Assists…ACTUALLY Important: A Look Into The Celtic’s Ball Movement

While Kyrie Irving’s offensive output has been well-documented this season, his passing numbers/ability to facilitate have been on the backburner in terms of praise. Let me be the first to tell you, they deserve your praise. He’s made it a priority of his to get others involved and this commitment to ball movement has vaulted him to 6.4 assists per game, a career high, and an assist rate of 35.1%, which is his good for 2nd overall in his career. To go one step further, his past 10 games, Kyrie is averaging 7.5 assists per night and only improving as far as his passing goes. In regards to how the Celtics perform when he’s passing at his best, check out Irving’s top assist games of the season and how the Celtics have fared in these games.

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They’re 6-2 in games where Irving eclipses his average for the season and are 7-8 in games where he is below his average. Basically, the more assists Irving gets, the better this team plays. On another note, in wins this season the Celtics average 25.5 assists per game in comparison to their mark of 24.1 in losses. While this isn’t a giant fluctuation, there is a correlation between ball movement and winning. In regards to how the Celtics rank as a team in assists per game, they sit at 8th with an average of 24.9 per game.

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This mark proves to be more important when you take into account who is ahead of the Celtics in this category. The Warriors, Bucks, Nuggets, Sixers, and Raptors have been top teams in their conferences as well as top teams in terms of assists. It’s a simple equation, the best teams in the league pass the ball effectively and accumulate a large amount of assists (and wins) doing so. It’s even more jarring when you consider that the Warriors have led the league in assists the passed 5 seasons (including this one). If you hadn’t heard, the Warriors have won 3 titles in that span and lost in the Finals the other season. While it’s a team effort to move the ball, somebody has to run the offense effectively and promote this idea of ball movement. The person tasked with this endeavor for Boston, is Kyrie Irving.

In his second season in Boston he seems to be absorbing everything Brad has preached and has an understanding of what the Celtics need to do to win. Part of this formula, for winning Celtic basketball, includes exquisite ball movement and an effort to get the best possible shot. With so many different pieces who can contribute, the way to get the most out of this group is to have the ball move and not stick. The funny thing with this is that they’ve been doing that early in the season, the shots just haven’t been going in. The key is to find a balance where they’re moving the ball effectively but not passing too much. Early on, it seemed like they were making too many extra passes and had been passing up some great looks.

Check out this play from Saturday night, they swung the ball multiple times and were able to get a wide open look. It’s important to note how, instead of shooting it, Kyrie swung it in order to get a better shot. From there, once it gets to Morris, he doesn’t hesitate, and buries the jumper.

This play is a good example of how they should be moving the ball. They made the extra pass, but they didn’t get carried away with it. While I know Mook isn’t the poster boy for “passing” and shoots it nearly every single time he has it, I think this is a great example of taking the shot instead of making another pass. We’ve seen the Celtics pass themselves out of good looks early on and their ability to know when to make the extra pass and when to take the shot is improving.

As a team, the Celtics have also improved recently, not only in assists, but field goal percentage. Half of an assist is the ability of the shooter to put the ball in the hoop and the Celtics have gotten a lot better in that department.

Last 15 games: 45.8% FG 36.5% 3FG 25.5 APG

Last 10 games: 46.1% FG 36.5% 3FG 26.6 APG

Last 5 games: 48.8% FG 41.8% 3FG 27.4 APG

They’re starting to hit their shots at a high clip, thus, improving their assist numbers and showing their real potential. If Irving continues to foster this effort to move the ball I see these numbers increasing and I see the Celtics as a top 3-5 assist team when it’s all set and done. I also see them as a top team in the entire league (shocker) and an essential part of this is their passing. More open looks, equals more baskets, equals more assists, and as we’ve seen, equals more wins. Simple math.

-Chuck

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