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Flexibility, Confusion and Celtics Lineups

There were several themes coming out of Boston’s media day on Monday, and many of them were predictable. It was, for example, predictable that Rondo would be asked repeatedly about his return and that his teammates would be asked about his return as well. It was equally predictable that members of the slightly-older-than-the-rookies guard would be asked about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett’s departure, and it wasn’t a surprise at all that their responses — while respectful — were somewhat reserved.

Another popular topic was Brad Stevens’ plans for on-court sets and systems. Boston hadn’t practiced by this point, so it was understood that only the players who had spent significant time with Stevens would have an idea what he was expecting. Kelly Olynyk, the only player to have competed against Stevens at any level, offered this:

“I played him a couple times now. What you notice about his teams: They execute […] They don’t just execute plays. It was tough to scout them because you think you know what play they are running, and then you get on the floor and they execute that play, but then they read you and then they execute a counter. And then they counter the counter.”

Olynyk’s comments make a lot of sense in context with what we know about Stevens. We know he is a basketball junkie who spends his days watching film and studying statistics. This kind of devotion and attention to detail will lead to innovation, and being able to confuse even defenses who are prepared for you is a significant weapon.

Most interesting about Olynyk’s comments is the “counter and counter to the counter.” Some of the NBA’s best coaches, including Gregg Popovich, use this type of deception frequently in their offenses. Simply put, if something works once, try it again, but tweak it just a little bit to keep the defense guessing. For Popovich, the circuitous routes Tony Parker plays within are a staple in San Antonio’s offense, as Parker runs around various screens using cuts and cutbacks to free himself from the defense. Parker can score in a variety of ways as well as dish with the best point guards in the NBA — flexibility which makes the Spurs’ offense consistently one of the best in the league.

Stevens, when asked, cited flexibility as a strength of the Celtics, especially at forward.

“The nice thing about the Jeff Greens of the world, the Gerald Wallaces of the world, is that you can play a number of different people with them. They’re not pigeon-holed into a position. The more guys you have like that, the better, because then you can play Jeff and Gerald at the 2 and the 3, at the 3 and the 4, you can rotate them at the 3, rotate them at the four. You have a lot of different options with those guys.”

Presumably, the flexibility Stevens sees in Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace will aid the Celtics as they introduce a new offense built around confusion. When one player can play several different positions (Green, for example), it can be tough for a defense to read whether he will be drawing the defense out only to drive past, post up or just catch and shoot. In Wallace’s case, there is less offensive flexibility, but he thrives off plays opponents may find unpredictable like backdoor cuts.

NBA offenses are different than college offenses, and NBA athletes are superior to most college athletes. This was brought up several times at media day, almost as if the interviewers were asking Stevens (without actually asking) “Do you know what you are in for, kid?”

But in the end, it’s all basketball, and Stevens has made great early impressions. If we can take something away from Media Day safely, it seems that players are intrigued by Stevens’ schemes. Green himself mentioned his shifting role within Stevens’ offense.

“Just focus on what he wants me to bring each game, because I know it’s going to be different each game.”

However Green’s role looks midway through December, don’t expect it to look too much like his role last season. It might not even look like his role the night before.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

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