Games offer glimpse into lineup building

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said not to read too much into lineups this week. The Celtics plan to mix and match their talent throughout the preseason, including the four exhibition tilts they play over six days starting with Monday's visit from the Toronto Raptors.

"I would say it’s more, we’re just looking -- ‘Hey, this combination might be something that we’re more interested in,' [or] 'This bench combination might be something that we’re interested in,'" said Stevens. "First unit [and] second unit. The one thing I’ll probably try to do is put some guys together that we think may fit together better. Whether that means they end up starting or they end up coming off the bench, I think that's to be determined."

Asked if he had a starting lineup in mind for Monday's game, Stevens said, "I’ve got a couple, but I really haven’t paid a lot of focus on it. The one thing we are, we’re probably a more even team. We have a lot of depth and there’s a lot of guys that may complement other guys better. It kind of depends on who you want to go with that would be more of the central figures and then who complements them best."

Here's a glimpse behind the curtain (literally). When the Celtics opened practice to the media on Sunday afternoon, the team was closing a 90-minute session with some halfcourt, 5-on-5 work. Typically, starters are in green and reserves in white (with each team carrying a few subs to break up the reps). Here's a look at how the rosters broke down (with green-clad Rajon Rondo observing the 5-on-5 work):

Green Team: Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries (subs: Vitor Faverani, Keith Bogans, Chris Babb)

White Team: Phil Pressey, Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger (subs: MarShon Brooks, Damen Bell-Holter, DeShawn Sims, Kammron Taylor)

The Bradley-Crawford combo is one we've seen often in end-of-practice drills. While Bradley is the point guard and often defending that position, we've also seen Crawford as the ball-handler bringing the ball up and initiating the offense at times. This sort of hammers home the notion that while Bradley might be the assigned point guard in Rondo's early-season absence, the team will work to alleviate some of the pressure of facilitating the offense (particularly in transition when it's been a grab-and-go philosophy).

While Stevens has pledged to bounce Green around to multiple positions (including some shooting guard), he's spent much of the time during drills open to the media at the swingman spot, fostering a nice little competition with veteran Wallace (who has pledged to help Green with his defense). Things could get fun there if Wallace is an early sub and plays with Green on the floor in smaller lineups.

Up front, it's harder to read which way the team is leaning heading into the first exhibition game. One thing that's been clear for much of the summer is that the team is very much intrigued by the combination of Olynyk and Sullinger. As Boston's 5-on-5 sputtered offensively at times to close out Sunday's practice, Olynyk and Sullinger provided some of the few scoring possessions. The Green team on Sunday rotated Humphries and Faverani with Bass, giving the team some different looks against the Sullinger/Olynyk combo.

"I think the real interesting part is when you start looking at all the bigs and what their strengths are and how they can complement one another, and trying to give ourselves a little bit of uniqueness at that position," Stevens said.

Here's why game action will be beneficial for Boston: This team needs to generate some new lineup data. Most years, teams have small amounts of turnover and can gauge their new-look lineups based on last season's data. For Boston, that information is virtually useless this season.

Without the three most impactful players from last season -- Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett -- it compromises the data, even when looking at other returning combos (say, a two-man lineup with Bradley and Lee).

"I think [examining last season's combos is] hard because of the impact that a Pierce, Garnett and Rondo can have on the other guys on the court," Stevens said. "I don’t think it’s fair necessarily to say that there’s a two-man combo that did really well because the other three guys might not be here and it may not be as good of a mix."

Monday's game will start the process by which the Celtics can start tinkering with lineups and figuring out rotations. But there's the very real possibility that lineups will shuffle all week, especially with so many games in a short span.

Don't read too much into who starts these games, but take note when the personnel on the floor works well together. It's likely you might see those combinations more often moving forward.