Never before in the NBA has size seemed to matter less. Teams are content to space the floor with three or four shooters surrounding one post player, content to trade a potential rebounding edge for better 3-point looks and the ability to switch more fluidly on defense.
Brad Stevens has typically stuck to keeping two taller players in the game at once, but he's recently experimented with a smaller lineup recently that features the 6-foot-9 Jared Sullinger at center. Stevens has surrounded Sullinger with 6-foot-6 Jae Crowder as the nominal power forward and Marcus Smart, Marcus Thornton and James Young as the guards.
The Celtics unfurled the new lineup in Tuesday's 108-97 win over the Knicks, and Jay King of Mass Live detailed the unit's great success:
By my count, Crowder small-ball lineups went 21 for 31 from the field (67.8 percent) against the Knicks http://t.co/tNpqtS3Jey— Jay King (@ByJayKing) February 4, 2015
Stevens returned to the lineup several times Wednesday against Denver, helping Boston win 104-100, once again to strong success:
Over 15 minutes, the Smart-Thornton-Young-Crowder-Sully lineup shot 15 threes, made 8 threes, grabbed 11 OREBs, outscored DEN by 11.— Jay King (@ByJayKing) February 5, 2015
King also noted that group combined to make just 13 of its 33 shots, but the 3-pointers and offensive rebounds more than made up for the errant shooting.
Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston further detailed the small lineups use over the past two games, saying that the group has scored 132.8 points per 100 possessions in its 20 minutes together. The new combination pairs Thornton (40.2 percent on 3-pointers) with surprising marksman Smart (35.7 percent) and fellow rookie Young (10 3-pointers in a recent D-league game). If teams double Sullinger in the post, he has plenty of options to kick it out to. And while Crowder is clearly undersized, his athleticism and toughness helps him make up for some of his lack of length defensively.
The two-game sample size is obviously a very small one, and Stevens' hand has partially been forced by circumstances. Kelly Olynyk is out with an ankle injury, robbing Stevens of some of his size, and Sullinger was twice benched last week for showing up late to pregame walkthroughs, pairing him with bench units more often.
But maybe Stevens has stumbled onto a surprisingly effective unit that, at the worst, can give the Celtics a boost in short spurts of time. With so many teams turning to at least some version of small ball, it was only a matter of time before the Celtics tried their hand at it.
Photo credit: Brian Babineau, Getty ImagesDan Hoppen 2/06/2015 09:58:00 AM Tweet Edit