|Doc Rivers’ coaching challenge||09.26.12 at 5:16 pm ET|
While the NBA continues to undergo what the writer Bethlehem Shoals once termed “the positional revolution,” the Celtics largely have stayed true to traditional lineups. There was good reason for this.
In Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett they had four players who not only fit the archetypes of their positions, they could have served as the model for how we think about point guards, off guards, small forwards and power forwards.
All that was missing was a center, and over the years they have used Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and the O’Neal brothers to varying degrees of effectiveness. Coach Doc Rivers also used Glen Davis as an undersized 5, but the one time he was truly able to display a unique look was during the championship season of 2007-08 when James Posey took the court with the other four starters.
That all began to change last season when Rivers moved Garnett to the 5 and inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. The change was enormously successful, but the C’s ran into trouble during the postseason against teams like Philadelphia and Miami that could throw multiple combinations at them and create matchup advantages at various positions.
The Celtics lacked depth, which was a major problem, but they also lacked the personnel to counter some of these moves. That may have changed this offseason when they added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to the mix. All three players can play multiple positions. And in loading up on 7-footers (Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Fab Melo) to go along with Chris Wilcox and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics should be deeper, bigger and more versatile.
At some point this winter they also will welcome back Avery Bradley, who found a home playing off the ball on offense while applying tenacious ball pressure on the defensive end of the court.
“When he comes back, I don’t know if anyone has a better guard core than us, but we’re going to have to wait for that,” Rivers said. “In the meantime we have three guys who can all play multiple positions. That’s the way I would always want to coach, and I have an opportunity to do that.”
The possibilities are endless. Rivers could employ a three-guard attack featuring Rondo, Terry and Lee with say, Pierce and Garnett. Against bigger teams — and the Eastern Conference has added more size this summer — he could pair Garnett with a 7-footer and still cause matchup problems with any number of perimeter players. Rivers noted that Garnett was staying at the 5, but that wasn’t even a luxury he could afford last postseason when the backup center options were Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins.
The biggest X-factor in all of this is Green. The Celtics seem to view him as a perimeter player, which makes sense considering he has been vulnerable defensively as an undersized 4 during his career. Could he play in lineups alongside Pierce? Possible. Could he join forces with Wilcox and Rondo for an up-tempo change of pace? Perhaps. How Rivers ultimately uses Green will be one of the fascinating subplots of the upcoming season.
The coach will also have to get everyone on board with their roles, but the players they acquired have been enthusiastic about the possibilities and he can count on his veteran starts to help enforce whatever direction he takes his team.
“We have tons of talent,” Terry said. “It’s just a matter of Doc putting it all together and us buying into our roles. He hasn’t told me specifically what my role is, but whatever that is, I’m going to go out there and play it to the fullest.”
Rivers got what he wanted, now he has to make it work.
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