The Unlucky Celtics

Posted on April 13, 2007 by

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It’s Friday the 13th so thoughts turn to luck (or the lack thereof). And that subject causes me to think about the Celtics.

Back in the 1980s I watched the Pistons struggle to get by the Celtics. The call “there’s a steal by Bird” still makes me very unhappy. It seemed in those days that the Celtics were endowed with more than their share of “good luck.”

In more recent years the luck of the Celtics has run out. In 1997, as M.L. Carr confessed, an effort was made to lose games to secure the rights to Tim Duncan. This effort, though, did not meet with “good luck.” Instead the unlucky Celtics ended up drafting Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer. Mercer never developed into a productive NBA player.  And although Billups eventually became “good”, it happened many years after Billups departed Boston (which was more bad luck for the Celtics).

Ten years later the Celtics again appear to be suffering from “bad luck.” Currently the Celtics are scoring 99.9 points per 100 possessions while surrendering 103.6. Certainly these levels of offensive and defensive efficiency are poor, but not quite as bad as the Celtics won-loss record suggests. After 78 games the Celtics have only won 23 games. The team’s efficiency differential suggests that this team should have won 30 contests. The difference can be thought of as “bad luck.”

When we turn to the team’s Wins Produced, again we see evidence of “bad luck.”

Table One: The Boston Celtics in 2006-07 and after 78 games this season

The two best players for Boston in 2006-07 have been Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson. Pierce has posted a 0.206 Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] while Jefferson’s WP48 stands at 0.221. Both are well above the average mark of 0.100.

Unfortunately, both have missed a substantial number of games. Pierce has only played 47 games this season while Jefferson has played in 66 contests. Assuming both stay on the bench the remainder of the season, these two players will combine to miss 51 games. Given the productivity of each player, had these players appeared in every contest this year the Celtics would have won 8.1 additional games (that is a conservative estimate, since the alternatives on the roster tend to be in the negative range). If the team’s offensive and defensive efficiency had also produced as many wins as we should expect, a healthy Pierce and Jefferson with a bit of good luck might have been enough to vault the Celtics into playoff contention in the weak Eastern Conference. Instead this team has secured the second worst record in the NBA.

Of course, there might be a reward for all this “bad luck.” It’s possible that either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden could join the Celtics next season. If it’s Oden, the Celtics next year could field a line-up of Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Pierce, Jefferson, and Oden. Given what these players have done this year, and assuming a productive Oden, the Celtics could have a line-up with five above average performers. That should mean the Celtics “good luck” will once again appear.

Now some have suggested the Pierce and Jefferson could have played more this year. In other words, the Celtics might not be suffering from “bad luck” but rather might be pulling the same move they tried in 1997. If that is the case, and the lottery balls prove kind, the alleged strategy of Doc Rivers (who reportedly has been offered an extension for guiding his team to the second worst mark in the league) and Danny Ainge might prove very successful. In sum, it’s possible that Rivers and Ainge might be rewarded for this alleged strategy with quite a bit of “good luck.”

– DJ