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Updating Boston's depth chart and how the return of Marcus Smart could change things

Examining Boston's evolving lineups, including a shift in Jeff Green's usage and how Marcus Smart's return could impact the rotations.

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

With a four-day break between games, I am happy to have the extra time to do some light research based on the first 12 games the Boston Celtics have played. While we only have a very small sample size to work with, there have already been some subtle changes to Brad Stevens' rotations.

So far,Tyler Zeller has ascended up the depth chart, Gerald Wallace has been used as a defensive-specialist, and the injury to Marcus Smart opened up opportunities for others.

After doing some research last week on Boston's frontcourt pairings, I found that playing Jeff Green at power forward has not been a success statistically. What I didn't realize at the time was that Green's playing time at power forward has declined significantly in the past six games.

In the first six games of the season, 28.2 percent of Green's minutes were spent playing power forward. Stevens was employing a lot of three-guard lineups, as he had said he would in the preseason, which put Green at the four.

But lineups with Green playing as a big weren't very productive, as outlined in last week's study, and his playing time there has taken a plunge, as he is now seeing just 7.9 percent of his minutes there in the past six games.

Stevens has begin utilizing more "traditional" lineups with two bigs on the floor, which might be based on specific matchup strategies, but in games early in the season the matchups didn't appear to influence the decision to play Green at the four; it happened every night, regardless of the opponent.

It's also possible that Smart's injury was a turning point in the decision to utilize fewer three-guard lineups, therefore keeping Green at small forward; but in the three games that Phil Pressey has occupied Smart's normal role, Green has spent just 12.2 percent of his minutes at power forward.

Regardless of the situation, Green seems to be settling into a more consistent role as a full-time small forward, and with that he's flourishing, averaging 18.4 points per game.

There is no way to know whether or not Jeff Green will maintain this role going forward, but it's something worth monitoring. If someone like Brandon Bass were traded, it would certainly open up a gaping hole for Green at power forward, and as a byproduct, minutes could more easily be distributed among the team's plethora of guards.

Speaking of the guards, Marcus Smart is expected to return to action on Friday night, which will help bolster the defense, but it'll also complicate their nightly rotations.

Things were different before Smart got hurt: Wallace was barely playing, but now Stevens has suggested he'd like to get him more minutes after he boosted the team's rotational defense on Sunday; Bass and Zeller were receiving measly minutes; and Green was actually playing a chunk of minutes at power forward.

With Smart's return, is there enough playing time to go around?

Probably not, but Stevens can (probably) make it work enough to keep everyone on the roster satisfied. When looking at the minutes per game differentials, Smart's 20.4 minutes per game was simply taken by almost everyone on the roster.

Of Boston's top 11 rotational players, only Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger saw their minutes dip in the last seven games sans Smart. Phil Pressey, Tyler Zeller, and Brandon Bass all saw large jumps in minutes, and everyone else saw subtle increases.

In other words, everyone on the roster took up the playing time that was previously being distributed to Smart. Now, those players will see their minutes sliced just a bit.

But Smart himself has said that he won't be back to 100 percent immediately, so let's assume he plays 17 minutes per game once he returns, as opposed to the 20 he received pre-injury.

The depth chart could look something like this:

Position Player/Projected Minutes
(C & PF)
Jared Sullinger 29 Tyler Zeller 15 Vitor Faverani 0
Kelly Olynyk 27 Brandon Bass 15
(SF & SG)
Jeff Green 34 Gerald Wallace 7 Dwight Powell 0
Marcus Thornton 15 James Young 0
(SG & PG)
Rajon Rondo 32 Evan Turner 19 Phil Pressey 0
Avery Bradley 30 Marcus Smart 17

Stevens would probably be extending is bench a little deeper than he had originally intended before the season, but this is what naturally happens with an "even roster."

At a projected 15 minutes per game, Marcus Thornton probably deserves to see more time on the court if he's draining shots, as I outlined in-depth here. And I put Wallace a seven minutes per game, because Stevens is correct when he says the defensive rotations have been sound with him on the floor.

Still, playing Wallace ultimately takes playing time away from Bass and Zeller. Bass' presence complicates things, but right now it's doable, as their playing time could shift depending on the matchup.

At 4-8 on the season, Boston has their work cut out for them in the coming weeks, and one of the keys will be establishing a set rotation. Once Brad Stevens finds the perfect pairings and groupings of players, the Boston Celtics might find themselves back on the right path.

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