One of the best attributes of this Celtics team is that coach Ime Udoka has the luxury of mixing and matching different players to provide exactly what the game needs at that point.
The Celtics are extremely versatile, particularly with Derrick White and Daniel Theis now on the roster, and they excel in just about every area outside of maybe 3-point shooting. While improving their postseason seeding is the top priority heading into the playoffs, another objective in the coming weeks should be tinkering with lineups to determine which players fit best together.
Here’s a closer look at some different looks the Celtics can field and what each has to offer.
The defensive-minded closing lineup
This one’s pretty clear-cut: A lineup of Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams gives the Celtics the best chance to win.
All five players are well-above-average defensively, and Tatum and Brown seem to raise their defensive intensity even more when Smart and White are out there. Tatum has shown his ability to guard all positions. Williams is one of the best defensive big men in the NBA. Everyone has a knack for making winning defensive plays.
This lineup flaunted its potential in a win over the Nuggets in White’s first game. It looked like he had been with the team for months rather than hours. When White and Tatum are on the court together, in a small sample size, the Celtics are plus-14. Tatum is first in the NBA in defensive win shares, Williams is fifth and Smart is 11th. It’s awfully tough to score on this group in general, and particularly at the end of games.
The switch everything lineup
This one’s a bit unique, but a lineup of Smart-White-Grant Williams-Brown-Tatum allows the Celtics to switch everything. What they lack in size as a unit, they make up for in length, athleticism, and grittiness.
With all five players between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8, the Celtics can put teams in a bind and force them to make a decision. Tatum is capable of guarding centers, but most centers aren’t able to stick him. Williams can also help out down low, and the Celtics can get out and run early and often.
It wouldn’t work against, say, the 76ers or Bucks, but it would against teams such as the Nets, Bulls, or Hornets.
The shooting lineup
When the Celtics are down by 10-15 and in need of a lift, they can experiment with a lineup of Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Sam Hauser, Tatum and Al Horford. With Tatum as the clear No. 1 option, he can run the offense and spray it to snipers in the corners.
Sixty-eight percent of Williams’ shots are 3-pointers, which is by far the highest on the team. He’s also third in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 44.6%, and the sample size is large enough now to know it’s not a fluke.
The Celtics have Hauser, so they might as well use him, and letting Tatum handle the ball would give Pritchard a chance to serve as a spot-up shooter.
The two-big lineup
White can run point, Brown, Tatum, Daniel Theis and Rob Williams can play alongside him, and the Celtics can overpower teams inside. Theis is an elite passer and excellent in the pick-and-roll, so Williams could play mostly inside.
Teams would have to pick their poison – go small and have guards on Brown and Tatum, or go big and lose speed and quickness. Smart for White and Horford for Theis would also work in this two-big lineup and Luke Kornet is also a deep bench option.
The Celtics are shooting 53.2 percent from inside the arc and holding opponents to 48.8, and they have 362 blocks compared to 277 for their opponents. The two-big lineup allows them to implement some bully ball and play to one of their main strengths.
The roll the dice lineup
If the Celtics are down by a lot, and in need of a spark, a lineup of Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, Hauser, Grant Williams and Kornet is sneakily pretty solid – offensively, at least. With lots of shooting out there, they could make a run and chip away at the lead.