Could Jared Sullinger’s exile following the acquisition of Al Horford add up to a 1-for-1 swap for the Celtics starting line up? A frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Al Horford would be excellent defensively, but it might not allow for the spacing we’re used to in the Brad Stevens offense. While Horford has added a three point shot to his repertoire, shooting 34% last season on 256 attempts, Johnson has regressed in that category as he shot 23% (10 of 43) following a season where he shot 41% within a similar sample size (19 of 46). Jared Sullinger hit 29 out of 103 from long range on his way out, amounting to a meager 28%.
Is it necessary to have consistent three point shooting at all five positions? Maybe not. Could the Celtics pull it off without giving up too much on defense? I think so.
Before I continue writing about the front court, let’s get the other three positions ironed out. I don’t think there’s much grey area here:
Point guard: Isaiah Thomas. 22 points per game was the fourth highest among point guards last season and 6.2 assists was 11th. He’s our leader and an All-Star. I don’t think there is any debate he belongs in the starting lineup.
Shooting/combo guard: Avery Bradley. Bradley’s 62 first place votes was the highest among all guards on the All-Defensive team voting. He’s the best defensive guard in the league and his offense has steadily improved each year. Bradley easily retains his starting role.
Small forward: Jae Crowder. As the team’s most unlikely hero, Crowder has become a staple on both ends of the floor. Jae was only a few votes short of the All-Defensive team and displayed significant improvement on offense last season. It’s safe to say he won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
Going back to the front court, I think we can safely assume Al Horford will be starting. What remains to be seen is if he’ll start at power forward or center. If he simply replaces Sullinger and the rest of the starting lineup is unchanged, then Horford would fit in as the power forward. While Horford is an upgrade in about every category (save rebounding) over Sullinger, that doesn’t mean we have to leave the rest of the lineup untouched. Instead of replacing Sully with Horford, let’s say we start Horford over Johnson instead and fill the power forward spot with Jonas Jerekbo instead. Why?
S P A C I N G
It’s a small sample size, but here’s Jerebko’s playoff numbers as a starter compared to his numbers coming off the bench:
11 points, eight rebounds, and above average three point shooting? Sign me up. The league average for three point shooting generally hovers around 35 or 36%, and a Thomas/Bradley/Crowder/Jerebko/Horford lineup would feature five players who can shoot around that number. Obviously we’re losing out on Sullinger’s defense, but I think adding some offensive versatility is a fair trade off on an otherwise exceptional defensive team.
Inserting Jerebko into the starting five also adds some much needed scoring on the bench in Amir Johnson. While Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier find their shot, the bench still needs somebody besides Kelly Olynyk (40% three point shooter, by the way) to keep the offense going without Evan Turner. Staggering Johnson and Horford’s minutes also allows the team to have a shot blocker on the court for most of the game, which I would prefer over Olynyk/Jerebko as the backup front court.
Here's some more Jerebko hype for you, and a little taste of what he brought to the lineup in the playoffs: