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Saturday, October 27, 2012
Stat check: Pick your pleasure

By Chris Forsberg

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/GettyCall Kevin Garnett the Big Pick-it (you see what we did there?)
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pick-setting was a noteworthy topic at the Celtics' practice on Friday [the team's website has a full story on the subject HERE]. Maybe most noteworthy was Jason Terry's proclamation that Boston is "the best pick-setting team in the league" and coach Doc Rivers echoed the excitement about the Celtics' ability to set screens.

"I think we’re the best pick-setting team in the league," said Terry. "That goes not only with the best in [Kevin Garnett], but 1 through 5, whoever steps on the floor. We’ve made it an emphasis, and it’s about sacrifice. It’s about giving up your body. You're talking about setting picks, a lot of times you're not going to benefit from it directly, but you're going to get your teammate open. And that’s what Celtics basketball is about."

Added Rivers: "This may be the best pick-setting team. Darko [Milicic] loves to pick; Kevin [Garnett] is the best picker in the league. Jared [Sullinger] is a good picker. [Terry], surprisingly, if he's not the best picker on the team, he’s right there with Kevin. He’s small, but he loves setting picks. That’s what he did in Dallas with [Dirk] Nowitzki a lot, so we’re going to do it here with him. So I like that, it’s a lost art, obviously, in our league. And I think we have some guys that enjoy doing it."

But how important is pick-setting in the Celtics' offense?

Last season, the Celtics ranked first in the NBA averaging 1.008 points per play off screens. While only 7.7 percent of their total plays came off screens (it was Boston's seventh-most popular play type as tracked by Synergy Sports data), Boston clearly benefited when it utilized them. Not surprisingly, Ray Allen was the biggest beneficiary, accounting for 45 percent of all screen plays (and averaging 1.08 points per play, which ranked him in the 81st percentile, according to Synergy). But the shooting guard spot as a whole benefited from screens, highlighted by Avery Bradley's averaging a whopping 1.412 points per play on a limited sample (17 total plays; ranked him in the 98th percentile, according to Synergy).

Early returns haven't been overwhelming. Boston ranked 26th in points per play off screens during preseason play, averaging a mere 0.581 points per play and shooting 24.3 percent (9-of-37). Keep in mind, all these numbers only track shots generated off picks, and it might be a cut or an isolation that develops from the original screen that ultimately leads to the shot opportunity.

Boston's offense will continue to lean heavily on picks to generate easier looks, and Rivers likes the potential he sees thus far.

"[Pick-setting is] important to everybody’s offense," said Rivers. "There’s no offense that doesn’t need pickers. And we’re pretty good at it."