- It didn't take Amir Johnson long to find his way into the starting line-up, which makes sense when you consider how well-rounded he is. He was good in Toronto as a 4 man but I love him as a stretch 5 in Boston. He's more than long and athletic enough to handle playing as a 5 in the modern NBA and sliding him down a position increases the value of his shooting (he can make 3's but he needs forever to get them off) and his ability to drive off the shot and make plays on the move. Just check this stat-line - 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks and +19 in 17 in 36 minutes. He's the most complete big man on the Celtics roster and he's going to be the key if they are going to make the playoffs.
- Jae "The Beast" Crowder made a ton of little plays - 6 offensive rebounds and 4 steals - which shows you the lack of size on the perimeter in Atlanta as well as Crowder's ability to impact the game without having the ball in his hands. The one thing about him is that he's not actually a good shooter, which is surprising because he looks like a decent shooter and he certainly doesn't seem to lack for confidence when firing up shots. He's shooting 34% from the field and 26% from 3 on the season and at some point other teams are going to make him beat them from the perimeter.
- Isaiah Thomas is a great offensive player and if the other team isn't going to take advantage of his lack of size on defense than there's no reason he can't play 35+ minutes a night. That's a match-up the Hawks need Teague to dominate - or at the very least get him back as many points as he scores on the other end - if they are going to win a game like this on the road.
- Marcus Smart is a great defensive player but I'd like to see him play more with the ball in his hands than he did on Friday. You can cross-switch him with Thomas and part of what makes Smart great is the amount of line-up versatility he provides - he'd be the perfect backcourt partner for a guy like Lou Williams as well. Let Smart drive the ball into the paint and kick it out to Thomas rather than playing him off the ball where the other team will be perfectly happy to let him fire away from deep.
- Jared Sullinger had a good game on the offensive glass but I just don't know about a guy like that in the modern NBA. For all the points he gives you in the post and on the boards, he is going to give them back trying to defend in space and protect the rim. He's built like Z-Bo and if you are going to have that type of body, you have to be a pretty dominant interior player. Z-Bo isn't even Z-Bo anymore and that's one of the main reasons why the Grizzlies are struggling. If Sullinger can continue to knock down 3's he can be a solid rotation player but I'm still pretty skeptical of him being a starter on a playoff team.
- It's the same story with David Lee and Kelly Olynyk - they can't defend in space and the other team can run pick-and-rolls at them anytime in the clock and get something good out of it. I certainly don't see a huge need to play all three of these guys minutes. Olynyk had 13 shots in 17 minutes, which is probably the best way to use him. Run him off the bench and try to get as many points out of him as possible before the other team has the chance to fully exploit him on the other side of the ball.
- I'd give Lee's minutes to Tyler Zeller, who hasn't been getting a lot of run this season. He's not quite the same level of playmaker but he's a smart player who can read the floor, move the ball and make plays on the move. He's also a much better defensive player and he's a better scorer in the paint, if purely because of his extra size and length if nothing else. Lee has no shooting range and no defensive ability and that's an absolutely lethal combination for a big man to have.
- I'd also give more minutes to Jonas Jerebko, who always seems to impress me when I see him play. He's got an active body at 6'10 and he can really move his feet and guard in space. I'd like to see him play more as a small-ball 4, which would allow the Celtics to play really fast and spread the floor with another guy who can drive and make plays of the bounce. Their best defensive line-up is probably 3 wings + Jerebko + Johnson and that group should be able to do a lot of scoring as well.
- Brad Stevens does a good job of maximizing Evan Turner by playing him as a 6'7 point forward off the bench and letting him make plays from the post and from driving the ball against smaller defenders. That's basically what Turner did at OSU when he was the National Player of the Year. Turner's flaws at the NBA level are well known and he did go 2-11 from the floor on Friday but he is a really good passer for a guy his size and he is going to find the open shooter if he's playing in super-sized line-ups where the backup PG has to guard him.
- RJ Hunter is a pretty interesting rookie and he's got a great looking 3-point shot with a very quick release. As long as he doesn't kill you on defense, I'd probably want to give him some more minutes.
The thing I worry about with the Celtics is that Brad Stevens is trading offense for defense or vice versa with so many guys in their rotation. There are a lot of flawed guys on this roster and Amir Johnson is the only legit two-way player on nights when Smart, Crowder and Bradley aren't shooting the ball well. It feels like the middle of the East is a lot better this season - the Heat and the Pistons are going to swipe two playoff spots and the only two for sure wins at the bottom are the Nets and the 76ers.
- The one thing people forget about the Hawks star less system is they have one of the most complete big man in the NBA in Al Horford. He may not be able to score 20+ points on a given night and create his own shot whenever he wants but he can do everything else on a really high level and he impacts the game a lot more than a lot of the "stars" that are out there. He was -4 on a night when the other Hawks starters were all at least -13 because he's really the glue that holds the rest of this outfit together. He shoots 3's, he defends really well, he's a great passer and he averages 17 points a game. The only real flaw in his game is his lack of ideal size which means he's not a great rebounder.
- Paul Millsapp does a lot of the same things but he's much smaller and the Hawks really need him to be more aggressive hunting for his own shot at the 4 position. The key with Millsapp is you want to put as much length and athleticism on him as possible - that's what the Cavs did with Tristan Thompson and he completely locked up Millsapp in the ECF.
- That's one of the knocks about the Hawks being a regular-season team. They play in so much space and both their big men are such great decision-makers and are so good playing off the ball that they can isolate and demolish a poor individual defender at any position in the two-man game. They play great team basketball and they are going to take advantage of any flaws the other team has. The problem is that the deeper you get into the playoffs the fewer flaws the other teams has and then it becomes about your guys being better than the other guys in 1-on-1 situations and Atlanta doesn't have a lot of guys who can consistently dominate the best players at their positions.
- They have to get offense and shot-creating from the PG position and Teague is a step below the top PG's in the Eastern Conference. Schroder is getting better and his jump shot is improving but the Celtics weren't really respecting him from the perimeter and they got away with it. He's more of a playmaker than a pure scorer and the Hawks really need a guy who can put up points from his spot in the rotation. Isaiah Thomas would be amazing on this team.
- Kent Bazemore played well and he's doing a much better job of reading the floor and playing under control than he did last season but he's another wing player without a lot of size who can't get his own shot. He's doing a good job fitting into the Hawks system but he's not going to be a difference maker in the playoffs and their lack of size on the wings could kill them in the wrong series.
- Other teams are doing a much better job of staying with Kyle Korver than they did last season. He's a great shooter and his ability to keep a defender on him means he will always have a lot of value when he's on the floor. At the same time, he can't really do anything else which puts a lot of pressure on the guys next to him to defend and create shots. Looking back on it, Demarre Carroll should probably have gotten that 4rth All-Star nod for the Hawks last season. Korver certainly isn't getting a max contract in free agency, which I guess is more important in the grand scheme of things.
- Tiago Splitter does a great job of moving the ball but he has to look for his own shot some times and be more aggressive about trying to score. He's a guy the guards should be looking to get easy baskets early so that he is more confident and locked in on the offensive end of the floor.
- That Tim Hardaway Jr. trade is starting to look very questionable because I'm not sure if he's ever going to beat out Justin Holiday, Thabo Sefolosha or Bazemore if they are all healthy. And if you're going to bury a guy on the bench anyways, he might as well be a rookie with more upside than THJ. How good would Bobby Portis look in Atlanta? He would be getting minutes right away and he would be a perfect fit for their system in the short-term and in the long-term in terms of trying to find more guys who can create their own offense. A lot of teams missed on Portis but it's more glaring when your coach is serving as your GM. Trading a pick for a guy who can help you now is a classic win-now move from a coach who doesn't have time to watch film but it's not something the Spurs would ever do.
The scouting report for the Hawks is the same as last season. They will win one playoff series, they could win two and they won't win three. I don't see an obvious way for them to bust out of that box but it's not exactly a bad position to be in.