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Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points

While the Celtics [1] rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.

To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets [2] (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals [3], they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.

That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.

At every position but point guard — where Rajon Rondo [4] is getting to the line a career-high 4.8 times per game — the C’s free throw attempts are at their lowest of this Big Three era. Ray Allen [5]‘s average of 2.1 free throws per game is the lowest of his career. Paul Pierce [6]‘s 5.5 foul shots a night are his fewest since his rookie season. Jermaine O’Neal [7] hasn’t averaged this few free throw attempts (1.2) since his Blazers days. Kevin Garnett [8] has only attempted fewer foul shots on a nightly basis (3.0) in two other seasons.

The bench is no better. Their 4.7 free throws per game are almost two fewer than any other reserve unit of the past five seasons and nearly half the number the 2007-08 group produced (7.9). Brandon Bass [9] is largely to blame, as he takes about twice as many shots from 16-23 feet (4.6) than he does at the rim (2.4). As much grief as Glen Davis [10] took for his shot selection, even he got to the free throw line with greater regularity (3.4 FTA per game).

In fact, almost the entire onus falls on the Celtics frontcourt. After averaging exactly 17.0 free throw attempts per game in each of the last three seasons, they take just 12.8 a night this season. While Tommy Heinsohn would probably prefer to blame the officiating, the reality is the Celtics are settling for far too many jump shots.

Along those lines, despite producing the NBA’s second-best 3-point field goal percentage — thanks in large part to Allen, Mickael Pietrus [11] and Pierce — the Celtics rank only 22nd in attempts beyond the arc (15.3) as a team.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if the Celtics aren’t taking enough shots from 0-10 feet or 23 feet and beyond, they’re taking far too many from 10-23 feet. The C’s are one of only five teams — a group that includes the Hornets (5-23) and Bobcats (3-25) — that take more than 30 shots a night from 16-23 feet, where the rate of difficulty is higher than from 0-10 feet and less effective than from 3-point range.

It stands to reason that if the Celtics took fewer attempts from 16-23 feet and spread out about six of those shots from 0-10 feet or 23 feet and beyond, they’d score more points as a result of 3-point plays either at the free throw line or from long distance. Case in point: The Celtics rank 29th in And-1 plays per field goal attempted (1.62%), according to HoopData.com [12]. The following numbers help illustrate these facts.

2007-08: 32.6, 24.4, 19.1
2008-09: 34.0, 26.4, 16.5
2009-10: 35.6, 23.5, 17.5
2010-11: 33.2, 28.9, 13.6
2011-12: 29.5, 30.5, 15.3

2007-08: 26.5 (2.86%)
2008-09: 25.4 (3.33%)
2009-10: 25.6 (2.92%)
2010-11: 22.8 (2.81%)
2011-12: 19.8 (1.62%)

2007-08: 100.5 (11th)
2008-09: 100.9 (11th)
2009-10: 99.2 (19th)
2010-11: 96.5 (23rd)
2011-12: 90.2 (26th)

As you can see, there’s two key correlations here for the Celtics: 1) The more shots they attempt from within 10 feet, the more they get to the free throw line — and as a result the more they score; and 2) The more 3-pointers they attempt, the more they score. It’s a simple solution really. Stop settling for so many mid-range jump shots.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach [13] on Twitter.)