Celtics following the trend of smaller lineups

Celtics following the trend of smaller lineups
October 29, 2012, 8:07 pm
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MIAMI The NBA has a different look and feel about it these days.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the many teams that are getting a big boost out of small lineups -- the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat included.

When the two face each other in the season opener on Tuesday night, both will unveil lineups that continue a league-wide trend that steers further and further away from traditional five-man lineups.

"It's going to continue to change," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "There's no longer, 'You gotta put a center on the floor. You gotta put a power forward.' You're going to put your best five on the floor and usually your best five offensive guys on the floor."

The position that has been most impacted by this change in philosophy, is the center position. And the reason is obvious. There just aren't that many good ones, and so teams try to make due with power forwards who can also play center.

Kevin Garnett has spent most of his career at power forward, but he is now Boston's starting center. While he still may play some at power forward, the bulk of his's minutes will be at center.

Ditto for Miami's Chris Bosh who like Garnett, is a slender power forward that has been converted into a center.

But don't think for a minute that because of the position change, these players spend most of their time around the basket.

In fact, Garnett and Bosh are part of a new generation of NBA big men who have the ability to stretch defenses with their perimeter shooting in addition to being able to score around the basket.

Rivers doesn't see teams going back to the days of having a true center with any kind of consistency for one reason.

Most NBA centers aren't exceptional. Aside from Philadelphia's Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard, a case could be made that there's not another dominant center in the league.

Don't think for a minute that will stop teams from continuing to look.

"Trust me, every coach would love to have a dominant center," Rivers said. "There's no doubt about that. If there are none, then why just throw one out there?"

Miami's Shane Battier has spent the bulk of his NBA career playing small forward as well as some at shooting guard. But with the Heat, the 6-foot-8 Battier is being asked to learn how to play the power forward position as well.

"It's a lot more, 'Get your players on the court and make plays,' " Battier said. "What position is LeBron? Really? He's a little bit of everything. He's one of the few guys you can craft a whole system around."

Or in the case of Boston's Jeff Green, a case could be made that having such versatility allows a player to fit into whatever system they are asked to play in.

"We're hybrids; that's how I define guys like myself," said Green who will play at least two or three different positions for the C's this season. "We're a rare commodity so everybody is looking all over the place for us."

Small not only benefits versatile bigs like James and Green, but also combination guards like Jason Terry who often finds himself in the game with another sort-of, kind-of, but-not-really-big-man like Green who is at his best when running the floor.

"This league is all about matchups," Terry said. "Coaches are always looking for that matchup to exploit, to take advantage of. Having smaller lineups allows your best playmakers to play more, do what they do best."

And that could be a good thing -- a very good thing -- for the Celtics this season.

"What I like about our team, against the big teams we can go big," said Rivers who mentioned Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Chris Wilcox as legitimate options at the center position.

"Against teams that go small, that's dangerous. If you go small against us, you may be playing into our hands. This year's group, our small lineups are pretty lethal."