After Rajon Rondo went down with his ankle sprain last week, Doc Rivers turned over the reins of his offense to Paul Pierce. Nate Robinson is still listed in the PG spot, but against Atlanta and Indiana, it was Pierce who did most of the creating and ballhandling once the Celtics were in their halfcourt sets.
Pierce responded with two of his more remarkable games of the year, putting up 10 assists against Atlanta and the triple-double against Indiana.
This alignment seems particularly savvy for the way it optimizes the usage of both Pierce and Robinson. Two points here:
1) It gets Pierce more involved in the offense. Pierce is having an excellent year shooting the ball but has been less dynamic as a scorer as less has been required of him within the offense. I’m on record questioning how hard and how long you can lean on him at this point in his career but the Celtics leverage more value out of Pierce when he plays on the ball. And because Pierce makes excellent decisions and passes willingly, the flow of the offense isn’t compromised with the ball in his hands, the way it would have been five years ago.
2) It moves Robinson off the ball. That Robinson has become more adept at distributing the ball does not mean he’s the optimal choice to do so. Once Delonte West returns to claim the backup point guard position, Robinson will be back in the position where he’s most comfortable – as an off-guard scorer. Robinson can be effective as a catch-and-shoot player, and off the dribble for pull-up jumpers but if you can limit the other things he has to focus on (like running an offense) you can get what you really need from him: points.
I’m not suggesting Pierce and Robinson fill these roles exclusively, but that these are the best uses of their talents while Rondo/West are out.
After the jump, I’ll try and apply these ideas in ways that might benefit the oft-maligned Celtics second unit.
Any discussion of Robinson and Pierce and the PG spot focuses primarily on the first unit, because that’s where they’re both slotted with Rondo and West out of the lineup. But here’s a thought – given the year-long struggles of the second unit to score consistently, perhaps there’s more you can do with Pierce if you shade his minutes towards the second quarter rather than the first.
We know that Rivers prefers to keep one or more of the starters out there with the second unit. That usually equates to Allen or Pierce. Allen doesn’t have the handle or makeup to run the point, but Pierce could serve as an interesting backup point guard for the second unit. It might lead to some better offensive possessions and fewer blown leads in the second quarter. It also gives the second unit a clear alpha-dog on both offense and defense.
So, what if Rivers changed up his rotations and brought Marquis Daniels onto the floor for Pierce a couple of minutes earlier in the first quarter? That way, Pierce rests up for the start of the second and the 5-man unit on the floor would look like:
PG: Nate Robinson
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Marquis Daniels
PF/C would be a combination of Shaquille O’Neal, Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett.
That still gets Robinson reps at the PG spot, and still in a protected spot with at least two, and probably three excellent offensive players surrounding him. Daniels could fit in there nicely, slashing to the hoop and working off the ball.
Then, come the second quarter – you run Pierce out for the majority of the period, triggering the second-unit offense from the point-forward spot and then sliding back in with the rest of the starters as they check back into the game.
To some extent, this concept is just a bolder iteration and formalization of what has already existed in stretches this year. At its core it could be summed up as offensive wealth redistribution – re-allocate some of Pierce’s offensive capability from the already-flush, livin’ large first unit, to its poorer cousin on the wrong side of the tracks.
A little basketball socialism for you, then…