The Boston Celtics are looking at one of the most uncertain benches in the NBA
On top of having just one starter return from last season, the Boston Celtics also have one of the youngest benches in the league. The talent upgrade cannot be denied, but the Celtics have some of the most uncertainty in the league this season.
Brad Stevens has spent a lot of time on the Celtics with an under talented team. He has always used a deep rotation, and getting an advantage from the second unit has been a huge part of their success.
Last season, he kept the better player in Marcus Smart on the bench in order to hold it together with Avery Bradley sidelined, and that will be a possibility once again this season. Even if Smart stays on the second unit, however, all the players around him are going to be young, and it could take a long time to get everyone together.
Either Marcus Morris or Aron Baynes will be on the bench this season, and that will be their most experienced contributor. Either of them can help hold things together, but they will not be able to do it on their own.
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A lot of responsibility will be on first and second year players, and that makes it almost impossible to gauge how things will work out this season. If Smart also ends up in the starting unit, which many people are expecting, then it will be completely fresh and new players running things.
If Smart starts, then Jaylen Brown is expected to be on the second unit. Brown played a significant role in the playoffs last year, and he will have to take over a lot of control. The only other options are Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier. Expecting Larkin to have an impactful role this season would be a bit foolish at this point, so without Smart it comes does to Brown and Rozier.
Rozier could end up being the most important player on that unit, and his impact would extend even more because that means Smart can play with the starting unit.
If Rozier steps his game up and is playing well, a lot of things can come together. Allowing Brown to play off the ball will keep him where he is most comfortable. With the two of them there that will draw a lot of defensive attention, things will open up for the best scoring potential on that unit, Jayson Tatum.
Once again, there is a lot of uncertainty with Tatum. It is hard to expect both Brown and Rozier to be knock down shooters, but they are two players who will be able to create a lot of offense. Keep in mind, even if Smart is the best option to run the second unit, Brown would likely start in his place, limiting them to just the one trusted play maker.
If Rozier and Brown can run the second unit the right way, and Tatum can be trusted to hit the shots that are created at a high rate, then they could cause a lot of problems for opposing teams. They all lack experience but their talent is easy to see.
Unfortunately, even if all three of them work out and have an impact, the front court is going to be just as uncertain. It should be safe to think that Baynes or Morris will be able to provide a boost, but chances are only one of them will be coming off the bench.
The real test of the front court is in the young bigs. Guerschon Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye and even Daniel Theis will need to carry the defense. Abdel Nader could have a role too, but he will not be the difference maker on either end. He will help with safe depth, but will not be creating much on either end.
The ball handlers and wings should be able to get the offensive boost. The problem is that Brown is the only one that can really be trusted on the defensive end.
The Celtics love their young bigs because they are versatile and will certainly be looking to have a great impact on the offensive end, particularity as three point shooters. The downside of that versatility is that these guys are all undersized.
Stevens has raved about Ojeleye’s potential to cover opposing fives, and Yabusele appears to have the strength to hold his own against bigger opponents. Throw in that Theis is coming off a defensive player of the year award overseas, and there is reason to be hopeful about their defense.
If, however, they take time to catch up the better athletes and more difficult size matchups in the NBA, then it will be hard for the second unit to hold things together. Brown will do his part, and he will certainly be taking the toughest individual matchup (or Smart if he winds up on the second unit), but that will still leave them vulnerable to a lot of size and rebounding woes.
It will come down to the young defensive versatility working out in the front court, and without that it is tough to see the ball handlers and wings preventing them from being a liability.
On the other hand, if things come together, and Stevens is able to get all this new young talent to work out together, this could be one of the toughest second units in the NBA.
The Celtics are going to need a lot of things to go in their favor, and the start of the season could be rough as they try to figure things out. If things are figured out, the talent could overwhelm a lot of other second units, giving the most talented starting unit of the Stevens era, great stability and protection behind them.