Celtics attacking the rim

In a very interesting post about the Celtics' surprisingly effective offense post-Rajon Rondo, Ian Levy of Hickory High notes that the Celtics are getting the ball to the rim more often.

A key way they are doing that? Having the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll attack the rim -- something Rondo seldom did.

Levy writes:

Before Rondo was injured, pick-and-roll possessions used by the ball handler made up 11.0 percent of the Celtics’ offense and they averaged 0.80 points per possession in those situations.

With Rondo out that percentage has jumped to 14.5 percent and the Celtics are averaging 0.86 points per possession.

Those sound like small differences, but they have huge import for the Celtics’ offense. When Rondo ran the pick-and-roll his first, second and third priorities were to find an open shooter. This single-minded focus made the job of a defense much more simple. The fact that the Celtics were still able to succeed to any degree with such a reluctant scorer handling the ball is a testament to his prowess at moving the defense and creating space.

Now with players like Pierce, Terry, Barbosa and Bradley running more pick-and-rolls the defense is presented with several more dimensions to account for. The efficiency of possessions used by pick-and-roll screeners for Boston has declined slightly without Rondo at the helm, but the threat of a scoring focused ball handler has more than offset that. In the end, although the Celtics have no one who even approaches Rondo’s ability to create shots for others in the pick-and-roll, using players who are better at creating shots for themselves may be making the Celtics more difficult to defend.

A couple of corollaries from the mind of David Thorpe: Steve Nash in his prime, Thorpe suggests, thought score first. He was headed straight to the rim for a layup, or the 3-point line for a jumper ... unless somebody stopped him. Once somebody stopped him, as in once he drew plenty of defensive attention, then the passing angles opened up. The way to be an effective pass-first point guard, he says, is to think score first. Magic Johnson did the same thing.

It's a theory that resonates more than a little with Ricky Rubio, too, who, like Rondo, has never been much of a scoring threat, which could hurt his passing game.