The 5 best Celtics lineups heading into the NBA restart

As soon as play resumes in Orlando, experimentation time is over. In an eight-game sprint for seeding followed by the playoffs, Brad Stevens will have to tighten his rotation almost immediately if Boston doesn’t want to go home early.

In the spirit of that, we took a look at the five best Celtics lineups from before the 2019-20 season was suspended (minimum 40 minutes played together). And spoiler alert, but to the surprise of few: There’s a lot of Jayson Tatum.

5. Smart in for Kemba (NET rating: +1.9)

Marcus Smart
Jaylen Brown
Gordon Hayward
Jayson Tatum
Daniel Theis

Kemba Walker struggled with minor injuries all year, which lent way to quite a bit of Marcus Smart in the starting lineup. This five-mean combo scored 105.6 points per 100 possessions and allowed 103.8.

There’s a common belief that depth isn’t as important in the postseason as the regular season and I think there’s certainly truth to that. But if a starter or leading scorer goes down, teams have to be able to replace them without much of a drop-off.

Smart should prevent catastrophe in that regard, which is extra valuable in a bubble scenario where the risk of soft-tissue injuries is greater than normal.

4. Smart in for Hayward (NET rating: +3.4)

Kemba Walker
Marcus Smart
Jaylen Brown
Jayson Tatum
Daniel Theis

Gordon Hayward plans to leave the bubble in September for when his wife Robyn gives birth to their fourth child, and Smart will likely be the guy to step into the starting five for him.

His departure, albeit for a short time, won’t be easy to overcome for the Celtics, but it’s at least good to know that the lineup Boston will lean on is a dependable one with a stifling 100.7 defensive rating.

RELATED: BEST AND WORST CASE CELTICS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS

3. Starters (NET rating: +12.5)

Kemba Walker
Jaylen Brown
Gordon Hayward
Jayson Tatum
Daniel Theis

We take a massive jump in net rating to the starters, who only got to play 188 minutes together but were dominant whenever they shared the floor. Of all five-man lineups in the NBA that played at least 100 minutes together, this group ranks sixth in offensive rating.

It’s telling that Boston’s most-used lineup ranks 38th in total minutes played and yet the Celtics managed to hold down a top-three seed in the East for most of the year.

2. Smart in for Brown (NET rating: 13.1)

Kemba Walker
Marcus Smart
Gordon Hayward
Jayson Tatum
Daniel Theis

Marcus Smart is like Darth Vader at the beginning of Return of the Jedi. Whenever he comes into the game, he gets the entire team back on schedule.

This lineup doesn’t score at the same level as the starters, but boy can they defend. Over 169 minutes together, this group posted a 95.5 defensive rating, which is the best mark for any five-man rotation in Boston by far.

Playoff success typically depends on your best seven-ish players, and Celtics fans can rest easy that their team’s top seven guys have been incredibly productive all year.

1. Semi magic (NET rating: +14.3)

Kemba Walker
Jaylen Brown
Jayson Tatum
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis

This lineup barely made the cut on the sample size cut off at 50 minutes played, but it’s always great to see Ojeleye in a highly-efficient lineup.

Ojeleye could prove to be an x-factor of sorts for the Celtics in Disney. If he’s hitting his spot-up threes, he’s a terrific option to play alongside creators like Tatum, Brown and Walker while throwing him at difficult assignments like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons or Pascal Siakam.

It’s probably important to note that this lineup has the team’s best true-shooting percentage and holds opponents to a terrible field goal percentage, so there may be a little bit of fortune going on here.

Still, Ojeleye’s potential on this team is significant, and you can see the results when indeed shots are falling. That’s just the trick, isn’t it? It’s a make or miss league, and Ojeleye hasn’t always been on the right side of that sobering reality.


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