Prior to Thursday night’s game, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made an announcement that wasn’t so much surprising, rather thought-provoking.
“Ten (players) is what we usually play at the start of the season,” Stevens said. “It could be eight to ten, nine to ten.”
“Anytime you can get to a solid eight or nine in a rotation, that’s beneficial.”
That is conceivably going to leave a valuable asset out of the rotation. With his starting lineup of Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas all but in ink, there would be two to four players vying for minutes.
Marcus Smart will also be a lock as the first man off the bench — as Stevens has often referred to him as a “sixth starter.” Once healthy, Kelly Olynyk will likely be in the same situation.
There is some fluidity after that, however.
Stevens did note that his rotation can, and likely will, change on a game-to-game basis.
“We have to have everybody ready to go,” said Stevens who added, “and some days it’ll be a solid eight plus 2 (players) but that plus 2 may change game to game depending on who we’re playing, how they played against them, how they played in practice, how they played the game before.”
With the summer league and preseason that Terry Rozier has had, reasonable minds can believe he would be in the rotation. However, ball handling and distribution are two things you could essentially get out of Smart, plus he would provide better defense. In an event where the Celtics are going to need to attempt to matchup in height with opposing teams, Rozier could see himself squeezed out of the rotation.
Then there’s Jaylen Brown. The rookie is a fascinating case because if he’s not going to be in the rotation, then he would be better suited playing in the D-League, which is not exactly the best PR move for a team’s No. 3 pick in the draft. That aside, however, he’s proven that his game has translated well to the NBA and the Celtics could definitely use his athleticism.
Jonas Jerebko is a perplexing case as well. Seemingly every time he appears to be falling out of Stevens’ good graces, he pops a 12-point performance off the bench, as he did Thursday (and lest we forget the 2016 postseason, as well). His problem, however, is that he’ll be more or less absent for stretches, and when his shot from 15-to 18-feet is off, he can render himself useless on the offensive end.
Bottom line, Stevens knows what he’s getting with Jerebko. He doesn’t have to worry about developing him, he’s a slightly above-average defender, who has a shot that can be lethal when it’s on. It’s hard to imagine him being phased out of the rotation — especially early on in the season — but it’s a legitimate possibility if he hits a cold streak.
Another veteran in a precarious position is Gerald Green. Green didn’t even see the floor until about five and a half minutes remained in the third quarter Thursday. There are too many enticing options at Stevens’ disposal to allow Green to get meaningful minutes. Conversely, he posesses one of the biggest tools the Celtics as a whole lack: a shot. However, he’s yet to exhibit any reliability as a shooter in his two preseason appearances, going a combined 0-for-4 from deep. He’s otherwise 9-from-20 from the field. He is the type of player destined to be the first man out, especially when his shot is cold.
Tyler Zeller hasn’t exactly had a camp to remember thus far. And with his history of fluctuating minutes, it already looks as if he’s destined for the same scenario as 2015-16, where he could be playing three minutes one night, but 18 the other.
One player that is making more of a case for himself is Jordan Mickey. A big leader in the late surge that pushed the Celtics bench past the Nets on Thursday, Mickey has started to look much more acclimated to the NBA than last year, even after tearing up the D-League. He may be an afterthought to start the season, but the amount of meaningful minutes he may get could certainly increase.
It should all come down to matchups. Stevens isn’t afraid to play small, and there is enough diversity in skill amongst bench players to where he has a quality arsenal to work with. As camp continues and more players begin to establish — or hurt — their value, the rotation should begin to take more of a shape, with some understandable flexibility taking place as well.