Analysis: Brad Stevens’ Reportedly Established Frontcourt Rotation


Brad Stevens’ supposed frontcourt rotation has been masterfully selected, with each rotation’s frontcourt duo perfectly complementing one another. 

Last season, Brad Stevens never established a permanent rotation for his Celtics. While this was partially the result of his ever-changing roster, part of Stevens seemed to have enjoyed perplexing his opponents by deploying a bizarrely unpredictable lineup each game. This meant any healthy Celtics player (besides Gerald WallaceJames Young and sometimes Luigi Datome) could see consistent minutes on a nightly basis.

Barring injuries, the team often went 12 players deep and was thus capable of running all over their more-fatigued opponents. It helped perpetuate the team’s enigmatic identity, defined by their depth and versatility. With no lineup set-in-stone, opposing coaches had no idea which players they’d see, making the Celtics a nightmare to gameplan against.

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Now with virtually the same roster as last season, but with the high-priced additions of David Lee and Amir Johnson, the Celtics can no longer afford to play each player the same amount as last season. Brad Stevens recognizes this, and has reportedly settled on a four-man rotation of bigs: Tyler Zeller, David Lee, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk.

According to Comcast Sports Net’s A. Sherrod Blakely, Brad Stevens is planning to cut down on the amount of players he deploys each game.

From Brad Stevens:

"My thought right now is we won’t play more than four on most nights. Whoever those four may be, may depend on the night, may depend on how they’re playing, may depend on who is healthy."

While Stevens’ four-man rotation may be the plan for at least the start of the season, it’s subject to change as he mentioned. Also, this will not be the opening day rotation since Kelly Olynyk is suspended for the Kevin Love arm-pulling incident that occurred during last year’s playoffs. Therefore, it will likely be Jared Sullinger who takes Olynyk’s minutes on October 28th against the 76ers. Sully will need to make a huge impact that night, as well as this preseason, to convince Stevens to yank Olynyk from his apparently-set rotation.

Jonas Jerebko is the other notable Celtics big missing from Stevens’ rotation. Fortunately for him, unlike Sullinger, the Swede can play the three, which is the shallowest position on the Celtics. This could mean that Jerebko, if anything, could see an increase in minutes unless, of course, James Young takes an unexpected leap in production.

Jerebko also brings a much-needed element of three-point shooting to a team who – while liberal with their shooting of threes – didn’t make a high percentage. Brad Stevens’ “pace & space” offense lead to a ton of open transition threes, which explains how the Celtics took the 13th most shots from behind-the-arc. However, they were in the bottom-5 in three-point percentage – making a pedestrian 32.7%.

But don’t expect the Celtics to take any less threes this season because their formula, while inefficient in that regard, was a proven success. This was displayed by their late season turnaround, when they recorded the second-best record in the Eastern Conference following the All-Star break. Jerebko’s positional versatility and success from behind-the-arc secures a place for him in Stevens’ rotation.  Jerebko made a team-high 40.6% (Datome technically had the team-high, but it was a small sample size) from three, with many of his looks coming from the corners.

Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson also bring long range shooting to the Celtics’ frontcourt, as they shot 34.9 and 41.3% respectively. The two are expected to back-up reported starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, and should thus spend heavy minutes on the floor together.

Olynyk and Johnson complement each other well, with Johnson compensating for Olynyk’s poor defense, while Olynyk compensates for Johnson’s sub-optimal passing skills. Johnson also tends to play with his back to the basket and stick to the paint, despite his shooting, while Olynyk is more of a face-up player who predominantly sets up from behind-the-arc. Having Johnson in the paint to draw double-teams should translate into more open shooters from behind-the-arc. Also having another floor-stretcher like Olynyk on the court to warrant coverage at the perimeter, should give more space for Johnson to operate inside the paint.

Meanwhile, Celtics’ projected starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller are both killer pick n’ roll options who feast on open elbow jumpers. Expect Avery Bradley to use their screens at the elbow to create open jumpers for himself around the free-throw line. Bradley can also opt to find these two bigs cutting backdoor following a screen. On another note, having a strong passing veteran like Lee on the floor should help sophomore Marcus Smart develop his interior game as Lee knows which spots on the floor are most conducive for setting on-ball screens for Smart.

The Celtics’ starting lineup at this point is projected to be: Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, David Lee, Tyler Zeller. Besides Bradley, none of the Celtics starters are above-average three-point shooters. Ideally, there should be two-to-three serviceable three-point shooters in a rotation, as it allows teams to run offensive plays designed for creating room for both interior shots and jump-shooting plays. Without room to set up big men, the Celtics will be forced into taking inefficient contested jump-shots. The only possible way to score without adequate spacing is through picks, but modern defenses use a tactic called ICE, which effectively traps the ball-handler after a screen, making it extremely difficult to score.

However, David Lee‘s interior scoring abilities somewhat compensates for any lack of spacing since his knack at scoring through double-teams and passing out of them should make it difficult for opponents to create turnovers. It’s still not ideal, but if Smart improves his shooting as expected, it should at least survive until the offensively-potent second-unit (Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, etc…) takes over.

Sadly, Sullinger may find himself become obsolete if both Celtics’ frontcourt duos prove effective enough at rebounding. If not, Sullinger’s there to inject the team with an offensive rebounding machine. There’s also rookie Jordan Mickey waiting in the wings. However, I’d expect to see Mickey spend a majority of his season in Maine with the Red Claws.

Next: Who Dislikes The Celtics' Young Core?

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