Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Can Celtics lack of bench depth still win an NBA title?

Many NBA analysts feel that the current 2019-20 Celtics roster lacks the depth to be a legitimate championship contender.

They may be correct, but a look at two NBA champions in the 2004 Detroit Pistons and 2008 Celtics, may add some interesting comparisons.

The 2004 Pistons featured Chauncey Billups (6-foot-3), Rip Hamilton (6-foot-7), Tayshaun Prince (6-foot-9), Ben Wallace (6-foot-9) and Rasheed Wallace (6-foot-11). In the Finals match-up, Detroit faced the heavily-favored Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Despite being huge underdogs, the Pistons won the series in five games.

The Pistons basically went eight-deep in the Finals with players logging double-digit minutes. The five starters all averaged double-digits in points, from Prince's 10.0 points per-game to Hamilton's 21.4 points per-contest. Beyond the top-eight players, no Piston supplied significant contributions. The five starters averaged only 77 points per game, and the three primary bench guys contributed 11.2 points. But the players were tough defensively and that won the series for them against the Lakers. How good were they defensively in the 2004 postseason?

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the 2004 Pistons had a Defensive Rating of 92.0 in the playoffs, which is the lowest Defensive Rating any team has had in a post-first round playoff run in the 3-point era (1980–present).

The composition of the champion 2008 Boston Celtics was different, as that team went 10-deep with 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett, 6-foot-7 Paul Pierce, 6-foot-1 Rajon Rondo, 6-foot-5 Ray Allen and 6-foot-8 James Posey leading the way. Boston took the series away from the Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol led Lakers in six games. Despite only averaging 8.9 minutes per game, Leon Powe also contributed 6.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per-game, so he's included in the 10-man rotation.

Now we fast-forward to the 2020 Celtics squad and Brad Stevens is still fiddling with his lineups, attempting to fabricate a mix of starters and back-ups that can go far in the postseason. When healthy, the starters have generally been Daniel Theis, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, with Marcus Smart the main guy off the bench. Enes Kanter, Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams have all logged time as substitutes.

It is obvious that this current crew will not have the depth of the 2008 group. Pierce and company had P. J. Brown, Eddie House, Kendrick Perkins, Sam Cassell and Powe as back-ups. They were solid veterans for the most part one-through-ten. Those five subs contributed 26 points per game in the Finals. Particularly, if Kanter doesn't see a lot of time on the floor, that won't be happening this postseason for Boston.

The five starters for Boston are currently averaging 91.9 points per game, 14.9 points more than that Pistons squad put up in the 2004 Finals. And they are sound defensively, currently ranked fourth in the NBA at 105.9 points-allowed per game. The positive factors for the playoffs for Boston are that they are a very good defensively, and they have four starters that can score 20 plus points at any given time. The downside right now is the shallow bench and coach Stevens seems focused on getting his crew healthy, but banking on a full contingent for the postseason is a risky proposition.

While Danny Ainge maintains that the Celtics bench will get a boost once his roster is fully healthy and ultimately "moves everybody back to their more common roles," he said, per Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.
"The question is, do you have enough scoring? And I think we're the fourth or fifth-rated scoring team in the NBA last I checked, and we haven't had our team together," Ainge said. "So when people start classifying bench scoring, no, team scoring is all that really matters. And we haven't been able to start our five best players much all season because of injuries, so our bench has been weakened, so I'm confident that we have enough."

Tom Lane

Photo used courtesy of SlamOnline.com

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