4 Celtics bench players who impressed in scrimmages

The Celtics finished out their three bubble scrimmages with a 137-112 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night. Considering Brad Stevens rolled out the equivalent of a summer league team against Houston’s actual starting lineup, I’m not too upset by that result. 

In fact, I’m sort of glad the starters ended up getting a rest. It gave Stevens a chance to see what some of his bench players can do. More importantly, the game acted as an opportunity for certain players to begin to earn more minutes going forward.

In my eyes, the seven guys who had a rest day against the Rockets (Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis, Marcus Smart, and Enes Kanter) are the first seven guys in the playoff rotation at this point. There’s some wiggle room based on matchups, but for the most part, I expect those seven players to see the most playing time. 

However, that means there will still be some minutes up for grabs as the playoffs draw closer. As cool as it might be to overtake the Raptors and get the two seed, I don’t think it’s the Celtics’ main priority at the moment. Stevens even came out and said Walker will be on a minutes restriction in the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, despite his unfavorable opinion on the decision. 

I fully expect these eight seeding games to be treated more as eight extra scrimmages rather than full-on playoff games. The starters will obviously begin to get more and more minutes in order to prepare for playing 35+ minutes in the playoffs, but not anything excessive. I think Stevens will give some a lot of run to the deeper bench players in order to iron out who will get playing time in the playoffs. That’s what I want to explore here – which Celtics bench players I believe will receive the most playing time in the playoffs based on their scrimmage performances.

Semi Ojeleye

I have been extremely impressed with the way Ojeleye has played throughout the three scrimmage games. Not only has he been more consistently making threes, but he’s taking them with more confidence than I have ever seen. There is very little hesitation when he has even an ounce of space on catch-and-shoot looks. It’s exactly what the Celtics expect and need from him.

Then just the other night against the Rockets, we saw Ojeleye start driving to the hoop more. His role has always been to simply stand behind the three-point line and shoot, but since there were no starters playing he got an opportunity to do more. He got to the free-throw line two or three times in just the fourth quarter, and even got a gorgeous reverse layup to fall later in the game. 

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Ever since he’s been in the league, Ojeleye’s defense hasn’t been a question. The Celtics trusted him to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2018 playoffs when he was just a rookie, and he did a great job doing so. Even this year during the regular season he has guarded Antetokounmpo more than any other Celtic, despite normally being an eighth or ninth man off the bench. If he can slowly start to knock down threes at an efficient slip, he will become one of the most valuable bench pieces on the Celtics, especially with the Bucks being such a dominant force in the East.

Grant Williams

It almost feels repetitive to talk about how impressed I’ve been with Williams this season, but I have to sing his praises once again. Just like Ojeleye, Williams has looked great in the past three scrimmages. Notably last game against the Rockets, he broke out a plethora of post moves I didn’t know he had in his arsenal. My personal favorite was a turnaround mid-range jumper with time winding down on the shot clock he drained over the defender – nothing but net. 

Even before the season was suspended Williams was getting a significant amount of playing time on a consistent basis. There were even a few times where Stevens threw him on the court to end games as the small-ball center. His defensive IQ is very solid, especially for a rookie. Add to that his ability to stretch the floor, and he fits in super well as a rotation piece for the Celtics.

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Brad Wanamaker/Tremont Waters

Now, this spot is a combination of who I think will get minutes vs. who I think should get minutes. Doing the math out, this player will slide in as a ninth or 10th man off the bench based on matchup. If I had to pick who I think will end up getting playoff minutes at backup point guard, I’d go with Wanamaker. He’s had much more playing time with the main roster than Waters, and probably knows the playbook better at this point.

Wanamaker is a gritty veteran and a very efficient shooter. I’ve never understood the people who hate on him, because he’s been nothing short of a solid bench player for Boston this year, which is all that’s been asked of him. The one place where he could stand to improve is his decision making and court vision, but other than that I have no complaints.

Now, while Wanamaker will most likely end up with a majority of the backup point guard minutes come playoff time, I expect to see much more of Waters throughout the eight seeding games. He played outstanding in the three scrimmages and has every Celtics fan taking notice.

For Waters, the area of play I’ve been most impressed with is ironically the very thing Wanamaker struggles with most – decision making and court vision. Sure Waters has had his fair share of turnovers for a rookie in the scrimmage games, but I think that’s more a result of miscommunications and a bad pass here and there. His ability to see the floor, run the offense, and make the right pass has been incredible. I love Waters’ game and really hope he gets more chances to shine throughout the eight upcoming games and into the playoffs.

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