It was just a notion Danny Ainge threw out after the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs last spring, but it makes some sense for Boston to move Paul Pierce to the sixth man role and start Mickael Pietrus.
There are a number of reasons why this might work but the prime one is that the Celtics desperately need to fire up their offense. It’s 14th in the league right now, its brief dalliance with the top-10 probably permanently a thing of the past. What’s more, moving Pierce opens up a number of other possibilities to make this team more efficient.
I’m not sold on this proposition but there’s a lot to recommend it.
Right now, the Celtics have one major scoring threat on the bench in Brandon Bass and he spends most of his time with the first unit, which renders the various bench combos anemic. Bringing Pierce off the bench would better spread out the offensive capability of this roster. That’s more important than usual this year because the condensed schedule requires Doc Rivers to go deeper into his rotation. He needs more from his bench and, already short on recovery time, his starters aren’t going to have the energy to bail out the bench every night, like they had to do last season.
A bench unit anchored by Pierce at the 3 and Bass at the 4 gives the Celtics two shot creators and finishers and, along with — to speculate — Keyon Dooling, E’Twaun Moore and Greg Stiemsma or Chris Wilcox, you’ve got a nice balance of shooters, inside players and ball handling ability.
That would give the Celtics a starting unit of Pietrus, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal. Pietrus can replicate Pierce’s defense and approximate his outside shooting in the halfcourt and he can better get up and down the floor, which gives Rondo another quick-moving option in transition.
That may not even go far enough.
Why not move O’Neal to the bench too and shift Wilcox to the starting lineup?
Then you’ve got a team that can really get out and run on the first unit: Rondo, Allen, Pietrus, Garnett and Wilcox.
And a team that can score and defend in the halfcourt on the second: Dooling, Moore, Pierce, Bass, O’Neal.
The defense, remember, has been bad (18th in the league), so there’s less risk of disrupting it with rotation moves than there was over the last few seasons. And additional reps on a fast-paced first unit might extract more from Wilcox, who can approximate a center’s rebounding percentage, assuming he reverts to his career norms.
Pierce, who has struggled with injuries and conditioning, could play his way into shape against lesser competition on opposition second-units. It should help his efficiency. Or at the least it could force the opposing coach to break up his rotations in ways he’d prefer not to.
And for Ainge, there’s an opportunity to test-drive a faster paced team before committing to the specifics of a rebuild this summer.
Boston could still close games with a traditional lineup, but my belief is that the Celtics aren’t maximizing production from this roster and a lack of creativity is one of the reasons. With the schedule constructed as it is, and with a 4-7 record, Rivers may never have a better opportunity to try something truly different.