Brad Stevens could use more traditional frontcourt pairings this season, since the Boston Celtics have a roster brimming with bigs. That means Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko might play more small forward.
That's exactly what happened during Tuesday night's practice at TD Garden; the Celtics' "green team" had a starting lineup that featured Crower and Jerebko at shooting guard and small forward, with Isaiah Thomas at point guard.
CELTICS BIG MAN ROTATION
CELTICS BIG MAN ROTATION
As previously covered on About.com, the trio of Thomas, Crowder, and Jerebko was one of Boston's best last season, with a plus-28.3 Net Rating.
But the big man depth suggests Stevens will have fewer minutes to distribute to Crowder and Jerebko at power forward and center.
That means small ball lineups could be used less frequently, despite being so potent. Crowder and Jerebko together played 56 total minutes as the "bigs" last season, with a plus-35 Net Rating, per NBA Wowy, in 56 total minutes.
Facing the possibility that small lineups will be use only sparingly to start the year, one must wonder how Crowder and Jerebko's roles may change.
I wasn't able to attend Tuesday's open practice -- I saw Roger Waters: The Wall in theaters, which brought back a lot of great memories from the times I saw The Wall live at TD Garden -- but I did ask Crowder and Jerebko about how their roles and priorities might change on a night to night basis playing more "wing" or "forward" instead of "big."
"It doesn't change my approach. I'm still a basketball player and I was just trying to fill a void and make our team more versatile last year," Crowder said at Celtics Media Day. "I think we brought in some nice big guys who can really do a great job at the four position. I'm very comfortable playing the three primarily."
Jerebko said: "[Playing small forward] is really how I got into this league. Tayshaun [Prince] went down my rookie year and I had to come in and play the three. That's what I've been playing most of my career and I'm comfortable playing three, four, and five if I have to. I might give up a few pounds in the five spot, but I'll make it up with hustle plays."
Crowder or Jerebko are unconcerned, but Stevens has often stated how he values the versatility of "small ball" lineups.
So will that advantage be depleted with more traditional lineups?
It's more likely the Celtics will just emphasize different strengths, while retaining their versatility in an altered way. It's even possible their roles won't change at all offense.
With the focus still on "pace and space," Jerebko and Crowder should still hover around the three-point line. If the ball comes, they'll be ready to either catch-and-shoot or drive the closeout, like they both do in the clip below:
However, the size and position of defenders they get matched up against could change.
"I think [the match-ups change, with] me having to be more of a threat beating out twos, being more able to drive threes and play physical with threes," Crowder said.
Crowder has the speed to drive by larger defenders, but maybe now he'll be able to use his herculean 235-pound frame to muscle his way to the basket.
But their responsibilities could change on defense.
"On defense we'll still have guys like Amir [Johnson] being able to really protect the rim and do stuff like that," said Crowder. "I feel like my approach is the same, but a little different on the defensive end."
If Crowder or Jerebko are off-ball defenders, they'd have to shrink into the paint to slow down rolling bigs, and then closeout to contest perimeter shots. As opposed to operating as the screener/roller defender.
Still, the Celtics could choose to switch on a high percentage of pick-and-rolls, depending on the big man evolved. Johnson has experience switching onto smaller players, though he's done it less frequently in recent years.
On this play Jerebko is playing power forward, but the Celtics could still choose to make that switch if Johnson is in that position. Johnson may not be as agile as Jerebko -- no big on the roster is -- but certain lineups should still be able to switch many pick-and-rolls.
They real key is Crowder (and Jerebko's) ability to defend a big, with Crowder helping off his man to force a turnover in the clip above.
At the least, Stevens can be comfortable allowing Crowder to defend all five positions, and Jerebko to defend three.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge also isn't concerned about the new personnel being not ideal for Stevens' system -- because Ainge says Stevens "doesn't have a system."
"I think that a system is continually changing depending on your personnel," Ainge explained. "And Brad's a really smart coach. He spends a lot of time preparing. His system will be determined by the personnel he has. He doesn't have a system; he's a basketball coach and he coaches the players that he has. He's done a great job of that and I think he'll continue to do a great job of that."
Ainge later added that the Celtics do have players that fit Stevens' "pace and space" mantra, both returning veterans and newbies.
David Lee is one of the best passing big men in the NBA -- Stevens recently called him a "point forward" -- and Johnson could be a force rolling down the lane, causing the defense to suck into the paint and giving space to perimeter shooters. And returnees Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk could all develop their games.
The Celtics might not play small ball very much early on, but they will have new advantages they didn't have last season.
And, if they need it, the ability to be versatile and go small will always be there.