Although it remains unclear if the changes are for good, especially since Avery Bradley was out and Jared Sullinger has been dealing with a minor injury, the adjustments Brad Stevens made to his starting lineup on Monday night in the win over the Nets should remain with only a slight modification.

The Starting Lineup

The changes were important because the Celtics starters have been the team's Achilles heel all season. For example, in terms of per game averages, their starters rank 18th in the NBA in points scored (64.2); 25th in rebounding (25.8); 25th in field goal percentage (.438%); and tied for
23rd in three-point percentage (.339%).

In an offense ranked fourth in pace with aspirations to spread the floor, with shooters on the outside and lots of paint for their guards to roam, such a lack of offensive firepower will render the style meaningless. Therefore, to win, the Celtics must make adjustments. They need a five capable of grabbing hold of the momentum at the beginning of the first and third quarters.

Monday's Changes

After a couple tough losses, Stevens finally had enough, implementing the aforementioned changes before game in Brooklyn on Monday. He inserted Evan Turner into the starting lineup due to the injury to Bradley and replaced Sullinger with Kelly Olynyk. The result was a starting five of those two, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas. The move sparked the Celtics, who ended the first quarter with a 37-22 lead. The overall plus-minus of the five, who played a total of 165 minutes, was plus-43. Furthermore, they combined for only six turnovers and four of them were from Turner.

The Celtics are now 34 games into the season and lost two of their last three to two of the worst teams in the NBA. Furthermore, they are in the midst of a crowded Eastern Conference, where 10 teams are contending for eight slots and only 1.5 games separates the teams between fourth and ninth place. Therefore, the time for change is now and not just for the sake of change, but rather to improve the team, especially their rotation to start games and its offensive output.

Reasons to keep Olynyk in Starting Lineup

There is even less reason to wait if that can be done while at the same time maintaining the team’s 100.3 defensive rating, which is second in the NBA. The change of Olynk for Sullinger accomplishes that. Not only has Sullinger been struggling of late, reaching double-digit points or rebounds only once in the five games prior to Monday, but Olynyk has been excelling for much of the season.

Despite the inconsistent minutes and role, Olynyk has shot a career-high, .388%, from three-point range, making him one of the team’s best outside shooters. With regard to his per 36 minutes stats, he is averaging nearly 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Per 100 possessions, his defensive rating is 98, which is a full 2 points below the team’s 100.3. His ability to shoot from the outside will open up the floor for Thomas to get to the rim and free-throw line. The numbers show that to be true as well.

This season, the combination of Olynyk and Thomas is sixth best on the team in terms of net points per 100 possessions. Which two-man combination is first? Olynyk and Crowder, who are plus-12. As for three-man lineup combinations: Olynk, Thomas and Crowder are best on the team at plus-17.2 points in over 215 minutes playing with each other. It is also important to note Sullinger’s move to the second unit on Monday resulted in his first double-double since December 16th.

It is clear Olynyk is capable of providing the offensive spark to the starting lineup, including the other players in it, while maintaining its defensive edge, and Sullinger’s move to the second unit will allow him to assert himself more and play with more confidence. The switch, if permanent, will provide a frontcourt that fits better in the pace-and-space system the Celtics are trying to employ.

Reasons to Insert Marcus Smart into the Starting Lineup

The other change that needs to be made is Marcus Smart for Turner (and Bradley, upon his return). Although Turner played well on Monday, Smart is the future of the Celtics backcourt and is deserving of having his starting spot returned to him, especially when you dig deeper into the numbers. For example, Turner has an offensive rating this year of 96, which ranks 12th of 15th when considering the full roster. The three players behind him are non-regulars RJ Hunter, James Young and Terry Rozier. His defensive rating of 101 is ranked ninth on the team. With regard to plus-minus for a players offensive and defensive ratings, his minus-5 is tied with Tyler Zeller for 12th on the team, with the only three players worse being Hunter, Young and Rozier. Another good indicator of a players worth is win share per 48 minutes. The average NBA player has a WS/48 of .100. Turner's WS/48 is 0.69, which is last on the team when only considering the regulars.

Smart’s minutes have steadily increased since he returned to the lineup four games ago. In those games, the Celtics are plus-8 with him on the floor and that has been mainly due to his defense and the intangibles he has brought, such as hustle and toughness. Overall, Smart has been better than Turner, but more importantly, better for the players around him. With regard to net points per 100 possessions, here is how Marcus plays with Crowder, Johnson and Thomas:

1. Smart/Crowder/Johnson: +15.8 points;
2. Smart/Johnson/Thomas: +14.0 points
3. Smart/Crowder/Thomas: +9.8 points

Therefore, for the same reasons Stevens should make the Olynyk change permanent, he should insert Smart into the starting lineup for Turner and/or Bradley. Each move will improve the starters offense, which has been inconsistent, if not downright poor most nights, while also maintaining, if not improving, their top-level defense.

The time for waiting is over. Every game is important from here on out and the best five need to start the first and third quarters moving forward and the best five is:

PG Smart
SG Thomas
SF Crowder
PF Johnson
C Olynyk

Questions for the Readers: do you agree? If not, what is your starting five for the rest of the season?

Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer of USA Today Sports

Follow Max Sandgrund on Twitter @SotoSpeakz

Max Sandgrund 1/06/2016 10:50:00 AM Edit
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