Doc has had a penchant for playing small ball ever since he arrived. Now sometimes it may have seemed that a lack of size, or at least skilled size, made this almost a necessity, but I think he likes the dynamics and change of pace. Tommy Heinsohn is a big believer in exploiting mismatches. Small ball, almost by definition, forces mismatches. The trick is to exercise your match-up advantages while covering up those not in your favor.
Dateline: September 2, 2012––28 days until the start of training camp!
From a small-ball perspective the overload, rotation, and weak side help of the Celtics scheme is well suited to compensating for height disadvantages. A pretty good formula for success is to turn quickness into open shots at one end and still not give up easy baskets to taller opponents on the defensive end. During Rivers’ tenure in Boston, the front court has been chronically undersized. Well, maybe not with the O’Neal duo but that height advantage was more in the program and then in the trainer’s room, than actually on the court. The Celtics’ typical small ball lineup has been a short (or really short) center and Paul Pierce at power forward. Now Paul’s game is not built around quickness but he has the strength to check fours, at least for a while, and shooting over or driving around them just shows that speed is a relative thing.
I think that this year we might see a small-ball approach that really does emphasize quickness. Rest Paul’s aging legs and use the new influx of young athletic multi-position players to create the blitzkrieg, a “lightening war.” The germ of this idea came from contemplating how it might be difficult for Doc to keep Courtney Lee on the bench. If he and Avery Bradley are among your most effective players, how do you get them both on the court. Might the Celtics not field a unit of Rondo, Bradley, Lee, Green, and a rebounder?
Which center might work best with these shock troops? Garnett gives you rebounding, a defensive quarterback and rim defender, and a perfect pick and roll/pop complement. However he is already on limited minutes and playing him with racehorses might not be the best use of his offensive talents. Wilcox gives you a fifth speedster (for his position) and an active big man. He is not the rebounder or defender Garnett is but then who is? The intriguing choice is Jared Sullinger. Definitely undersized, but we are eagerly waiting to see if his bulk, technique, and relish for contact allows him to rebound and play inside effectively in the big leagues. The racehorses are just for show unless you can put the ball in their hands on their blitz down court—and Sullinger outlets the ball with alacrity and deadly intent. Also, in the half court set (and even running teams are forced into the half-court set most of the time) Sully can key the inside/out game or play the pick and pop/roll.
Finally just imagine the look of consternation on the faces of the opposition as Garnett, Pierce, Bass, and Terry check in while their defenders gasp for breath after having tried to slow down the whirlwind for five or seven minutes. Or those old pros salivating as the opponents’ second unit passes the scorer’s table to replace their starters who are gassed. I can hardly wait for camp, and the season!
Boston, and all points beyond