The Celtics have entered the offseason with many questions. They have possible free agents opting out and three first round draft picks in November. Despite a crowded roster and the impending luxury tax of the salary cap, the intrigue is high on how to get this team ready to compete again to make it all the way next year. The good news is that the Celtics already have a solid foundation in place.
This foundation is built on great, young wing players that fit today’s NBA. The game has grown into a pace-and-space league where the goal is to find switchable players that have the ability to guard multiple players on the court. Athleticism and the three-point shot are more valued than having traditional positions. The Celtics with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the rest of their deep, positionless roster are set up well for where the NBA currently is and where the NBA will be for the foreseeable future.
One of the most important things that this roster style can do for a team is make it easier to play the unselfish and unpredictable basketball that Brad Stevens has implemented over the last few seasons. The Celtics showed this multiple times with their “Best Five” lineup in the playoffs.
There was ball movement to find open shots couple with a swarming team defense. Others teams, especially if they had a traditional big on the floor, were never able to cover up a potential mismatch that the Celtics were hunting on offense. Then, on defense, this same Boston lineup looked near perfect switching off everyone and collapsing if the big man received the ball in the paint. It showed how crucial a small ball lineup was at key points of the Celtics’ run to their third Eastern Conference Finals in four years.
The Celtics also have depth in their bench that fits into the mold of switchable wings. If necessary, Stevens can call on others on the bench who can guard anyone on the floor. While their peak talents are wide-ranging, they will continue to get minutes because of the versatility on the court.
Other successful teams around the league have embraced these concepts, too. The Warriors teams with their “Death Lineup,” the Raptors with Pascal Siakam at center, and these Finals where the Lakers and Heat had non-traditional big men at center with Anthony Davis and Bam Adebayo all mirror what the Celtics have built. The whole league has trended in this direction, and it is positive news to know that the Celtics are ahead of the game with young wings that can compete with the best.
The counterpoint to this argument is that the NBA goes in cycles. When this trend ends, the traditional big man could come back in style. This, of course, would work against the Celtics’ current roster, especially if Enes Kanter will be exploring the free agent market. It would shift a conversation into what would Boston need to do to go back to that slower half-court offense centered around a big man in the paint. It is not likely the Celtics would adjust on the fly.
However, the dependence and math of the three-point shot will never change. This shot is just too huge of an advantage to pass up on by packing the paint with two huge big men who can’t shoot. NBA trends may go in cycles, but the positionless lineups with shooters is something that should stay for a long time. It is exactly why the Celtics are set up for a long run based around this style of play.
No matter how the Celtics’ season ended last year, it is important to remember this team will be back because of the foundation they are built on. Whether it is Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, or even “stretch-6” Marcus Smart, the roster is complete with wings who are athletic and play the Swiss Army knife style on the court. In today’s NBA these positionless lineups are not going anywhere, and the Celtics will have to build on this if they want to make it all the way.