Should the 'IT and D' lineup be the new starting five?
Surrounding our best scorer with our four best defensive players is an intriguing idea, but would they be a good fit as the starting five? Basically, it would just be replacing Amir Johnson with Smart and playing small. They have been on the court in the closing and opening minutes of many halves lately, so maybe Brad Stevens trusts them more than the actual starters. Plus, Johnson still currently holds a starting spot, but his minutes would suggest that he may be on the way out of that role.
One concern about starting games with the "IT and D" lineup is the size. Rebounding has been a major issue with this team in general, so starting a small ball lineup like this would only hurt our already weak rebounding, right? Actually, they put in work on the boards against Detroit:
In 7 mins vs DET the Celtics small ball lineup (IT,AB, Smart, Jae & Al) had team-high 70.0 REB%. They also had +25.8 Net Rating #CelticsTalk— Max Lederman (@Max_Lederman) November 20, 2016
Since, they haven't been quite as impressive. According to NBA.com/Stats, their REB% is down to 50% on the season, which is surprisingly still 2% higher than the current starting five. The ironic thing about the "IT and D" squad is that they have been better on the offensive end, while their defense has actually been much worse.
The Celtics' offensive Rating is 12.6 points higher when Smart is with the starters instead of Johnson. This is likely because no big men are clogging the line, which allows IT to do what he does best and drive to the hoop. If anyone helps out, there are shooters ready to strike on the perimeter. Being a small ball lineup makes them a versatile group who can attack effectively on offense and maintain fluid ball movement.
The "IT and D" lineup has oddly been very vulnerable on defense, however. Their 144.9 defense rating is simply horrendous, and is only this high due to a small sample size. Still though, that is not a good sign regardless of the lack of playing time together. You'd have to imagine that, no matter how good Smart, Bradley, and Crowder are at perimeter defense, teams can create mismatches with bigger players and exploit the lack of Boston's size.
This five player combination may be best utilized once in a while to switch things up on opponents. Rolling out this lineup could catch teams off-guard and force their hands, like what Stevens did to the Detroit Pistons. Perhaps that's why that unit was so successful that game. Under this logic, the "IT and D" lineup wouldn't be most utilized as the starting five, but rather as an off-tempo lineup to shake up the game.
What's your take? How good can the "IT and D" lineup be? Should they start together?
Follow Erik Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32
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