Can the Boston Celtics Stay Healthy Again?

Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens watches against the Atlanta Hawks during the first half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics can’t win games if their key players are on the bench

Injuries are one of the most evil things in sports. It can turn a team or player that’s on the rise to nothing in just one play. Unlike a lot of teams last season, the Boston Celtics had the good fortune of avoiding the injury bug for most of the season. They entered their first round matchup with the Atlanta Hawks a little hobbled, and it showed, but overall they had no major devastating injuries to their team.

All nine players in their main rotation played at least 60 games, including six who played in at least 75 games. Part of their good fortune in health should be accredited to the youth the Celtics have on their roster. Besides David Lee, who was waived mid-season, everyone on the Celtics roster was under 30-years-old. Youth can bring problems, but durability and being able to play heavy minutes is a positive seen in most young players.

With that being said, adding two 30-year-olds in Al Horford and Gerald Green could bring injury trouble to the Celtics rotation. There is no certainty that Green will crack the rotation, but Horford was seen as one of the top free agent signings this offseason and should be an integral part to the Celtics game plan immediately.

Horford brings a dynamic arsenal on offense and good shot blocking ability on defense, but he has run into injury history in the past. Granted he played in 76 and 82 games in the last two seasons, he played in fewer than 30 games in two of the prior three seasons (2011-14). A major injury could happen to any player at any time, but injuries become more common when players get older and players who have an injury history.

With Horford averaging 33.5 minutes per game over his nine-year career, there’s no doubt that he has racked up plenty of mileage on his legs. Even though he will be a major part to the Celtics game plan from the first day, Brad Stevens being able to limit his minutes until the postseason will help Boston in the playoffs and also in the future.

It will help keep an aging Horford fresher and less likely to get injured from fatigue. Plus, since the Celtics signed Horford to a four-year deal, they don’t want his production to go decline later in the deal.

Therefore, protecting Horford and keeping him fresh until the postseason is more important than overusing him to win an extra game or two. Although, despite Stevens still being a relatively young NBA coach, he has grasped that concept very well.

As previously noted, the Celtics didn’t have any major injuries last season and their core rotation rarely missed extended time. Youth and having players with no major injury history played a factor, but Brad Stevens was able to grasp a concept that even veteran coaches can’t at times.

It wasn’t exemplified in the postseason but Stevens kept his team fresh the whole season by rarely overusing them during the regular season. He is a reputation as a great rotation builder as in 2014-15 three players played in all 82 games for the Celtics and three more played in at least 60 games – many trades happened that restricted players from reaching these marks.

Last season, only three starters averaged more than 30 minutes per game, and none topped 35 minutes per night. That’s a rare feat for a winning team. 77 players averaged at least 30 minutes per game last season, and 20 averaged at least 35 minutes per night in the whole league. Winning teams rely heavily on their star players, but the Celtics depth isn’t a tool every team has.

The Celtics incredible depth gives Stevens the flexibility to rest his star players. That’s why Avery Bradley, the team’s most used player, ranked just 33rd in minutes per game last season. All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas also only tied for 49th in the league for minutes per game. He was able to put together an All-Star level season while not playing a ton and, most importantly, help the Celtics in all 82 games.

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston is far from the only team who has a deep bench, but Stevens trust in his role players is not seen in a lot of coaches. When teams have a back court made up of an All-Star and All-Defensive First Teamer, most coaches would play them 35-plus minutes per night.

The Toronto Raptors are a perfect example. All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan each ranked in the top-10 in minutes per game – averaging over 35 minutes per night. While neither faced an injury that kept them out for an extended period of time, and the Raptors made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, they could definitely feel the impact of playing heavy minutes this postseason considering they also competed with Team USA this summer.

It’s not to say that Thomas and Bradley should see under 30 minutes per night, however Stevens ability to give his bench the reigns for long periods of time will pay dividends in the postseason. Eight players averaged 20 minutes per game last season, and their starting back court ranked just sixth and seventh in minutes per game on the team – Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson. The bench’s productivity allows Stevens to experiment with different lineups.

Besides, not relying heavily on a couple of players also helps when a key player does go down with an injury. Stevens used a lot of different lineups late in games, which made everyone in the rotation ready to step up in case someone got hurt or was struggling.

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That was seen last postseason when Avery Bradley went down and Jared Sullinger became nonexistent. Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko each stepped up and helped the Celtics win two games. Sure, the Celtics weren’t as dominating but they had less of a transition period than other teams.

With Al Horford playing 32.1 minutes per game with Atlanta last season, his playing time with Boston likely won’t be much of a change. At the same time, he’s playing 7.5 minutes per game more than Jared Sullinger did last season and Gerald Green and Terry Rozier are also expected to be a part of the rotation. While playing time is hard to come by in Boston, it’s setting Brad Stevens, one of the most creative coaches in the NBA, up to come up with unique lineups and ways to implement everyone.

A good training staff and luck is always needed to have the fortune of health that Boston had last season, however Brad Stevens and their depth also plays a huge factor. With the Celtics expected to rival the Cavaliers in the postseason this year, being fresh and healthy come May and June will be important.

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There are few teams who have the opportunity to keep legs fresh throughout the entire season, and even fewer who trust their bench enough to do so. The Celtics do need a superstar who can play 35 minutes per night and lead them, but their team play mindset has been a key part to their younger player’s development and the health that the Celtics have experienced.