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The Trade For Kristaps Porzingis Was A Clear Tell Of Brad Stevens' Basketball Vision

Boston Globe. Getty Images.

Now that the dust has settled and everyone has posted their goodbyes, we can now talk about what exactly was Brad trying to accomplish by trading for Kristaps Porzingis. It wasn't so simply ship Marcus Smart out the door since the team tried to trade Malcolm Brogdon first, but instead there had to be a driving force from a basketball standpoint that Brad felt was worth such a massive trade.

After listening to him talk about everything on Friday, my brain keeps going back to one part in particular

For off, if you haven't listened to this around 20 minute interview, stop what you are doing right now and listen to the full thing. For the sake of this blog though, let's focus on what Brad is really saying in that clip.

The TLDR version is simple. He felt like the Celtics were too easy to guard, and that as constructed they did not have a diversified enough roster when it came to switching defenses. Given the fact that the switching of GS is largely what cost this team a title and then the switching of MIA was a huge reason why they didn't get back to the Finals, it's pretty clear that this was the #1 priority of Brad's summer. 

This idea of having a lineup on the floor that defenses can't really switch against makes sense, especially late in games which to anyone that has watched the Celts play these last few seasons knows what an issue it is. The one thing we know is that in these situations, the ball is going to be in Jayson Tatum's hands. What Brad clearly feels is that if the Celts have lineups on the floor where the big cannot help make a team pay for switching, your offense becomes predictable.

Off the top of your head, I'm pretty sure you could tell me what the Celts do in these situations. Smart sets a screen on Tatum's guy and then pops out for a 3PA. Or there are possessions where Tatum gets the big, everyone else stands around, and he attacks it. Sometimes that works, like the absolute hell Tatum had Joel Embiid in just this past postseason

But the thing is, for smart defensive teams an approach like this is predictable. I think even with Smart on the floor, it's fair to say that too often the Celtics' offense became predictable and easy to guard, especially when you could tighten the screws by switching. Unless it was an open 3PA, there really weren't too many instances of Horford abusing the switch against a smaller player. Same thing with Rob. Teams could basically switch without ever having to worry about Rob, which is an issue Brad is clearly aware of.

Just listen to how he was talking in that clip. By bringing Porzingis into the equation, it limits how often a team is going to want to switch when Jayson Tatum has the basketball. Porzingis attacks closeouts better than any big on the roster, he shoots better than any big on the roster, and he's the best post player on the roster. At the end of the day, in theory, the Celts now have a more unpredictable offense for the exact defense that has absolutely killed them and frankly cost them 2 rings. Are defenses really going to want to take the risk of putting a smaller player on Porzingis? 

After thinking more about it, this trade doesn't just tell us that Brad is over being limited by the switch, it tells us his plan is to give Jayson Tatum even more ball handling responsibilities. When we first learned of this trade my initial concern was similar to what a lot of other people felt. For a team that had playmaking issues, losing their best natural passer is a bit of an issue. While that may still prove to be true, the thinking behind it is also pretty clear. Brad isn't relying on Derrick White or Malcolm Brogdon to suddenly take massive leaps as a passer/playmaker. They kind of are who they are at this point.

The massive leap is coming from Tatum as a playmaker. More stuff like this

I'm thinking that Brad is approaching the playmaking issue by saying OK, the first step is having the ball in Tatum's hands more given that he's their best player, and then surrounding him with a dynamic 7 foot unicorn is going to open up a heavy dose of higher percentage looks. Now, Derrick White is your "worst" three point shooter and he just shot 38%. Now, if a team switches instead of forcing a low percentage contested jumper, Tatum can reset and find Porzingis in the post, or hit him for an open look. 

Guys like White and Brogdon will obviously have to be better and grow in this area, but this entire trade is all about Jayson Tatum the more I think about it. Given the way Brad is talking, he wanted to find a way to make things easier in terms of spacing/being more dynamic on the offensive end while also banking on the fact that given how quickly Tatum is able to read defenses, Brad feels like his jump as a playmaker/passing is coming. 

There's also the idea that this additional spacing/versatility might help Jaylen when it comes to his offense as well. It's a lot harder to sag in and clog th paint on drives if there are 4 other legit 3PT shooters on the floor, and I do think it's fair to suggest that whenever Jaylen found himself in a switch against a big that often times he forced the issue offensive while having no real plan. That's where he fell into trouble and would turn it over. Porzingis helps there.

That doesn't mean this trade isn't without risk. I still have tons of questions about what the hell their defensive versatility looks like after losing both Smart and Grant (assuming this happens as well). We just went through a playoff series where White, Brogdon, and Pritchard were all targeted defensively, especially Brodgon and Pritchard. The hope I guess is that improved rim protection mitigates that to some degree, but with so many guys being injury risks that is a little unsettling. 

To me, it's a legacy defining gamble by Brad. He identified an issue and found a way to address it. Once he learned that the initial plan fell through, he's banking on the idea that fixing their switching issues outweighs the cost of not trading Smart and letting that deal fall through. Now we just have to wait and see if he's right.