BOSTON – One of the first questions Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is asked before every game involves his starting lineup.
That’s because for a team that has played with such consistency this season, the starting five has very much been a nightly game-time decision with head coach Brad Stevens having already used eight different starting lineups this season.
That trend will continue tonight as the Celtics (20-4) host the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that the Celtics have already played twice with each of the first two games featuring a different starting five for Boston.
Make that three different starting lineups.
With a healthy roster minus Gordon Hayward (ankle) who is out for the season, head coach Brad Stevens’ decision has often come down to Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris starting with the foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.
Neither Baynes or Morris started in either of the first two games against the Bucks this season.
There are some Celtics fans who love the physical nature that 6-foot-10, 265-pound Baynes provides and want to see it with the first unit, which in many ways has helped Al Horford showcase his defensive versatility more than we saw last season. But there’s another segment of Boston’s fan base that loves the position-less basketball that the Celtics can play at an extremely high level with Morris, a 6-9 forward whose versatility at both ends of the floor has the makings of a potential mismatch in favor of the Celtics or could create one for another teammate.
No question, both players add value to the first unit.
And when you look at how the Celtics have fared with each in the starting lineup, it makes the decision on who to start even more of a toss-up.
They have been Boston’s two most popular lineups, with a starting five including Baynes posting a 9-1 record while the Celtics’ first unit with Morris in it has won six of their seven games this season.
Although both players have said they don’t give a ton of thought to starting or coming off the bench, there’s little doubt that Morris would much rather be with the first unit.
He was asked about starting recently and responded, “next question.”
When reminded of how special sixth men have been to the Celtics franchise historically, Morris with a grin said, “next question.”
Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, there’s a certain amount of adapting he must do.
“Obviously, Kyrie’s our point guard. We play off of him,” Morris said. “The ball isn’t in my hands as much. I don’t have a problem with it. So, I adjust and try to spot up more and knock down open shots. And then when I get my chance with the second unit, I try to get my post-ups and stuff like that. “
When breaking down these two players and their impact on Boston’s starting five and winning, it really does feel like it comes down to which is more valuable at the start of games – better offense or better defense.
Because defensively, Boston has been appreciably better with Baynes who has a league-best 91.2 defensive rating. And the Celtics as a team have a defensive rating of 90.4 with Baynes, but that number balloons to 118.8 with Morris.
Morris has shot the ball better of late which comes at a time when the offense has shown clear growth. However, head coach Brad Stevens remains open-minded about which of the two will be in the starting lineup.
“Starting or when they play doesn’t really matter,” Stevens said. “So, he’s still going to start when we feel like the matchups is … is right. And the good news is, is that you’re not as quick to pull him because of the … because of the minutes restriction as it’s been lifted or increased.”
Morris did not play in Boston’s first eight games of the season due to left knee soreness. Upon his return to the active roster, the Celtics have limited his minutes and restricted him from playing in back-to-back games.
But the past few games, there has been a slight bump in his minutes.
“You know, having 25-30 (minutes) is much different than 20-22 when you’re trying to manage a four-quarter game,” Stevens said. “So, you know, whether he starts, comes off the bench, that’s only six minutes of the game. So, it’s more important that we’re able to put our best foot forward against every opponent. And I like the fact that we have some flexibility; I mean, there are some teams you just can’t start big against, and some teams that it’s hard to start small against. So, it’s good that everybody is able to play well through that.”