Adding Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris Sr. to the starting lineup resulted in the Celtics returning to their winning ways. Should Brad Stevens stick with those two in the starting lineup? Our staff weighs in.
The Boston Celtics are 4-1 when Smart plays 27 minutes or more and 2-4 when he plays 22 minutes or less. Smart as a starter just seemed to make more sense for where this team is right now, helping to organize good defensive habits at the start of the game and give Irving some relief as an extra ball handler. Starting is largely political, but I’d like to see the Celtics consider sticking with Smart in some form in the starting lineup, at least until the regular starters can demonstrate an ability to bring that defensive intensity on their own. Even if he doesn’t, it’s pretty clear that Smart needs more minutes, period.
Morris on the other hand, has been exceptionally hot as a scorer, shooting 43% and rebounding well. That said, he’s still near the bottom of the team in +/- ahead of only the struggling Jaylen Brown for rotation players. +/- is far from a “be all end all” but we are hitting a games total where it begins to be useful and it can sniff out trends before they start. I’m less inclined to declare Morris as the overall long term solution, but for those who don’t want to hear my hand-wringing; a quarter season is probably too long to be a hot streak. This might be Morris’s new normal.
In the short term I don’t mind sticking with this lineup and having Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward come off the bench for a while. At some point, however, I feel like Hayward will round into form and Brown will find enough of a groove to earn his starting spot back. I still believe the long term (or playoffs) starting lineup is going to Irving, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford.
It does put pressure on Stevens to adjust substitution patterns to match-up against opponents. Smart, Morris, and Baynes are all roughneck guys you can throw at teams and (in theory) Rozier should be able to provide scoring off the bench.
I just see a lot of flexibility in that original lineup and if their shots were falling earlier in the year we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Bottom line: play your best players the most.
For me, the short answer is “Morris: No. Smart: Sometimes?”
The beauty of a player like Marcus Smart is that being a starter isn’t particularly important to him -- he’s going to play with the same intensity regardless of role. What is a concern to me is Smart’s career-low 24 minutes per game so far this season. He’s too important to the team on both ends of the floor, both as an anchor for the defense and one of the team’s best ball-handlers and facilitators, to be playing so little. If the starting lineup is the clearest path to 30 minutes per night for Smart, I’ll take it. Either way, he needs to be playing more.
As for Morris, I think the reserve role he’s filled for much of the season will remain the best spot for him in the long run. He’s been one of the few Celtics shooting consistently well to open the year, but an eight-year pro suddenly enjoying a near-10% improvement over his career effective field goal percentage seems like an obvious candidate for some regression. When that happens, Morris will still provide plenty of value as a shot-creator, defender and all-around energy guy, but I don’t really see him as a long-term solution in the starting lineup.
After the Pelicans win, Brad Stevens suggested a plug-and-play approach with the starters going forward, stating: “We won’t be settled on a starting lineup until forever.” With two starting spots seemingly up-for-grabs (alongside Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford), swapping out starters based on matchups and team needs might be the best thing for the Celtics in the short term.
I think the real question here is simply about highlighting the importance of role cohesion between the lineups. Having Smart come in not only gave the defense a boost when it came to defending the PnR, but it gave Irving a chance to work off-ball where he can focus on looking for his offense in other ways such as running off stagger screens and DHO’s. Ultimately, I think Hayward will replace Morris in the starting lineup, but what Morris did show was that when playing in that lineup the best role is to take on more of an off-ball shooting role. When Hayward gets back to his normal self, he’ll be able to add another element to that as a cutter and re-locating along the perimeter to give penetrators a better angle to kick out. I think Smart will become a permanent fixture simply because of the synergy he has already crafted with Irving and the lift he gives his team as one of the players with the most Corporate knowledge of what Stevens wants to do, but Morris served an important purpose by highlighting the type of role that works best with that initial starting lineup. I also think its worth noting that none of this should be seen as an indictment on Jaylen Brown. This is about finding the best lineups and optimizing the roles what everyone on the roster does best within that. In second units, Brown should be able to find more freedom offensively to get more attacks at the rim and leverage his first step into becoming a scoring anchor of BWA. There’s still a lot to be decided, but i think we’ll look back at the NOP game as the day the Celtics found their identity.
In all of the discussion about the Celtics’ array of struggles, I’ve become a big proponent of the fact that the original starting lineup lacked players intent on filling roles rather than touching the ball. Off the bench, Smart and Morris have fully embraced smaller contributions. With that they’ve become two of the most consistent contributors on the team, Smart by doing all the things Smart does and Morris through aligning his shot selection to efficient areas. They should start, allowing Smart to set an early tone with energy and Morris to pull the physicality game from Jayson Tatum. I don’t love the conversation about who starts, because finishing defense is among the team’s foremost concerns right now but aligning rotations into the “two starting lineups” we discussed in a round table preseason could be a better way to utilize the surplus of bodies right now. Gordon Hayward is fine with sitting, whether or not Jaylen Brown feels the same is unknown. Regardless, the entire team should understand the circumstances they’re under as they grasp for any level of consistency before the season’s potential is lost.
Nope. The best version of Jaylen Brown is better than both Marcuses. That player - the one that drains threes, plays outstanding defense, and yams home dunks on the break - isn’t what we’ve seen thus far from Brown, but that doesn’t mean he can’t return to form.
The same is true in Hayward’s case (even more so in fact). He’s an All-Star caliber player. Just because he hasn’t played like one through twenty games doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on him. The Celtics need to leverage the versatility and skill of their five best players if they want to reach their maximum potential. Brown and Hayward are included in that group. Once they’re both fully healthy, they should be starting.
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