The Boston Celtics are set to open training camp in Newport, Rhode Island on September 26. The 2017-18 roster has many new faces and is loaded with talent. Danny Ainge’s roster overhaul during the off-season brought in established stars such as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. With the Celtics hype-train full steam ahead, and me riding shotgun, there is a small roster concern. The Celtics lack a true, rim protecting, rebound-grabbing center.
Understandably, Ainge cannot address every roster issue and with NBA teams increasingly favoring small-ball, this might not concern the Celtics brass at all. Similarly, the Celtics probably feel with the additions of Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, rim-protection and rebounding can only get better.
The need for a true center arises from last seasons team statistics where the Celtics ranked 26/30 teams in total rebounding as well as 22/30 in total shot blocking. As a championship contender, the Celtics definitely are not in best company when it comes to team rebounding, ranked between Indiana and Sacramento. When looking at other contenders like the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets, their answer is clear for the center position. For example, the Warriors are the best team in the league and love to play small-ball, yet they have started Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia at center each of the past two seasons. At best, the green team has question marks at center.
The Celtics current options to fill the 5 spot all have glaring issues. Al Horford is a natural power-forward, not known for posting big rebounding or shot blocking numbers. However, he did average 1.3 blocks per game last season which is a higher output for him. His rebounding numbers were average for him and we don’t know if he will sustain the defensive presence he had last season. Aron Baynes has the size for the position, but did not start last season, plus I question his athleticism in Brad Stevens uptempo offense at 6’10” and 260 pounds. While he isn’t a center, Marcus Morris might see some time at the 5 spot this year. With his recent off-the-court issues and ability to stretch the floor, it is realistic to believe he won’t play very close to the basket or just won’t play for a period of time due to legal trouble.
Aside from signing a free agent, the Celtics could wait to see if the answer can be found internally. Aron Baynes projects to grab 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes which is a promising projection. Averaging 10.5 rebound per game would have ranked 11th out of all players in the NBA last season. In terms shot blocking, the Celtics best hope is probably Horford continuing to be an above-average shot blocker for himself. Another solution could be relying on the combination of Baynes and Morris to play physical defense and act as enforcers in the paint.