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Celtics’ ball movement could be key to offensive success

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talks to this team on the bench during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Uncasville, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
AP Photo/Jessica Hill

The Boston Celtics were not exactly a good offensive team in 2015-16. They ranked 17th in offensive efficiency and were exceedingly dependent on Isaiah Thomas exploding on a nightly basis.

They tried to address that problem by adding Al Horford this summer, and while Horford should unquestionably make the offense better, he is still not a be-all-end-all solution.

Where could the answer come? Well, perhaps it’s merely how the Celtics run their offense rather than the pieces themselves.

Sure, having good offensive players is obviously the easiest path to offensive success, but style of play is also imperative and can make a world of difference.

And what style of play is conducive to solid offensive production?

Motion and crisp ball movement.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if that’s so much as a “style” rather than something that all teams should do, but there is no doubt that some ballclubs do it better and more efficiently than others.

As much as we like to watch players dazzle with their handle, putting defenders on skates with crossovers and weaving through traffic with behind-the-back dribbles and spin moves, the fact of the matter is that that is not really efficient offense.

Actually, dribbling is often a bad thing.

The more a player dribbles, the more time comes off the shot clock, and the more the offense starts to stagnate.

That’s why “ball-dominant” point guards get criticized so heavily, and it’s also why individual assists are not always the best statistic to cite.

That isn’t to say that players’ assists per game numbers are hogwash, but there is something to be said for the entire team getting involved in the offense.

Let’s take the 2014 San Antonio Spurs for example.

The Spurs led the league in assists that season, but their leading assist-man, Tony Parker, averaged just 5.7 dimes a night.

Why? Because the ball wasn’t sticking. San Antonio was constantly moving the ball around, eviscerating and demoralizing defenses by sending them scrambling and stumbling and trying to execute clean rotations only to result in a dunk or a three-pointer.

Just ask LeBron James and those Miami Heat about that.

Now, to be fair, that Spurs team was absolutely loaded with weapons that the Celtics simply do not have, but that doesn’t mean Boston shouldn’t try to employ the same type of offense.

Boston Celtics' Al Horford, right, and Boston Celtics' Isaiah Thomas during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

The good news is the C’s seem to be doing this in the preseason, particularly in their first of two meetings with the Charlotte Hornets.

The ball was flying around with very few dribbles, resulting in clean looks at the basket and from the perimeter.

There was constant off-the-ball movement, and for a second, you wondered if this was a lite version of those aforementioned Spurs.

Now, of course, it was just one preseason game, but it was a very encouraging sight.

The Celtics appeared very confident on the offensive end, displaying a kind of synergy that simply has not been there since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett patrolled the parquet of TD Garden.

Now, remember: Evan Turner is no longer a member of the team, and last season, he was a major culprit of the over-dribbling that I was talking about earlier.

No disrespect to Turner, who certainly hit some big shots and made some big plays in Boston, but his departure could have been exactly what the Celtics’ offense needed to start functioning properly.

Yeah, adding Horford into the mix absolutely helps, but shedding ball-dominant players in a league that is becoming more and more reliant on swift ball movement may be the first step to Boston actually becoming a good offensive squad.

Also, keep in mind that, outside of Thomas, the C’s really don’t have anyone who can consistently create their own shot off the dribble.

That’s where more passing comes into play to save the day.

While it’s always nice–and sometimes pretty necessary–to have a couple of players who can take the game over by themselves, running a smooth motion offense could go a long way in compensating for the lack of such talent.

Just look at the Golden State Warriors of last year.

As historically dominant as they were during the regular season, they lost in the finals largely because they weren’t moving the ball well enough. Guys were rushing shots, choosing isolations over passes and forcing the issue.

Compare that to the 2014 Spurs, a team that fundamentally considered isolations a sin, and you can see why one team romped to a championship and the other crumbled.

The Celtics are not a title contender as currently constructed. However, they can maximize their potential by taking a page out of San Antonio’s book.

Move around. Pass the ball. Limit your dribbles. Get good shots.

If Boston regularly does that throughout the season, it will be a joy to watch.

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