Brad Stevens found success last year in smaller lineups. The first unit struggled to score at times, but a second unit led by Isaiah Thomas handling the ball, Jae Crowder at the 4, and Jonas Jerebko sliding to the 5 gave the Celtics an advantage. During the team's late season 24-12 push to the playoffs, lineups featuring Thomas, Crowder, and Jerebko were a stout +91. That's 27 points better than the next most effective trio (Thomas, Jerebko, and Smart at +64). Granted, the IT, Crowder, Jerebko threesome saw most of their time together against second units, but their impact was undeniable. It's natural to think Stevens would look for ways to build on that for next season. Except...
#Celtics coach Brad Stevens: We have more traditional bigs this year, so we will probably play more traditional lineups.— Scott Souza (@scott_souza) September 2, 2015
Obviously, small ball was a big help last season. Stevens "interested to see" bigger lineups. "We’ll do what’s best."— Jay King (@ByJayKing) September 2, 2015
The additions of David Lee and Amir Johnson, healthy versions of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, and the return of Tyler Zeller make it difficult to envision too many lineups missing one of those five Celtic big men. In fact it's even tough to imagine all five of those big men being a part of a steady rotation. Stevens could trot out a starting lineup of Smart, Bradley, Crowder, Sullinger, and Johnson; the second unit would be Thomas, some combination of Rozier/Hunter/Young/Turner at the 2 and 3, Lee, and Zeller. Or is it Lee and Olynyk? Wait, where's Jerebko fit in? Could he play the 3 and do the opposite of small ball? Stevens just decides to zig when the rest of the league zags? The Celtics did not land an elite talent this offseason, and that only makes parsing out playing time among the team's glut of bigs that much more of a head scratcher for Brad Stevens.
Stevens hinting at more traditional lineups makes it seem that maybe this year's roster isn't conducive to running back last year's second unit small ball magic. Expect a lot of tinkering this preseason. But after last year's fantastic second half, Stevens has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to getting the most out of his Celtics roster. Having too many bigs worthy of playing time is not a bad problem to have. As the season approaches, one storyline to watch is just how far away from last season's successful foray into small ball Stevens is willing to go.
Photo Credit Joe Murphy Getty Images
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