It may sound silly on the surface, but sometimes, a team's depth can actually hurt it. If a head coach cannot devise a set rotation come playoff time, the ballclub as a whole can actually suffer from a lack of consistency. Having one of the deepest teams in the league coming into this season, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers will be faced with this challenge.
Of course, having "too much" depth is a pretty cushy problem to have. Other teams in the league are merely worried about fielding a competent starting lineup, never mind a 10-man rotation. It's kind of like having six capable starting pitchers in baseball. The manager will deal with the conundrum of deciding which pitcher to leave out of the rotation while plenty of other squads are scrambling to just find two or three reliable starters.
That being said, basketball is a bit of a different animal. In baseball, you don't have to worry about your five starting pitchers forging a chemistry between one another. It is more of an individual thing. In this sport, however, players feed off of one another and, generally, work much better with familiar faces.
The Celtics will enter this season with 12 or 13 players that can realistically be a part of any team's rotation. Take Jason Collins for example. He may be one of the worst players on the club, but he played a significant role for the Atlanta Hawks during the playoffs this past year. He was also the starting center for the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets during their run to the finals in 2003. Collins has proven he can be a rotational player for other ballclubs, so why can't he be one for Boston, as well?
Collins is only one of seemingly countless players on the C's who has a chance to wriggle his way into Rivers' rotation. That means that Doc is going to have the opportunity to experiment with myriads of different lineups. First, we'll break down the different types of lineups we may see according to particular situations. Then, we will predict the rotation we will most likely see come playoff time. Let's check out those scads of lineups first.
C - Kevin Garnett
PF - Brandon Bass
SF - Paul Pierce
SG - Courtney Lee/Avery Bradley
PG - Rajon Rondo
Breakdown: This is the lineup that we will see on the floor to start every game. When Bradley gets healthy, he will likely be the shooting guard, but while he recovers from his shoulder surgeries, Lee will get the nod. Sans Lee, this is the lineup we saw during the second half of last season and in the playoffs (up until Bradley went down), and it was certainly effective.
Garnett looked revitalized at center, and Bass did an admirable job as the team's starting power forward. As for Avery, he developed into one of the game's best perimeter defenders while starting at the 2.
Uptempo (with Garnett)
C - Garnett
PF - Chris Wilcox
SF - Jeff Green/Lee
SG - Jason Terry/Bradley/Lee
PG - Rondo
Breakdown: See, it's situations like this where the depth comes in handy. Rivers can go in quite a few different directions at the wing spots here. He can go with either Green or Lee at the 3 and then he can pick one of Terry, Bradley or Lee to man the shooting guard spot.
Personally, I'd go with a lineup of K.G., Wilcox, Green, JET and Rondo because it not only gives the Celtics a great transition game, but it gives them some size as well. At 6'9", Green is a big small forward, and Garnett and Wilcox present Doc with bigs who can run the floor up front. Terry does kind of break the "size" pattern, but he is such an outstanding player on the break that I had to include him in the lineup. Not only can he get to the basket, but he can also spot up on the wing for the three.
Uptempo (without Garnett)
C - Wilcox
PF - Green
SF - Lee
SG - Terry/Bradley
PG - Rondo
Breakdown: You're sacrificing some size here, but this lineup would obviously only be appropriate if K.G. needs a breather. Green then slides up to the 4 and Lee moves to small forward.
Low post offense
C - Garnett
PF - Jared Sullinger
SF - Pierce
SG - Terry/Lee/Bradley
PG - Rondo
Breakdown: Based on what we've seen out of Sullinger thus far in the preseason, the Celtics may end up with one of the deadliest frontcourt duos in the league with Garnett and the rookie. Sullinger has "Zach Randolph" written all over him. He is truly that skilled in the post, and that will take a ton of pressure off of K.G.'s shoulders.
Last season, Garnett was the only player Boston could go to when it needed an easy bucket inside. Now with Sully in tow, Doc has another guy he can run plays for down low. Look for a lot of backdoor cuts from the likes of Rondo, Terry, Lee and Bradley while the ball is in the hands of either K.G. or Sullinger in the post. Also, look for whomever is playing the 2-guard to spot up behind the three-point line if and when double-teams start coming.
I love the potential of this lineup. It really opens up everything offensively.
Defense, defense, defense
C - Collins/Darko Milicic
PF - Garnett
SF - Pierce
SG - Bradley
PG - Rondo
Breakdown: More than likely, this will be the Celtics' best defensive lineup, and you will most likely see it employed against teams with good offensive centers (i.e. the division rival Philadelphia 76ers and Andrew Bynum). The whole reason Boston brought Collins in was to help Garnett defend up front. At the age of 36, you don't want K.G. banging with the likes of Bynum, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, etc. all game. You will likely see Milicic get some time at the 5 here, too.
The pair of Bradley and Rondo represents arguably the best defensive backcourt in the league, and Pierce is a fine defender at the 3.
C - Garnett
PF - Bass
SF - Pierce
SG - Terry
PG - Rondo
Breakdown: This is the Celtics' best lineup offensively, and that's why you will see it quite often at the end of games. Now obviously, the lineup may differ depending on the situation. If Boston is up by a couple of buckets, you might see Bradley on the floor instead of Terry. However, in that scenario, the C's could then just swap the 2 during stoppages of play.
Regardless, this is one of the main reasons the Celtics signed Terry: To step up in the fourth quarter. He has proven to be one of the game's best clutch shooters, so there is every reason to believe that Doc will give him the nod under these circumstances.
C - Fab Melo
PF - Sullinger
SF - Kris Joseph
SG - Bradley
PG - Dionte Christmas
Breakdown: Hey, might as well give the kids a chance to play, right? Of course, neither Joseph nor Christmas have been guaranteed roster spots, but barring a last-minute signing or trade, both will likely be on Boston's bench come opening night.
Clearly, there will be different variations of these lineups throughout the season. Rivers is not always going to go with these exact five players for those specific situations, but there is a very good chance that those are the types of lineups that you will see.
So, now that I've given you a taste of all of the various combinations we may witness, let's take a look at what the rotation may look like come playoff time. I also estimated the amount of minutes they will be playing in parentheses.
C - Garnett (35) / Wilcox (8) / Collins or Milicic (5)
PF - Bass (25) / Sullinger (15) / Green (6) / Wilcox (2)
SF - Pierce (33) / Green (10) / Lee (5)
SG - Bradley (20) / Terry (15) / Lee (13)
PG - Rondo (38) / Terry (10)
Total minutes for each player: Rondo (38), Garnett (35), Pierce (33), Bass (25), Terry (25), Bradley (20), Lee (18), Green (16), Sullinger (15), Wilcox (10), Collins/Milicic (5)
These are all very rough estimates, but, at the same time, fairly realistic. The toughest decision for Rivers to make will clearly be at 2-guard. How will he allocate playing time between those three guys?
Being that Lee can play the 3 and Terry is basically the backup point guard, it makes things slightly easier, as Doc can then mix and match while still getting everyone relatively equal burn. That said, what lineups we see will certainly depend on the opponent. For example, you will probably see Bradley get more than 20 minutes against a team like the Miami Heat where he would be assigned to Dwyane Wade defensively.
In the frontcourt, Sullinger can play some center, but Rivers will likely give those extra minutes to either Collins or Milicic. Again, though, it depends on who the Celtics are playing. If the matchup is against Bynum and the 76ers, you may see someone like Collins get anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Same goes for Milicic.
Finally, regular season performance obviously holds a significant amount of weight here. If Sullinger bombs during the season, you might not see him get any minutes at all. However, if he impresses, you might even see him in the starting lineup with Bass coming off the pine. Then, if Milicic revitalizes his career, you will certainly see him get more than five minutes a night.
Not only that, but single-game performance will also affect the allotted minutes for each player. If Lee is outplaying Bradley and Terry one night, he will see the bulk of the minutes at the 2 for that game. If Green is giving the opponent matchup nightmares, Doc will find a way to get him more than 16 minutes.
All of that said, it is fun to speculate and imagine what the rotation is going to look like come playoff time.
To wrap this all up, Boston's depth will help it in its quest for an 18th NBA title this season. It's not that the C's have only quantity; they have quality, and they have enough versatility where there will not be any logjams at any specific position. Sure, they may have three natural shooting guards, but two of them can play other areas of the floor.
You would be hard-pressed to find another team in the league with the kind of overall talent that the Celtics have up and down the roster.