Over the last five seasons, the Boston Celtics center rotation has seemingly devolved year over year. Danny Ainge began with Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk, worked his way up to Al Horford and Aaron Baynes, then climbed back down to Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis last season.
Luckily for Ainge, a diamond in the rough revealed itself in Robert Williams, completely changing the trajectory of the Cs’ plans for their frontcourt of the future.
When Williams began to show flashes of consistency and immediate impact, the Celtics shipped Theis off to Chicago and ran with the big man out of texas beside their star wings, and it worked. Williams helped lead the Cs to some of their best wins and made them look like the team everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the year. That stretch got Williams an extension and got Brad Stevens to get him a higher-quality backup.
Could Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson have coexisted? Maybe, but Al Horford is eons better than Thompson and provides two things Williams lacks: perimeter shooting and heavier size. The two will wreak havoc on both ends against opposing teams’ backcourts, and hopefully, Williams will learn something or two from the veteran Celtic.
But what else can be made of the Boston Celtics frontcourt? Signing Enes Kanter, trading for Bruno Fernando, and holding onto Grant Williams and Jabari Parker mean something. This article will break down what each of the members of the Boston Celtics frontcourt can contribute and how some of them can improve.
Let’s begin with the man of the hour, Robert Williams. As I said, last season was a break-out year for the high flyer out of Texas A&M. The 23-year-old first-round pick road the bench for his first two years in the NBA, playing behind marquee big men while also recovering from his nagging injuries. The 2020-21 season was the first season Williams was healthy, and he showed just how much damage he could do with his legs under him.
Williams was rewarded for his impact despite his health concerns still wavering. Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics believe in Williams and what he can do, and Williams has shown he’s worth the money.
The deal was good for both sides, locking up Williams as the big franchise while also giving the Cs flexibility if he gets injured again. But hopefully, Williams has spent the offseason doing everything he can to get his body in shape to avoid that catastrophe.
If Williams can stay on the court, expect the Boston Celtics offense to look like a well-oiled machine. Williams will have a field day at the rim with two pick-and-roll dominant scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The amount of scoring gravity the two wings generate will open up so many looks for Williams and others on the perimeter that Rob-Will has shown he’s capable of finding.
On the defensive end, the Boston Celtics have blessed the Time Lord with high-level point-of-attack defenders, allowing him to play in drop coverage and focus on defending the rim instead of having to switch out onto the perimeter. Expect Williams block counts and defensive metrics to sky-rocket as the Cs funnel unexpecting guards into Williams wormhole.
Next up is Al Horford, the presumed second-string big behind Robert Williams. The former Celtic was acquired in a trade for Kemba Walker and a first-round pick, opening up the Cs’ books while bringing in some defensive support and perimeter shooting.
Since Horford left, the Celtics’ pick-and-pop game has been nonexistent, even with Theis defenses weren’t respecting his shot. With Horford back in the mix, Boston’s floor spacing becomes legitimate.
On top of his shooting, Horford will provide some much-needed connective passing. In his hay-day, Horford was coming off the pick-and-roll as a duel scoring and passing threat off of his drives, replicating the same production out of the post.
Since then, Horford has lost some speed, strength, and athleticism but his touch, timing, and IQ remain. The Boston Celtics can use these abilities to pick up their ball movement and get away from the stagnant offensive possessions they’ve plagued themselves with for the past two seasons.
Horford is not the same as he was on the defensive end, but he can still provide immense value off the bench. He’s still very mobile for a guy his size, and his instincts remain at the top of the league. Horford shouldn’t have a problem keeping up with all the perimeter defenders the Celtics possess since most of his duties will come within 10 feet of the basket. The less switching Horford does, the more impactful he can be.
Moving on, there’s Enes Kanter, another one of Brad Stevens’ offseason pickups. Kanter has spent the last three seasons flip-flopping between the Celtics and the Blazers, and now he’s extending that streak to the fourth year. The Cs got Kanter for a minimum contract, a steal given what he can provide in a low-minute sample.
I don’t believe the Boston Celtics signed Kanter to be a heavy minute contributor. He’ll likely only fill in when Williams or Horford is out for a game or if the Cs are playing a team where Williams is less helpful like the Sixers. Besides that, Kanter will stabilize the Cs’ locker room and provide some fun moments in garbage time.
I’m not trying to say Kanter is a bad player, he’s certainly capable of being a second-string big as we saw in 2019-20, but he has his limitations. Although he brings high-level post offense and offensive rebounding, he provides no floor spacing or passing.
On the flip side of the ball, Kanter can only offer value as a post-defender, meaning teams will try to isolate the Turkish big on the perimeter to generate easy buckets. If the Cs want to win games, they can’t give teams accessible opportunities to score.
I liked the signing, but don’t expect much out of him.
Moving onto the third frontcourt addition of the Boston Celtics offseason, Bruno Fernando. The big young man came from Atlanta in a deal that sent Thompson to the Kings to shore up the log jam the Celtics were creating at center while also giving them financial flexibility. Fernando was simply a filler in the deal and a piece the Cs are unlikely to lose in meaningful games during the regular season.
Fernando did strut his stuff in the summer league, showing some impressive drives to the rim and good pick-and-roll instincts. As fun as it would be to hype Fernando up from these flashes, they are unlikely to translate to league play. Instead, Fernando will spend most of the season riding the Celtics bench, competing in practice, and honing in on his improvement track to secure a rotational spot shortly. I doubt that spot is with the Celtics, but you never know.
Next up is Jabari Parker, one of Danny Ainge’s last moves as the general manager of the Boston Celtics. Parker was picked up mid-season and signed for a non-guarantee minimum contract. The idea behind the signing was the Cs could give Parker a chance while not spending significant money and improving their look around the league. It was a no-risk-low reward move that nobody could complain about.
Parker’s contract is up soon, meaning the Celtics are coming to the deadline where they have to secure him or let him go. I would expect the Cs to keep him, seeing as he flashed good rim pressure and solid help-side instincts while also giving them a viable backup four. If they release him, it opens up a roster spot for a potential free agent or minutes for Sam Hauser or Grant Williams.
Speaking of Grant Williams, he’s the last guy on the Cs’ big rotation. The former first-round pick out of Tennessee experienced a sophomore slump after a successful rookie campaign. Williams struggled last season due to his altered role, playing more wing than he was center. Considering his poor foot speed and worse perimeter instincts, it’s easy to see why Williams failed.
The dilemma is Grant Williams is headed towards that same role with the signing of Enes Kanter. Unless he can beat Kanter out and show Ime Udoka he’s a worth small-ball five, Williams will once again be getting toasted on the perimeter until he finds himself benched. It’s not an ideal way to develop your former first-round selection, but since the Cs are contending, there’s no sense in halting the team’s success for Williams’ development.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams is shipped at the deadline this season if he plays on the wing. Unless he develops high-level ball skills, improves his footwork, and improves his anticipation skills on defense, Williams is going to be engaged in an uphill battle for the majority of the season.