superior to all others in the league – very difficult – or you can build a team comparable to the other top teams, and take your chances with luck. The Celtics were only able to build a team who when managed correctly, could compete with the other leading teams in the league. Essentially, their luck ran out in the Staples Centre.

- Nicholas Yee

Nicholas Yee, is a Computer Science graduate of Ryerson Univerity, 2006. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and developed into a Celtics fan because of his family’s love for the team. He had a hard time being Celtics fan because he had to live through the death of Reggie Lewis, the “loss” of Tim Duncan, the Rick Pitino years, and the loss of the Oden/Durant sweepstakes. He’s currently living in the Toronto area, but is apathetic to the local Raptors.