For the past two seasons, the Boston Celtics have been able to roll out one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown with almost every group they put on the floor. Rarely have they run lineups with both stars on the bench. It’s a luxury not many teams around the league have.
This summer, the Celtics added to their pool of top shelf wealth, trading for Kristaps Porzingis. He’ll be the first true “third star” Tatum and Brown have had since Kemba Walker’s first year in Boston, and at that point, the Jays had yet to reach their full potential. (They still may not be there, but they are full-grown All-Stars now.)
But as tantalizing a Tatum-Brown-Porzingis trio is when sharing the court, having the Latvian big man in town will allow the Celtics to give their other two stars some extra rest.
So, as the offseason drags on and CelticsBlog tackles “Lineups Week,” let’s focus on Boston’s star power.
With Tatum, Brown, and Porzingis leading the way, the Celtics have the opportunity to throw out some unique one-star lineups that maximize the talent of each player. But what if they had to create three separate five-man groups?
(Boston has 11 players on the roster outside of the three stars, so we’ll add Jay Scrubb into the mix to make it an even 12.)
If Boston couldn’t use the same player twice in any lineup, what lineups would elevate their individual stars the most? What would the groups look like led by Tatum, Brown, and Porzingis?
Let’s start at the head of the snake. Tatum is fresh off an All-NBA First Team campaign that saw him finish fourth in MVP voting. He’s a bona fide superstar capable of carrying the offensive load with any group he shares the floor with.
To help Tatum be at his best, surrounding him with shooting and defense is key, so those would be the priorities. At the same time, however, his greatness would hypothetically allow the Celtics to surround him with lesser role players, as his ball dominance would shine through.
Payton Pritchard, Dalano Banton, Jordan Walsh, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford
Jordan Walsh could be subbed out for Dalano Banton in this lineup, but the defensive intensity the rookie brings to the floor would elevate this backcourt alongside Payton Pritchard.
Simultaneously, the shooting combination of Pritchard and Al Horford would open up the floor for Tatum to work. Walsh can’t be discounted in that category either, as the youngster shot 40.7% from deep during Summer League.
Dalano Banton and Walsh is a long, athletic wing duo, but the question marks arise behind the arc. Luckily, that’s what Pritchard and Horford are there for.
Tatum’s continuously improving passing abilities allow him to act as the primary ball-handler within this group, evading the need for Derrick White or Malcolm Brogdon. Pritchard’s playmaking would be a nice boost, but he could focus his efforts behind the three-point line.
Things get a bit trickier with Brown, though the All-NBA wing is still one of the best pure scorers in the NBA. His mid-range game is lethal, and he’s elite at getting to the basket, but Brown isn’t on the same level as Tatum when handling the ball.
Brown should be paired with a solid ball handler, first and foremost, but past that, the rest of the lineup should be similar to Tatum’s—three-point shooting and defense. That said, Brown couldn’t elevate his solo-star lineups to the level Tatum was last year, so surrounding him with higher-quality supporting guys is essential.
Malcolm Brogdon, Jaylen Brown, Svi Mykhailiuk, Robert Williams, Luke Kornet
Pairing Brown with Malcolm Brogdon at the point guard gives this lineup the ball handling it desperately needs, as both will do their fair share of controlling the tempo and setting each other up for looks.
Robert Williams is the other key piece in this group, as he could play his free safety role on the defensive end, with Luke Kornet holding down the paint (to the best of his ability) with his size at 7-foot-2.
Svi Mykhailiuk will be a designated floor-spacer here, as the one downside to this unit is a lack of floor-spacing. Brogdon was one of the best shooters in the league last year, and Mykhailiuk shot over 40% from distance during his time with the Charlotte Hornets, but Williams and Kornet aren’t going to stretch the floor much.
It’s a fairly well-rounded group that could struggle in the playmaking department, but Brogdon’s days with the Indiana Pacers showed he can lead an offense. That’s what he’d have to do here.
Perhaps the most fascinating of the three lineups, building a five-man unit around Porzingis is a thought-provoking task. The big man was the center of attention for the Washington Wizards last year, so that’s the goal of this group.
Assuming Porzingis would primarily act out of the post or above the three-point line, pairing him with another offensive initiator is vital. Past that, the same goal of defensive and three-point shooting help stands, as that’s simply the way the current NBA flows.
Derrick White, Jay Scrubb, Sam Hauser, Oshae Brissett, Kristaps Porzingis
Having Derrick White run alongside Porzingis was a clear choice, as behind Tautm and Brown, they are the next-best players on the roster. White’s underrated playmaking and ability to take over on any given night make him an ideal partner for the big man.
The tandem of Jay Scrubb and Oshae Brissett is a bit awkward, as neither is a proven three-point shooter, but having Sam Hauser at the three makes up for that a bit. White and Porzingis are above-average shooters so the spacing wouldn’t be too bad.
Scrubb and Brissett would have to find a way to impact offense with cuts and offensive rebounding, but the defensive end is where this lineup could shine.
White is an All-Defensive guard, Porzingis has always been a solid rim protector, and Scrubb’s and Brissett’s athleticism could help them on that end, too. Add in the Hauser Island effect, and the defensive potential of this group is clear.
This lineup could struggle on the offensive end, but if Porzingis has it rolling and White can find his footing, they should be able to hold their own.
There’s plenty of room for interpretation with an exercise like this. Maybe White and Porzingis need more talent next to them. Maybe Brown’s playmaking requires more than one guard next to him. Maybe Tatum is capable of carrying more weight than his lineup entails.
Any lineup restricted to specific players will be imperfect, which is certainly the case with each of these groups. However, with Boston's talent level up and down the roster, they can create some intriguing five-man units around each of their stars.