The Boston Celtics are currently in pursuit of an NBA championship as they take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Their promising run to the ring was built on their ability to play both sides of the court at a high level, and league teams need to take note of the lesson Boston is teaching.
No place for the passive
During this year’s playoffs, the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers significantly reduced the minutes of players they relied heavily on during the regular season.
Duncan Robinson average of 25.9 minutes in 79 games for the Heat this year, but saw his minutes drop to just 12.2 in the playoffs, due to his inability to defend at a high level. Robinson is the definition of a specialist player, as he’s also not a particularly effective shot-maker or rebounder. Its one value – point fire – just wasn’t worth enough to justify its weaknesses in every other area.
But if you think only attacking players will be benched, think again.
In Philadelphia, Matisse Thybulle had a great regular season defense angle view. He averaged 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks in 25.5 minutes and made the All-Defensive 2nd Team. However, in the playoffs, his complete lack of offensive play forced Doc Rivers to play him for just 15.2 minutes. Thybulle has never averaged more than 5.7 points per game, and he’s not a threat to hit three-pointers, allowing opposing defenses to largely ignore his presence on offense. This forces Philadelphia to play 4-on-5 basketball, which isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
The Celtics simply decided not to play the blame game. Their shortened playoff rotation of Robert Williams, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams and Derrick White are all capable of playing on both ends of the court. By not having a single one-sided player in this group, the Celtics got rid of the worry of possible weak links entirely.
Ideology of building a new list
Teams not currently watching Boston’s plan will quickly learn that they have become dinosaurs. It might seem overwhelmingly obvious that players who can play on both sides of the pitch are more valuable than players who can’t, but there’s more to it.
The Celtics are currently proving that you don’t have to bring together the best of the best to create a viable product. Yes, you need stars, as evidenced by the presence of Tatum and Brown, but neither do Top 5 players in the league, and Brown is closer to being a Top 25 player than a Top 10 player.
The collective cohesion of a formation that closes the holes, in the manner of the Celtics, allows them a much greater margin of error. This margin is also necessary, as most members of the aforementioned rotation have flaws.
Smart is a player who is too often the lucky trigger, and who has never been known for his offensive efficiency, hitting 38.2% of his shots for his career. None of the Williams are able to create their own attack and must above all be put in place to be effective. White and Horford can both come in and out of games on offense.
But because everyone can still put the ball in the basket, to varying degrees, the Celtics’ collective result beats individual performance.
Game 1 of the final was a prime example of this, as Tatum only shot 3 of 17 from the field, but Boston still won the game. Horford, White and Smart have all had monster offensive performances, and it’s that ebb and flow that the Celtics use as a safety blanket that has gotten them this far. Warriors could be light favorites win the series, but nonetheless, the Celtics opened their eyes.
With the draft just weeks away, it would behoove NBA teams to look to the future and determine if their draft goals can be achieved in this way. Will the player they circled be a high scoring player who can’t compete defensively? Will he be a great defender unable to shoot? Or, optimally, will he become a player who can be an asset to both sides, even if it means potentially sacrificing elite status on one side?
These are the questions teams need to answer moving forward.