Boston Celtics: Big Man Rotation Still Working Itself Out

Months upon months and pages upon pages have been spent since the summer discussing the Boston Celtics‘ frontcourt rotation. Now seven games into the season, all we know is that it appears there isn’t one yet.

Look at the box scores from the Celts’ two games this week. On Tuesday, Jared Sullinger played 20 minutes in a win over Milwaukee and on Wednesday, he played 33 minutes in a loss to the Pacers.

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Amir Johnson started on Tuesday and played 23 minutes. On Wednesday, he came off the bench and played 14 minutes.

David Lee, who seems to be finding himself after a rough early stretch, played 21 minutes Tuesday and 16 on Wednesday, scoring 13 points in each game.

Kelly Olynyk, co-anchor of the C’s bench unit with Jonas Jerebko now that Isaiah Thomas has started the past three games, played 22 minutes against the Bucks but just 15 against the Pacers.

About all that’s remained consistent is the playing time of Tyler Zeller, which is basically zilch. With the amount of big man depth on the roster as presently constituted, someone was going to have to sit and Zeller is the odd man out.

What does all of this mean? Not too much. Not yet, at least. It’s clear that head coach Brad Stevens is still juggling all his pieces while he waits for one or two to take over, or a trade to free up playing time for those who remain, or both.

The energy provided by Jerebko at the 4 and Olynyk at the 5 looks real so it makes sense to play plenty of lineups with that combo. But Lee, an accomplished offensive talent, has looked great this week so he should see more time too. And Sullinger has thus far been a revelation, scoring, passing, defending and displaying his immense skill set (see what I did there?) so he indeed should be rewarded for that, right?

And Johnson, who thus far is averaging just 20.6 minutes per game, is the most accomplished defender of the group so it makes sense that he plays more as well.

Therein lies the dilemma for Stevens. Each of the five big guys seeing semi-regular court time deserves it for one reason or another. Hell, Zeller probably does too based on how well he played and how much he contributed as a regular starter last year.

Which brings us full circle. There is no regular rotation yet because it’s nearly impossible to come up with one from this group of players, even for a coach as smart as Stevens. And so, the mixing and matching is bound to continue with only a trade or an injury able to provide clarity.

Olynyk may have busted up his hand on Wednesday night so if he’s out, there’s a lighter load for Stevens in terms of doling out minutes. Or, if the dream scenario of the Celts working out a deal for the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins ever comes to fruition (note: it probably won’t), then you’d have to assume that some combination of bigs will go back to the Kings along with parts of the team’s war chest of draft picks.

Either way, expect to see the glut continue. Something’s gotta give eventually, and it will be very interesting to see how that comes about.