Stevens not interested in talk of lineup change; he just wants to win originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said his team continues to consider all possible rotation tweaks given Boston's uneven play but, asked about a possible change to the starting five, Stevens emphatically noted that he doesn't get overly focused on which five players he deploys first.
"I don't think much about starting. I know that all everybody wants to ask is about the first five minutes of the game and, in Boston, it shouldn't matter who starts, it shouldn't matter who plays, it shouldn't matter who finishes, it matters if you win. That's it," Stevens told reporters at the team's morning shootaround in Charlotte on Monday morning.
"You always consider that as part of the rotation but starting is like so far secondary to everything else that matters."
After the game, Stevens questioned the toughness of his team and Irving hinted the Celtics needs more discipline from their youngest players.
It reignited conversation about whether the Celtics needed to make a change to their starting five, particularly with the combination of Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford now owning a net rating of minus-3.9 over a team-high 137 minutes together, all while posting a 7-6 record in the games they've started together.
Despite an underwhelming 91.1 offensive rating, the Celtics starting five has had moments of exquisite basketball and has typically played strong defense overall. Stevens has been reluctant to make changes when the entire team could benefit from simply putting in more effort more often.
"We're always contemplating [changes]," said Stevens. "I think we've learned more about which group plays well together when we're playing well. The issue, again, is that it hasn't been consistent enough to really have a huge conclusion. But I do feel like we have a better feel for who plays best together. Some of the things we want to emphasize, I think we can emphasize by small tweaks."
Added Stevens: "You have to find your best version of yourself. It's a long year . . . I think that you just keep working until you find that. Sometimes it comes quicker than others, sometimes it's a process. And the goal is to be playing your very best at the end. Now, the problem is you have to build consistency with your performance. And I think that's what we're trying to accomplish right now."
Stevens likely realizes that the Irving/Brown/Hayward/Tatum/Horford is his most skilled and versatile lineup, a combination that might ultimately dictate the overall success of the team this season. A more accommodating schedule ahead, Stevens seems to be content with letting his player work through some early season struggles - both in figuring out roles and individual performance.
The Celtics have proven themselves capable of playing at a high level having already posted victories over fellow East rivals like Philadelphia, Toronto, and Milwaukee. But the team has struggled to routinely put together 48 minutes of effort and it's led to some hard-to-watch stretches of hoops.
Fair or not, third-year swingman Jaylen Brown finds himself maybe most in the crosshairs as he works through an early season offensive slump. Brown is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 27.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. ESPN's Real Plus Minus ranks him a staggering 417th out of 430 total players, and a minus-3.25 offensive mark slots him 426th overall (ahead of only Tyson Chandler, Harry Giles, Josh Jackson, and Kyle Anderson).
Where Celtics currently rank in ESPN's Real Plus Minus:
9. Kyrie +5.07
50. Al +1.75
78. Smart + 0.90
81. Baynes +0.84
105. Tatum +0.36
107. Hayward +0.35
179. Mook -0.66
196. Yabu -0.85
197. Semi -0.87
203. Theis -0.90
223. Timelord -1.01
264. Wanamaker -1.29
417. Jaylen -3.66
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) November 19, 2018
What's more, the Celtics have struggled whenever Brown and Hayward share the floor this season. Hayward's offensive rating with Brown on the court is 92.5 and spikes to 109.4 when Brown is on the bench. In both instances, the defensive rating stays firm at 97. Hayward has a net rating of minus-4.6 with Brown, and plus-12.4 when he's on the bench.
It's similar results for Brown when Hayward is on the bench. His own offensive rating spikes to 107.3 with a net rating of plus-4.8.
It could just be an early season anomaly but it's led some to wonder if the Celtics would be better putting a more defensive-minded presence onto the first unit, someone like last year's starter Aron Baynes, or maybe Marcus Smart depending on matchups.
Even if the Celtics made a change, it might only be temporary. The Celtics are unique because of their current starting 5 and should be willing to endure some bumps to have things clicking when it matters.
And, ultimately, as Stevens suggested, Boston's struggles do not fall on player or one lineup. The team needs more effort from everyone not named Kyrie.
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