Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is very aware of his team’s versatility and depth. Now, he must figure out what his best lineup is for the 2018-2019 regular season.
In an interview with Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports, Stevens emphasized the incredible depth present within his organization, something that’s rarely seen in today’s NBA (unless you’re the Warriors).
In 2017-2018, Boston had to deal with heartbreaking injuries to Gordon Hayward in the first game of the regular season, and Kyrie Irving right before the playoffs. Stevens’ genius was on full display during the 2018 postseason, where the lack of important personnel seemed irrelevant, as the Celtics steamrolled their way to a Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
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Now, with everyone fully healthy and retained through brand new contracts, Stevens has the right pieces to really control the team’s destiny, especially with LeBron James out of the Eastern Conference. One thing he’ll have to consider is who his best lineup will be.
A hard decision to make
There’s a lot of factors that go into determining the so-called “death lineup.” First off, it’s tough to really include Hayward when he barely played six minutes of basketball before breaking his leg. Regardless, he still deserves to be a part of it, especially since he’s getting paid like a superstar (Hayward is set to earn around $30 million for 2018-2019).
Fans also shouldn’t forget Hayward’s pristine play with the Utah Jazz, where he carried that squad to the playoffs multiple times and became the heart and soul of the city for the entire time he was there.
As expected, stat-wise, the C’s best lineup from the 2017-2018 regular season had to be the one with Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Aron Baynes. According to NBA stats, Stevens used that group the most by far (354 minutes). The lineup that Stevens used the second most included, a swap of Baynes for Marcus Smart, moving Horford to the five position. This alignment was only incorporated in 151 minutes of play during the 2017-2018 regular season.
The lineup with Brown, Tatum, Irving, Horford, and Baynes accumulated an offensive rating of 111.6 and a defensive rating of 98.3. This is the group that catapulted Boston to the title of “best defense” in the league. However, this is where it gets tricky.
The Celtics experimented a lot last season
The Boston Celtics used a lot of different schemes in 2017-2018, notably with the lineups. NBA stats also shows Boston in the bottom ten of the NBA for the least consistent starting lineup. It’s too difficult to really figure out their best variation of talent when injuries plagued them throughout the entire season as well as the playoffs. It really just depends on match-ups.
For comparison, the Minnesota Timberwolves most used lineup accounted for 1131 minutes of basketball, more than three times the amount that of the Celtics’ most used lineup. It’s worth noting that Tom Thibodeau rarely went more than eight deep on a regular night.
Because the Boston Celtics have so much versatility, Stevens can combine players based off of their strengths and weaknesses. There’s no better person to complete this process too. If the C’s are facing someone like the Milwaukee Bucks, who have Giannis, then Stevens may want to go with a faster and stronger lineup; one with Horford at the five, Brown at the four, and Tatum at the three.
This way, you have two viable forwards who can try to stick with the Greek Freak. It would be easier when the Bucks try to switch too. Maybe, Stevens wants to throw Semi Ojeleye in their instead of Brown. Sure, you sacrifice some scoring, but it’s not like it’s a big deal. Irving, Hayward, and Tatum would still power the offense.
Personally, I never liked Baynes as a defensive option in the playoffs. He’s slow and looks lackadaisical sometimes. He had loads of trouble covering and rebounding over Tristan Thompson and made him look like prime Dwight Howard at points during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston’s best bet
Not surprisingly, Boston’s best combination for defense included lineups with Smart and Horford at the five. It’s not like the Celtics have to face a player tougher than Giannis in the East either, which is nice. Stevens has room to experiment more.
Although tough, personally I think Boston’s death lineup for the 2018-2019 season will include, Irving, Tatum, Hayward, Brown, and Horford. That way, they can put up points with five legitimate playmakers, and hold their own on defense with Horford manning the paint. Brown and Tatum aren’t slouches on defense either.
The NBA seems to be becoming a revolving door, with players going in and out of teams like it’s first nature. Another question to consider is whether or not the Boston Celtics will even have the same players by the trade deadline in February. There’s a lot to think about. Lineups change all the time. Only injuries and player performance will determine Stevens’ decision making come October and beyond.