Tell me if you’ve heard this before, but the Boston Celtics have a lot of new players and quality depth at the guard and wing positions.
It’s become common practice for Danny Ainge in building a roster for Brad Stevens, but with an entirely new set of personnel again, Boston will have to formulate a new rotation that maximizes the team’s strengths (perimeter scoring/defensive versatility) while hiding some glaring weaknesses (interior defense/rebounding). So without further ado, let’s get to it.
While it’s rarely a bad thing to have a set starting five that can work to develop some conintuity together, I feel like Stevens’ teams have been better when he has the ability to change up his first five based on matchups. However, I only foresee this happening against the better teams in the league like Sixers, Bucks, Lakers, etc. Teams with a legitimate size advantage.
Most of the time Stevens should be able to go with the same group and just manage the center spot’s minutes based on the opposing front court rotation. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Walker and Tatum are locks to start whenever they’re healthy. I think Brown should be a lock as well even though some might contest that Marcus Smart should start next to Walker. Brown’s best qualities as an off-ball cutter and spot up shooter who can attack close outs are best suited playing off of primary initiators like Walker and Hayward.
If the Celtics were to swap him for Smart, that’s just not smart resource allocation. They’d have all their best playmakers playing big minutes together with the second unit full of “play finishers.” So let’s go with Walker-Brown-Tatum as a lock for the starting lineup every night barring injury of course.
Then we get to the tricky part: The front court. Hayward is going to play a lot this year and will in my opinion be the difference between the Celtics making it to the Eastern Conference Finals or getting bounced in the first two rounds of the playoffs. However, there’s an argument to be made that he could be best utilized with the second unit while Kemba serves as the offensive focal point with the starters.
Last season, Hayward and Smart had the sixth-best NET rating on the team in two-man lineup combinations that played more than 700 minutes. In terms of two-man combos including players still on the team this year, here’s the best we’re looking at.
- Hayward-Tatum (+7.9)
- Hayward-Smart (+6.9)
- Smart-Tatum (+6.8)
- Brown-Tatum (+4.9)
- Hayward-Brown (+3.2)
While Smart and Hayward definitely make a strong pairing, it’s better to start Hayward and maybe stagger him with the second unit. That would involve Hayward subbing out of the first quarter relatively early and to then lead the second unit with Smart.
I’d also consider staggering Kanter to play as a part of that threesome as well. With Smart and Hayward’d two-way versatility and Kanter’s offensive prowess, that could make for apretty impactful bench unit. But more on that later.
Regarding the starting center spot, it’ll probably be Kanter unless Vincent Porier turns out to be better than expected on the defensive end finishing off of passes in the pick and roll. I like the idea of changing up the starting center based on the other team as I mentioned earlier, but based on what Stevens and Ainge said about Kanter at his introductory press conference, I’d anticipate him starting most of the time. Unless, of course, his defense is as dreadful as it was when he played for the Knicks.
With the regular starters ironed out as Walker-Brown-Tatum-Hayward-Kanter, that leaves us with some intriguing yet unproven options to fill in the gaps.
As stated before, Smart will be the first man off the bench with Hayward and Kanter as possible stagger options. Then you’ve got Daniel Theis, Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, Semi Ojeleye, Porier, Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards. Robert Williams has a chance to play big minutes, but he remains the Celtics’ project and I wouldn’t expect him to play a major role right away.
Porier should be able to carve out a consistent role with his big body and interior defense. If he can provide any offensive production, that’s just more playing time for him.
It’s probably unfair to put that kind of pressure on a rookie, but the Celtics are going to need Grant Williams to grow up fast and play a regular role at the four or small-ball five. I think he has it in him, so we’ll join him in with Porier and Kanter as the primary big rotation.
I’d expect Wanamaker and Theis to play similar roles supplementing the guys playing big minutes. Wanamaker helping Smart and Walker run the offense when they’re out, and Theis helping Kanter, Williams and Porier.
With Langford and Edwards, they’re going to have to earn their minutes. I’m not sure what to expect from Langford due to the thumb injury and the fact that he’s overhauling his shot, so I’d set the bar low for him. Edwards has a real chance to crack the rotation with his shot making and ability to run off of screens.
To take stock, I’d expect the bench hierarchy to look something like Smart-Wanamaker/Edwards-Ojeleye/Langford-Williams-Porier/Theis
Here’s my rough estimate on what Celtics fans should expect to see out on the floor night-to-night.
Start with Walker-Brown-Tatum-Hayward-Kanter
Hayward and Kanter are subbed out for Porier and Smart to make it Walker-Smart-Brown-Tatum-Porier
Bring Williams, Wanamaker, Theis and Hayward in to end the first quarter and start the second. Wanamaker-Smart-Hayward-Williams-Theis.
Then bring in the starters to end the half along with maybe Langford or Edwards to give Hayward a break. Walker-Brown-Langford-Tatum-Kanter.
Repeat that to a degree in the second half, and then start to worry about the closing lineup. To finish out games, the locks have to be Walker, Smart and Tatum, with the choice of Brown, Hayward, Kanter, Williams or whoever else is hot towards the end to fill it out.
Welp, there you go! That’s an easy 82-0, right? There’s a very good chance I’m way off with my prediction/analysis, but if I’m right, don’t forget where you got this impressive collection of basketball knowledge.