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It's Time For Brad Stevens To Give The People What They Want

Pool. Getty Images.

After we were all riding the high from Rob's dominant performance last night, I couldn't help but think more about this quote from Brad after the game. It basically consumed my morning. That's not weird, you're weird. There are three pretty big takeaways from that one quote that help give shape to what we can expect over the final 34 games of the regular season.

1. Death to the two big lineup

This is something I'm sure was a relief to Celtics fans everywhere. I've sort of been "meh" when it comes to the two big lineup. I see the pros and cons. But now with Smart back, it's time for this rotation/starting group to reflect the lineup we saw last year when this team made their deep run. Move Tatum to the four and play smaller. We know Smart isn't coming off the bench, so it's about time Brad makes the adjustment we all know the starting five needs. I could understand wanting to give it a decent sample size, but the proof is in the pudding. 

The two big lineup of Kemba/Jaylen/Tatum/Theis/Thompson has the following production

131 minutes / 118 Ortg / 114 Drtg / +4.0 net rating

it also had a 54.7% REB% with a TS% of 57.4%. Decent, but it doesn't blow your socks off, especially defensively. When you swap Smart for Kemba in the games he sits, you get this

95 minutes / 112 Ortg / 117 Drtg / -4.3 net rating

Yeah, that's not it either. You get worse on both ends with that nonsense. We've seen very limited samples of a Theis/Rob frontcourt with that group and it's not great. We also have never seen those three with Rob/Thompson because why would we? That kills your spacing.

When we saw a smaller group, let's call it Kemba/Smart/Jaylen/Tatum/Theis, the results were mixed

29 minutes / 120 Ortg / 118 Drtg / +2.0 net rating

This makes sense. More space allows for better offense. The surprising thing is this has been a brutal defensive lineup in their limited sample. You don't even want to see what this combination looks like with Tristan Thompson in the Theis spot, but I'll show you anyways

8 minutes / 113 Ortg / 147 Drtg / -33.7 net rating

There's a reason that combo has only played 8 minutes together.

If this team is going to go small, they either need Theis to really step it up defensively, or give those center minutes to someone who is flashing some LEGIT rim protection potential. That brings me to my second point

2. It's time to unleash this team's version of The Best 5

Brad is essentially telling us the move to smaller lineups is happening, so I wanted to see just how many minutes we've seen a Kemba/Smart/Jaylen/Tatum/Rob lineup. The answer?

2 minutes.

Yesterday was the first time we've seen it all year. It's why I tweeted this out during the game

Last year we saw Rob feel more comfortable in a playoff series. He made a real impact against the Raptors. We then didn't see him again in the Heat series and we all know how that turned out. Here's what I know. Rob currently ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man in the P&R. Here's what I also know. This team's offense relies heavily on the P&R. Rob has shown to be BY FAR their best P&R big. Theis is around the 48th percentile and Thompson the 13th. 

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The point is, you have to see what those five can do. There's not really much more Rob can do to show he's ready for a larger role with the starting group. I feel like it would be in their best interest to build that chemistry over these last 34 games. There will be rough patches for sure, but how else can you rely on a lineup like that in a playoff series unless you get them reps together. Considering that might be your best 5 players, we need to see it and it sounds like Brad knows it. 

3. It's time to shop some bigs

This is where things get a little tricky. Tristan Thompson's contract is enticing in a potential trade, but you have to be smart there. You can't send his ass to like Atlanta or some shit. Being a Klutch client matters, those are just the facts. There's a difference in trading him somewhere good or even a place like TOR where it would be a homecoming and burying him on a rebuilding team. At the same time, I don't know if I'm willing to get rid of that rebounding just yet.

I keep going back to Theis' contract situation and he feels like the most likely one to be moved in the next few weeks. There's a problem there though. Unless you're ready for a whole lot of Grant (in the event he's not traded), if you move on from Theis you basically do not have a starter caliber big that can shoot past 15 feet. That's a BIG issue as we think about the playoffs where defenses collapse and tighten up. They can't trade Theis unless they replace his roster spot with a big they can go to when they need to go really small and have 5 shooters on the floor. Yes, that could be Grant in theory, but who would feel good about that right now?

At the same time, it's a delicate balance because if Theis is unhappy with his now inconsistent role, he's dipping this summer as an UFA. That's a fact. 

So what's the move? I think first you maybe look around some good teams and see who may want to bite on Thompson. As long as it's somewhere he's cool with going to and you get a position of need in return, I can see them biting the bullet. Theis might be the more logical one, but I still believe in his skillset and how it works with the Jays/Kemba.

Here's the good news. We have 10 days before the deadline. That's 6 games for Brad to actually play Rob with the starters and up his minutes to around 25 just so we can see what we have. He doesn't need to start, he just needs to play more. I would go so far as to say it shouldn't even matter what the matchup is. Take this stretch and see what combinations work, see how he looks with extended run next to the starters, and hopefully, that helps determine what path to take at the deadline.

I keep going back to when Ainge said on the radio that this team is looking for size that can shoot. That makes a whole lot more sense if you think Rob's role increases which potentially pushes Theis out. I mean, is it a coincidence that Chris Haynes is dropping this nugget today

League sources said the Boston Celtics could trade their starting center by the March 25 trade deadline with the Toronto Raptors being a possible destination.

Thompson is averaging 7.9 points and 8.3 rebounds in his first season with the Celtics after signing a two-year, $19 million deal that includes a player option in the second year.

I'm going to go with no, no it's not.