Small ball, big dose: A prescription for the Celtics' offense

Crowder flourished at the four last season
When the Celtics went on their torrid run to the postseason last year, it was in large part due to an infusion of position-less basketball. Left with a makeshift roster after a bevy of trades, Brad Stevens decided to work to the roster’s strengths rather than trying to shoehorn it into a traditional lineup, and the results spoke for themselves.

It was a great move then, and it would be a great move now too.

Five games into the season, the Celtics are threatening to become last year’s Charlotte Hornets -- a team with a putrid offense being propped up by a stellar defense. None of the backcourt trio of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas have managed to shoot over 45% from the field, and they compromise the BEST shooters on the team by percentage. 

That poor shooting is as much a function of poor spacing as a lack of talent, and that is why Brad Stevens should embrace the small-ball lineups this team has to offer. David Lee is an accomplished NBA player, and Tyler Zeller certainly has his merits. But over the course of the season so far, the Celtics have played exactly one big man, Jahlil Okafor, who demanded any kind of attention on the block, and in my opinion, that leaves traditional bigs like Zeller and Lee left without a real purpose on the court. 

Really think about it. Does Ian Mahinmi seem like the guy who will kill you down low? How about a past-his-prime Marcin Gortat, or the less than fleet of foot Jonas Valanciunas? Almost no big man the Celtics have faced so far presents the kind of defensive challenge that would preclude them from putting someone like Jae Crowder or Jonas Jerebko at the four spot, and yet Stevens simply wont give in to the obvious. 

The Celtics have managed to score over 100 points only once all season, and beyond the numbers, the offense simply doesn't pop the way it did during the team’s second half surge. Stevens has noted that the ball simply hasn't moved the way it needs to, and even the casual observer can see that the number of offensive possessions that end in Evan Turner pull-ups or contested Avery Bradley threes is much higher than anyone would like. Via Jay King of Masslive:

Said Stevens: "We're not moving the ball as well as we need to and we're not taking care of the ball as well as we need to

The antidote to these issues is staring Stevens in the face, and it is one he has already embraced somewhat. Earlier in the season, Stevens stressed how the second unit could be effective by spreading the floor with shooters around Thomas pick and rolls. But why is that strategy limited to the bench?

It is understandable if Stevens wants to hedge his bets on Smart’s playmaking ability by putting David Lee in the starting lineup, or if he wants to lean on Jared Sullinger while he’s still healthy and playing well. But there are 48 minutes to split up at each position, and not mixing and matching those minutes to optimize matchups would be a failure on Stevens’ part. 

One of the keys both Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have honed in on with this year’s Celtics is the team’s depth. They go two deep at each position, and even three deep at point guard and power forward. The Celtics certainly take advantage of that depth wit the breakneck pace at which they play, but a lack of fatigue is not the only use of having a loaded roster. 

Great depth also unlocks all kinds of funky lineup combinations (just by way of example, a lineup of Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Amir Johnson would give any team that doesn't have a traditional bruiser fits), and it is on Stevens to wring every ounce of production out of the roster he has been given. Hopefully, he is up to the task.