Questions will surround the Boston Celtics during the stretch run of the 2019-20 NBA season.
The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks named the “biggest lineup decision” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens must make as what player combinations best fit “locks” Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward. Kemba Walker is the team’s All-Star starting point guard, Tjarks and most Celtics fans accept Marcus Smart might be a better option to finish games.
“The Celtics still have another level to reach,” Tjarks wrote. “The strength of their team is a trio of interchangeable wings — Tatum, Brown, and Hayward — who have played in only 25 games together this season and are still realizing their potential.
“… That leaves Celtics coach Brad Stevens with critical decisions to make at point guard and center. Walker and Smart present an interesting contrast in styles. The former is an elite offensive player whose lack of size is an issue on defense, while the latter is an elite defender who is shooting just 38.3 percent from the field this season. The two have been such an important part of the Celtics’ success that Stevens might be tempted to downsize and play both next to his three star wings. He hasn’t tried it yet: Smart, Walker, Tatum, Brown, and Hayward have played only 15 minutes together this season.”
Tjarks last month described the aforementioned “downsized” group as Boston’s “lineup of death” and questioned whether the Celtics would benefit from Stevens unleashing it on their rivals. However, the ensuing four-plus weeks have offered no further insight into that unit’s potential, so Tjarks seemingly has backed off the idea and now focuses on how Boston should address the center position.
“Stevens has pieced together great production from a center platoon of (Daniel) Theis, (Enes) Kanter, and rookie Grant Williams. Each provides something different. Kanter has size and scoring ability in the post, Williams gives them a small-ball option, while Theis is somewhere in the middle as a do-everything big man who has been a revelation in his first season as a starter. But none have been so effective that they have cemented their place in the lineup at the end of games.
“Boston can play the matchup game with its big men. The question is whether Stevens can play his five best players together and be the one to dictate the matchups.”
The Celtics stood pat at the NBA trade deadline, resisting the urge to dramatically change their roster to acquire the impact center many observers insist they need. Boston doesn’t seem thrilled with the options available in the buyout market, so Stevens probably will juggle his current players as he sees fit.
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