What I found is this: Statistically, this team is almost exactly as good as it was last year.
Seriously, some of the numbers are downright scary. Here are the current season's stats up against last year's. (All '07-08 stats in this post are pre-All-Star break unless you see **)
Off. Efficiency ** 110.2 109.8
Def. Efficiency ** 98.9 99.6
Pace Factor ** 90.9 91.0
FG% 47.3 48.1
Opp. FG% 42.1 42.3
3-point % 38.1 37.3
Look at those numbers. This team, for all the screaming and yelling at both ends of the emotional spectrum, is exactly as good as it was last season. The C's are 34-9 now; they were 41-9 at the All-Star break last season.
You can even pick out random, less important statistics, and the numbers are still identical. They shot 77 percent from the line in the first half of last season; they are at 77.1 percent this season. They turned the ball over 15.1 times per game last year; they are giving it up 16.1 times per game this year. Another strange one: opponents are taking 76.9 shots per game--the exact same number, down to a tenth of a percentage point, as last season.
I could only find one significant statistical difference between last year's team and this year's team, and it's a bothersome one:
Opp. 3-point % 31.2 34.2
Observers, including the crack staff of monkeys here at Be the Three, have pointed that Boston occasionally looks tired and doesn't appear to be closing out on shooters as maniacally they did last season. Perhaps this is evidence.
There are some more noticeable differences when you look at players on the individual level. Each of the Big 3 is playing slightly fewer minutes per game this season, and, yes that includes Ray Allen, who is down from 38 mpg to 36.3 even though it seems like he's playing more. All three are also taking between one and two fewer shots per game. Interestingly, the players you'd expect to be taking those missing shots (plus the 5.4 per game Posey was tossing up) aren't the ones taking them; Rondo and Powe are taking about the same number of FGs per game (8.5 for Rajon and 4.2 for Leon, compared to 8.8 and 4.1 last season, respectively. SHOOT, RAJON!) Instead, it's Perkins, Tony Allen and Baby each hoisting between one and two extra shots per game.
KG has experienced the biggest drop in PER among the major players, from 25.3 last year to 21.2 last season. Most of the "KG isn't the same" talk has focused on the perception that he's rebounding less, but this just isn't true.
Here's KG last season vs. KG this season:
FG% 55 52
Adjusted FG% 55.1 52.1
Off. Reb. Rate ** 7.3 5.7
Def. Reb. Rate ** 25.1 27.2
Reb/36 minutes ** 10.1 10.1
Points per game 19.2 16.1
FT attempts/game 5.2 2.7
So, almost all of KG's decline from "super-elite" to "regular elite" stems from a dip in his shooting percentage and a more surprising drop in his free throw attempts. As fans, we have to hope he's saving the interior aggressiveness for May and June. But the drop in his field-goal percentage should have been expected; he's a career 49.5 percent shooter who somehow sank 55 percent of his shots last year. That wasn't happening again.
The rest of the numbers show what we already know: Rondo and Ray Allen are significantly better, House and Baby are a bit worse and Pierce is humming right along doing his Paul Pierce thing.
But we also know one other thing the numbers don't show: The C's second unit is short a big man with a solid jump shot (P.J. Brown) and a three-point shooter who plays lock-down defense (Posey). Those absences are the kinds of things that hurt you during one or two crucial possessions in the most important games--exactly the kind of small little blips these overall statistical trends miss.