Celtics: Different Starting Lineups On A Night To Night Basis?


Sep 29, 2012; Waltham, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers stands on top of the logo during practice at the Celtics training facility. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

After practice in Waltham Doc Rivers spoke to the media, and with what some of the journalists reported, there are some intriguing ideas that the Celtics coaching staff is working on for this upcoming season. There is a possibility that we may see a different starting lineup every night, depending on who the opponent is. Rivers said they are working on three different lineups; Darko Milicic starts with Kevin Garnett in the front court; Jared Sullinger starts with Brandon Bass coming off the bench; having Jason Terry in the starting lineup.

If there was ever a year Doc Rivers could utilize the players he has to come up with different lineups, it’s this year with this current group. I highly doubt egos will get in the way, such as players who should start full-time coming off the bench. All these players are professionals and have bought into the system. But let’s take a look at the situation for a minute. Can an interchangeable lineup successfully work in the NBA and does this make the Celtics a more dangerous team?

Obviously the Celtics are a title contender, but they have a few teams to get by before reaching the Finals. Throughout a grueling 82 game season, what is the best way to keep your aging veterans healthy and fresh for the playoffs? Probably lowering minutes and having the bench players play more; this year Boston has a bench that can allow this to happen. Let’s consider possibilities of having an interchangeable lineup, and the effects it may have on the team and their opponents.

Darko Milicic and Kevin Garnett starting in the front court

Mar 30, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Darko Milicic (31) goes up for a shot past Chicago Bulls center Omer Asik (3) in the second half at Target Center. The Bulls won 108-91. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Despite all the negativity surrounding him, having Milicic starting may actually be beneficial. When the Celtics take on a team like the Lakers, they’ll at least have a player to throw at Dwight Howard. In this lineup, Garnett will probably return to his natural position of power forward, and by doing this he can cover Pau Gasol. This lineup would be used when facing teams with size in the front court, and seeing that Boston has the option to go big, it could help them with their inferior rebounding ability.

This lineup could also be used when facing a team like the Miami Heat, or even Oklahoma City Thunder. Miami can’t field size at all and mostly rely upon speed and athleticism to dominate their opponents. With a Darko, Garnett lineup, the paint won’t be as easily accessible as it was in the Eastern Conference Finals. The entire Heat starting lineup thrive on the perimeter. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade drive to the basket, but you rarely seem them down in the post. Shane Battier and Mike Miller camp out on the three point line, which then leaves Chris Bosh, who on rare occasions builds up enough courage to get into the paint.

Size is the one advantage Boston has when facing Miami this season, and it would be a mistake if they don’t capitalize on that.

Jared Sullinger starts, Brandon Bass comes off the bench

July 17, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) drives to the basket during the game against the Chicago Bulls at the Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

In my last article I had discussed this situation very thoroughly, and while I’d prefer Bass starting, having Sullinger in the starting lineup gives the Celtics the opportunity to have a smaller Big Three come off the bench: Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass.

A lineup with Sullinger starting is very similar to what we’ve seen in the past when the Celtics would start Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett in the front court. The only difference is that Sullinger is potentially going to be a better rebounder and scorer than Davis, and he will provide additional scoring for the starting unit.

Just like the starting lineup involving Darko Milicic, Doc Rivers has a great bench to work with due to switching up the lineups. In the seasons of 2009 to 2011, the Celtics didn’t have a bench that could either extend a lead or maintain one. This year, it may be a different story. Jeff Green and Jason Terry alone could supply 20-30 points, but then add Brandon Bass into the mix and now we’re talking about maybe half of Boston’s offensive contribution coming from the bench. As I look at it right now, the Celtics have the ingredients of being a very good team, and somehow they find themselves flying under the radar.

Jason Terry In the starting lineup

Apr 18, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Jason Terry (31) celebrates making a three point shot during the game against the Houston Rockets at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Rockets 117-110. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

I’m not too surprised that this is being discussed. While it’s already been made clear that he’s going to be the sixth man, Terry is definitely going to have a starting role on the team, even if it’s a game or two here or there. Having Terry in the starting lineup is basically the same as if Ray Allen was still on the team. But Terry doesn’t mind coming off the bench if he has to.

I believe when Avery Bradley returns, Terry will go back to the sixth man role, and Courtney Lee will become a combo guard for the Celtics. Terry being the point guard takes away from what he does best, which is to hit outside jump shots. Terry can be used in both of the starting lineups mentioned above, but I don’t think we’d see him start versus the Heat or Lakers.

When Doc Rivers’ mind is at work, only good things can come out of it. If he’s as crafty with creating starting lineups as he is with out-of-bounds plays, this will all work out successfully. When lineups start being discussed, you know the NBA season is right around the corner. Twenty days from today is opening night, and that’s when all the mind games begin.