"I just need to do a better job."
Such were the words of Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, as reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com, after the Celtics lost their second game in a row to a team in the bottom three of the NBA standings (a team, I might add, that owes them an unprotected first round pick and whom they play again tonight as they look to right the ship).
Coaches take blame for losses for a number of reasons. To take pressure off of players, or to deflect from the fact that they simply don't have the talent to win -- Brett Brown has reiterated the phrase so many times he probably frightens his wife as he says it in his sleep. And many times, it is a solid strategy.
But sometimes, it is simply the truth. And such is the case with Stevens as of late.
The fact is that Stevens' lineup combinations have been wildly inconsistent. Some games Tyler Zeller doesn't play; other games he gets early run because the frontcourt is struggling. David Lee's minutes seem to tick up whenever the offense needs a jolt, despite the fact that advanced statistics paint him as a solid negative every time he hits the floor. Kelly Olynyk gets the hook for not shooting when he has the chance, and similarly gets pulled for a perceived (though admittedly true at times) lack of hustle.
Meanwhile, Evan Turner -- one of the least efficient scorers in the league, and a redundant player whenever Isaiah Thomas is on the floor due to his need to have the ball in his hands and inability to shoot from outside 15 feet -- earns consistent minutes, a trend one would hope would reverse now that Marcus Smart is back in the fold.
And perhaps even more maddeningly, R.J. Hunter and James Young seem to flip spots in the rotation on a daily basis, a situation which means that neither knows when or if they are going to play and therefore have no chance to get into a rhythm when they do.
It is understandable that a coach with Stevens' "minutes are earned, not given" attitude would switch up the lineup based on things fans simply don't get to see, like outstanding practice performances or as a reward for guys putting in the extra work necessary to improve. But such changes are usually game to game -- not minute to minute.
Take, for example, old friend Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clips signed Josh Smith in the offseason to be their third big man, someone who could comfortably play the four and spot Blake Griffin while also combining with him to form a small-ball monster. During the Clippers recent nine-game win streak, Smith has been glued to the bench in favor Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, and Doc himself has said that he simply won't tinker with a lineup that is working so well, even to sate a veteran players' need for minutes.
It is a lesson Stevens could stand to learn.
It is no secret the Celtics have a logjam of guards and bigs (specifically power forwards), and that some players, such as Lee, might become ornery if they don't see the floor. It may even be the case that Danny Ainge and the front office forces Stevens' hand to some degree, wanting him to play Lee (or Amir Johnson, or others) to showcase him and his massive expiring contract as trade bait. If such is the case, Stevens is shit out of luck, and Celtics fans will simply have to accept that.
But if such is not the case, Stevens' has to settle on a rotation and stick with it.
Playing your best offensive big (Kelly Olynyk) only 19.5 minutes per game just to please less talented veteran players is not good coaching. Switching the back end of your rotation daily when the players in question have redundant skill sets is not good coaching. Refusing to remove Jared Sullinger (shooting below 40% over the last month) from the starting lineup is not good coaching.
And before you say that I am simply venting some misplaced frustration, take a moment to consider one thing -- the numbers illustrate the effect of Stevens' inconsistencies better than I ever could, and they are damning:
Kelly Olynyk has a 4% higher usage rate in Celtics wins than in losses. Ditto for R.J. Hunter, who has been injured but was losing minutes before then anyway. And as we all might expect, David Lee's usage is basically unchanged between wins and losses, mostly because he has a net rating of -2.6 -- meaning he is a net negative anytime he is on the floor, which is mercifully not too much.
The trends are all there, and Stevens is either unaware of them or simply ignoring them -- a choice between a crime of ignorance and a crime of negligence, neither of which is forgivable for a coach whom Danny Ainge has said will be "one of the greats."
"In 10 or 20 years from now, we'll be talking about Brad as one of the great coaches to ever coach in the NBA." - Celtics president Danny Ainge, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com
None of this is to say that Stevens is somehow a bad coach -- he is, in fact, a very good one, having crafted the number one non-Spurs defense in the NBA despite playing several players (Turner, Thomas, Olynyk) whom have reputations as minus defenders. But being very good is no excuse for being indecisive, and if the Celtics are to move into the upper echelon in a cramped eastern conference, Stevens needs to stop scratching out his lineups in pencil and grab some ink.
Photos courtesy of Nesn.com and the Boston Celtics subreddit
Statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com and NBA.com
Follow Brenton on twitter @BBTruth8294
Brenton Bauerle 1/04/2016 03:01:00 PM Tweet Edit