In Brad Stevens' pre-game presser before the Celtics' convincing win over the Nuggets, he talked Marcus Smart and Evan Turner spearheading the bench and utilizing them in unconventional ways:
I'm still trying to figure out exactly that mix although we're a lot closer than we were two weeks ago. We're trying to do a lot of unique things with those two guys. When one has the ball, the other is cutting. Obviously, Marcus has made shots and Marcus and Evan can both also post so we try and post those guys. It's kind of an inverted lineup when you think about those guys posting with Jonas (Jerebko) and Kelly (Olynyk) and guys like that really spreading the court for us. And it's unique but I think it's finally really starting to find its legs early last week and we'll see if it continues. I'm intrigued by it.
Smart and Turner are the primary ball handlers when Isaiah Thomas is off the floor and while a lot of offensive sets and pick-and-rolls are interchangeable between all three, there are options that the 5'9 Thomas just can't do. One of them is posting opposing guards.
Denver's back up back court is relatively small with the 6'4 Randy Foye weighing in at 213 pounds and the 6'6 Will Barton at a slight 175 lbs. The Celtics didn't go to it much, but there were a few times where Turner and Smart took advantage of the mismatches.
Turner is a solid 6'7 and 220 pounds. He doesn't have an impressive wing span and he's not comparably stronger than other players, but he's crafty off the dribble and one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. His height is a problem against smaller guards and his shiftiness makes for a tough cover on slower forwards. According to Synergy stats, Turner ranks in the 86.4th percentile in post ups. That's just percentage points below Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki.
With the smaller Will Barton on him, the Celtics could clear the side and ISO Turner. With Emmanual Mudiay itching to take away Turner's right hand, Smart quickly recognizes the oncoming double team and makes a cut. He misses the shot, but because Jusuf Nurkic was forced to help, he leaves Amir Johnson wide open for the offensive rebound and putback.
In the second quarter, Turner raced down the court to establish position on Mike Miller in the post. Jonas Jerebko catches the Denver transition D napping and slips passed Nikola Jokic. The one thing about post ups is that it draws a lot of attention. Because the ball stops, defenders are turned in the wrong direction and sitting on the next move and that provides enough time for JJ to go back door.
Smart's fairly new to the post with only 18 attempts over the entire season, but it's something that they've gone to a bunch over the last month. He's built like middle linebacker and plays like a running back so Stevens has drawn up a few plays to use Smart's bruising style in the paint.
His post ups don't tend to be in the ISO variety like Turner's. They're usually quick hitters where Smart establishes position early, receives the ball while his defender is still on his back, and gets up a shot immediately. This play opens up looking like Smart is setting a back screen for Kelly Olynyk but it's designed to get Smart deep in the restricted area with the side cleared. He misses here and so far, he's only hit 7 of those 18 shots, but for a player that craves contact, it's a nice wrinkle to add. By the time Smart gets into the game in the 1st and 3rd quarters, the opposing team should be in the penalty so Smart should get either a good look or a trip to the free throw line.
During Boston's current four-game winning streak, the team is averaging a ridiculous 107.6 offensive rating and 91.8 defensive rating. In this one-week span, only the starting group of Thomas-Bradley-Sullinger has a higher total plus/minus (+38) than the bench trio of Turner-Smart-Olynyk (+34). They play very contrasting styles with the starters playing a more conventional game and the bench "inverting" the court and attacking with small ball. Turner and Smart are not the second coming of Kevin McHale down on the block, but to Stevens' credit, he's found ways to accentuate each player's strengths.