In today's edition of Countdown to Celtics Camp, HeadDoctorJ wonders how the Boston Celtics' big man rotation could look and if there are enough minutes available to play small ball.
Brad Stevens has never had the immense talent at the big position that he'll have entering this season.
Don’t underestimate Lee and Johnson
With assets to trade, cap space, and one of the league's brightest young coaches, the Celtics are primed to upgrade their roster this season and next summer. We debate who they should target and why.
David Lee was a shoe-in for 18 points and 10 rebounds per game for six consecutive years before 2014-15, so he isn't far off removed from a high level of success.
In nine of Amir Johnson's 10-years in the NBA, his teams had a positive Net Rating with him on the floor. When Johnson plays, his teams tend to perform well.
Lee and Johnson are likely going to play - their skills mesh to make a formidable starting tandem, too - but the volume of minutes they receive may depend on the development of the bigs behind them.
Tyler Zeller was as solid as ever last year, and could expand on his game as a mid-range shooter.
Jared Sullinger could make a leap if he successfully improved his conditioning.
Kelly Olynyk has developed in each season of his career and it's reasonable to expect another jump this year.
It's unfair to expect rookie Jordan Mickey to factor into the rotation, at least early in the year. If he does, it's a bonus for the Celtics.
Stevens has said multiple times he prefers a rotation of four bigs, so he may have to do more shuffling than he had anticipated.
For an eight-game stretch last season after the Celtics acquired Brandan Wright in "the Dwight Powell trade," the Celtics played with two "traditional bigs" on the floor in 384 of 389 total minutes.
That stretch of games could tip us off to how the rotation may look early this season. Here's how the minutes were distributed for each big over those eight games:
There's no guarantee the Celtics follow the same template with their current group of bigs, considering that's such a small sample size and the minutes could be match-up dependent, but it does work as a guideline.
We can reasonably assume that Lee, Johnson, or Sullinger could be the "best" big on this roster, meaning one of them could receive about 25 minutes per game. Then the two others could play about 20 minutes per game.
That'd leave 32 total minutes for the remaining two bigs - in this example, Zeller and Olynyk. Let's slot them at 16 minutes per.
Here's how the early-season rotation could look based on those projections:
Don't pay too much attention to the per-game averages, though, because there will be variance.
During the aforementioned eight-game stretch last year, Brandon Bass played five or fewer minutes twice and 17 or more minutes three times.
Stevens might prefer a four-man big rotation, but having five talented bigs could be a luxury for him this season. The Celtics have the second-most back-to-backs and will play the third-most games with less rest than their opponent.
Lee is 32-years-old. Johnson played with chronic ankle sprains for much of the last few seasons. These two veterans are highly effective, but managing their minutes could help them prolong their play throughout the year.
Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA, so he should be able to balance the bigs on a night to night basis. If one player is on fire, Stevens may ride him for 35-plus minutes, knowing he can be rested the following night. If the Celtics are facing a traditional 7-footer, Zeller could see a huge uptick in minutes.
As for the Celtics playing small: don't expect them to play much of it early in the year.
Stevens recently said, per Steve Souza, "We have more traditional bigs this year, so we will probably play more traditional lineups."
Many teams will be going small due to the "Draymond Green Effect," so the Celtics could be the lone contrarians in the league that "go big."
Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder played a bulk of their minutes as bigs last season, but expect them to play mostly wing/forward this year. If another team tries to go small, they may just end up getting pounded on the boards due to the Celtics' versatility.
Mid-year or post-trade deadline, everything could change. Trades and injuries are unpredictable. The Celtics could, at some point, roll with the preferred four-man big rotation, opening the door for them to play small. But look for the Celtics to use their large personnel to their advantage early in the season with more traditional lineups.