BOSTON – Injuries and illnesses throughout last season left Brad Stevens little choice but to play a game of “rotation roulette” with his roster.
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Now that most of the players from last season are back, the lineup experimentation this year will be more about tinkering rather than trying something new.
Having that continuity is a good thing, obviously.
But Boston also benefits from coming into camp having already established a foundation of sorts as to which lineups work well and which ones are a work in progress.
Here’s a look at five lineups that meet certain needs and most likely will be on display at some point this season.
Going into training camp, look for the Celtics to open with the same starting five they had to start last season: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. The sample size for this group is only five minutes due to Hayward’s season-ending ankle injury. But there is no question this group has the potential to cause major matchup problems for opponents. Irving’s ability to break defenses down from the point guard position opens the floodgates for the rest of his fellow starters to do what they do best. But with this group, it’ll be interesting to see how Tatum and Hayward mesh on the floor. Hayward is an All-Star coming off a major injury, while Tatum blossomed into a promising star-on-the-rise whose talent indicates he should be in line for a more prominent role than the one he had last season. The other concern with this group is rebounding; specifically, with Horford at center, which is a position he’s not particularly fond of playing.
The Celtics can go in a number of directions when they want to clamp down on teams defensively. But one group we may see playing together this season consists of Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Brown, Horford and Aron Baynes. With this group, you have your best interior defenders on the floor in Horford and Baynes. And on the perimeter, Boston has the potential to switch every position and not be devastated or significantly weaker in the exchange. Last season, this unit held opponents to just 15.4 percent shooting according to NBA.com/stats, and just 20 percent from 3-point range. That kind of success, even in small doses, can be huge for a team that’s going to be challenged on a nightly basis which we’ve come to expect for a team many have pegged as the front-runner to come out of the East this season.
GET BUCKETS CREW
There will be a few nights when points will be difficult to come by, and the Celtics will have no choice but to go with a more offensive-minded group of players. A lineup consisting of Irving, Rozier, Tatum, Hayward and Horford just might be in the cards. It’s one of the few lineups Boston has where all five players on the floor can create their own shot off the dribble, which makes double-teaming any of them extremely difficult as long as the Celtics remember to keep the ball moving until they get the matchup that best benefits them. While this group isn’t the best Boston has to offer defensively, it’s not bad enough to where the downside to their defense will outweigh the immense potential they bring to the game offensively.
With so much overall depth, no one should be surprised if there are games in which head coach Brad Stevens decides to go with a group of second-unit players for longer-than-usual stretches. The most likely one you’ll see will be Smart, Rozier, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis. This is a group that has to rely on smart ball-movement to get great looks at the basket which can be seen in their impressive 2.88 assists-to-turnover ratio. It’s a good thing they keep the ball moving because this unit isn’t built to live off the 3-point shot (they shot 25 percent as a unit according to NBA.com/stats).
BOARD IT UP
On those nights when the Celtics are getting crushed on the glass – and we all know there will be a few of those this season – this unit has the kind of versatility to combat that to some degree. The lineup to watch when that happens involves Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Theis and Baynes. Rozier’s 9.8 rebounding percentage led the NBA among guards that are 6-2 or shorter. Theis was Boston’s rebounding percentage leader (.160) among players who played at least half of the season. Brown’s length, athleticism and versatility allow him to be a factor on the boards. Ditto for Tatum. As for Baynes, he is Boston’s biggest body and has a defensive rebounding percentage of .216 which is just behind Theis (.217) for the team lead among players who played at least half the season. Baynes is also right behind Theis for the team lead in overall rebounding percentage (.158).