Let's talk about the big man rotation, shall we? Through 3 games, here are the average minutes for each of our rotation bigs.
Amir Johnson - 22.3
David Lee - 20.0
Jared Sullinger - 19.7
Kelly Olynyk - 15.0 (suspended for game 1)
Tyler Zeller - 11.3
So Zeller is starting but playing the fewest minutes. Sullinger looked like the odd man out in preseason but has seemingly played himself into the center of the rotation. Stevens is also sprinkling in some small ball that further limits the minutes of these guys.
It seems like there will be valid gripes no matter what Stevens chooses and the second guessing will occur when the team isn't winning. So what say you folks? Is there an issue here or is this just something that needs to be worked out (situationally) over time?
Jeff, I think your parenthetical hits it right on the nose. It's situational. Zeller's had some tough starts (defensively against Jahlil Okafor and offensively against the Spurs), but he's playing the right way and just gone up against some tough competition at center. Lee is not going to shoot 25% this season, but he also needs to get better looks. Of Lee's 20 FGA's so far, only three have been uncontested. I know we love the pairing of Thomas and Johnson, but it might help to get Lee some easy looks just to get him going. Sullinger, on the other hand, is getting a lot of open shots and taking advantage. Of his 23 shots, 16 have been UFGA's.
Just asking... Is Jerebko not considered a rotation big?
Good question Shirley. I actually consider him a 3 that is used in smallball lineups at the 4. So kinda-sorta. Also, Kelly Olynyk (in theory) allows Stevens to have elements of smallball without sacrificing length.
Basically, I think Lee in particular is thinking too much about being a playmaker and subsequently, putting himself in tough spots to make shots. Sully is taking what comes naturally from the offense and of course, working the glass.
Personally I think Jerebko, Sully and Johnson have been our three best big men. Jerebko makes good things happen when he gets in, even as a 4 in the small ball lineup. Not a starting big man but has been good when he gets in.
Sully, in spite of starting the season as the odd man out has proved that he should be at the top of the rotation rather than the bottom. He has a knack for rebounding and seems to make good things happen as well. Johnson has been solid. I wouldn't mind seeing Sully start in place of Lee.
I think that perhaps the most interesting part of the big man rotation is reconciling the societal norm that the best players start with Brad Stevens' focus on groups of players playing together, and sticking together. It has been a very small sample size thus far, to be sure, but Lee and Zeller have not been playing well so far. However, bringing Amir into the starting lineup means he may not spend as much time playing with Isaiah Thomas, and Lee playing with Isaiah Thomas means that there may be some redundancy in terms of playing-making. My point is this; while there seems to be a pecking order that is being established in terms of which big men are playing the best, the situation is more complex than that, in terms of starting/playing time. Any change made to any lineup, including the starting lineup, would usually result in a cascade of changes, to preserve Brad's player combination approach.
I think it's just going to take a few games for Brad to really set his rotation in stone. The complete flip-flopping of David Lee and Jared Sullinger from pre-season to regular season is something to monitor. And I also think it's only a matter of time until Amir Johnson is starting for us. Wes makes a good point that starting Amir might prevent him from playing a lot with Isaiah but I think Brad can stagger the minutes so that they still have more than enough shared floor time. This is the beauty of our depth though, Brad can roll with the hot hand until these guys start playing with consistency.
The question we should be asking is who plays best with Smart, Bradley, and Crowder? With the motion that those three generate (vs. Thomas and Turner), I still think Lee and Zeller are the best big for our starting wings. It's just too early to overreact.
The big man rotation is going to depend on matchups. The Celtics have played a lot of small-ball lately, with Crowder or Jerebko stealing minutes at the 4. That won't necessarily work against all teams, so we are bound to see more games where the bigs are relied on more. Our depth allows Stevens to be flexible depending on the situation.
Zeller should continue to start since he's our only true center. The starting unit needs Lee's offense, assuming he finds it again soon. His defensive shortcomings also make it essential that Stevens finds the right pairing in the front court when Lee is on the floor. Johnson has been our best big man on both ends of the floor so far, albeit in a small sample size. Even if he continues to come off the bench, he should still see significant minutes that perhaps even surpass what some of the starters are getting. Sullinger is a bit of a wild card. He's played well so far and could conceivably steal Lee's starting spot if he continues to outplay him, but he could just as easily find himself back in the dog house. His poor conditioning is going to hamper his minutes anyway, so it's hard to see him getting much more playing time then he already is.
If all five of these big guys stay healthy, I don't think this is something that will just work out. Trying to find minutes for all five of these guys - in addition to putting Crowder and Jerebko at the 4 - is just not feasible. It's nice to be able to ride the hot hand and have the potential for a different guy to shoulder the load any given night, but it's harder for someone to get that hot hand with limited minutes. Stevens has constantly said how he would prefer to play four bigs, and I think that is coming soon. The bigs rotation is just too crowded as currently constituted. Whether it is through a trade or resting one of these five guys every fifth game, I think it would benefit the team, as well as each of the bigs, to shrink that rotation down.
Ok, I think we've got it all figured out. Just stick with what Brad has been doing so far, ...until we're sure that isn't working. Except that he's not doing any one thing, he's changing things up on the fly so we never know what to expect from game to game and even quarter to quarter. That makes it all clear as mud. I feel much better now.
So... how soon do I start talking about 3-for-1 trade ideas? (Kidding ...sort of)