If you paid any attention to the Celtics summer league games or any Celtics media outlet during the week, then you know Terry Rozier had himself a great week. Not only did he have a blistering summer league in which he was one of the most efficient players in the league, but Danny Ainge went on record saying that he believed he played his way into a rotation spot.
The comments made me think about the Celtics guard rotation, which as of now should be Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier. The starters from last season were Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Thomas was the ball-dominant handler while Bradley guarded the tougher guard match-ups and was the low-usage, spot-up action offensively.
But when good teams started locking in on Thomas, the Celtics had no one else to run the offense through, mostly going to Evan Turner, who had his moments but was a non-factor without the ball in his hands. However, Al Horford should help in that department. His all-around ability should take some more pressure off Isaiah Thomas, especially when teams blitz the pick and roll. But what if the Celtics wanted to take it a step further? Could Marcus Smart be a potential starter for the Cs?
To fully understand the concept of this potential move, the big picture is important. The Celtics have four guards that all have starting potential. Earlier this year, Avery Bradley came off the bench for four games before Smart went down with an injury. In that time he was a plus 27.6 per 100 possessions and shot a blistering 52.9% from three while still getting up 14 attempts per game and playing 25.7 minutes per game. The move wasn't meant to be permanent, but it was some of Bradley's best play of the season. By coming off the bench again this season, two things could happen.
1. Isaiah Thomas would be paired with Marcus Smart, a big guard who can handle the point similar to Thomas, and allows Thomas to play on- or off-ball.
2. Terry Rozier would be given the keys to the second unit, and the Celtics can run their offense through Avery Bradley, a role he would thrive in.
If the Celtics separated Amir Johnson and Al Horford to maintain having a shot-blocker, the starting unit could look something like this:
Isaiah Thomas- Marcus Smart- Jae Crowder- Kelly Olynyk- Al Horford
With a second unit made up of: Terry Rozier, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, and Amir Johnson.
Can Marcus Smart be a starter?
The big concern here would be Marcus Smart. He just came off a horrendous season in terms of shooting, and playing the two would require him to make a big improvement. Last season, Marcus Smart raised his free-throw shooting percentage from 64.6% to 77.7% (good free throw shooting has shown a strong correlation for shooting potential), and Smart could be in for a solid uptick in that department. Despite his shooting, most didn't realize that as an actual ball-handler Smart took some serious strides. In his third year he should feel very comfortable running an offense.
Playing Thomas off-ball more allows him to better free himself, and it takes away teams’ ability to sag off Smart because he'd have the ball in his hands. In terms of defense, Smart had the highest DRPM among all Boston guards, and he actually was ranked 6th among all point guards in DRPM who have played at least 25 minutes. So all in all, the inclusion of ball-handling plus the addition of Olynyk and Horford into the starting lineup should offset the potential shooting woes of Smart. But besides that, Smart is as good if not better than Avery Bradley in every other facet of the game.
The move would be bold, but it could prove to be the one that could maximize this current Celtics roster. Part of the brilliance of Brad Stevens is his ability to put players in the best position to be successful. This move could do just that.
*Gerald Green was signed to a 1 year, vet minimum contract. Whether he can actually steal some rotation minutes is one thing, but the move could mean a lot of different things for the second unit.