Although there’s no way of knowing which combination of players Ime Udoka will deploy to start the Boston Celtics 2020-21 season, we can speculate who will join the C’s cornerstones in the starting lineup versus who will come off the bench.
Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown can all be assumed parts of the Cs starting lineup, but that leaves two holes at center and shooting guard.
This offseason Brad Stevens stacked the Celtics backcourt, bringing Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder, and Garrison Matthews while holding onto Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, and Romeo Langford, who were all already slated in Boston’s rotation. Having a surplus of guards can be either a gift or a curse, but considering what Udoka has revealed about his philosophy, I think it’s a good thing.
Not only will the Boston Celtics have multiple options to rotate throughout games, but each guard will have a reason to be inspired to play well. With two guys ready to step up, whoever starts will be far from content with mediocrity.
The starting lineup aside, let’s assume Richardson and Schroder, two of the Boston Celtics marquee additions, come off the bench. What is to be expected from those two? Although Schroder and Richardson sit higher amongst the Celtics hierarchy than the sixth and seventh man, their skill sets are better suited in different lineups, especially with Smart at the head of the starting five.
Firstly, the offensive side of the ball. Schroder and J-Rich are coming off poor perimeter shooting seasons, tallying an average 3-point conversion rate of 33% on moderate volume. However, both found success scoring in the midrange, so they are not total liabilities as jump-shooters. Ideally, Udoka will adjust their shot diet to complement their scoring skill sets.
For Schroder, getting him downhill will be necessary. He’s a much better 3-point shooter than Richardson but has clear strengths inside the arc. Outside of catch and shoots and one or two dribble pull-ups, it would be in the Celtics’ best interest to deploy Schroder as an advantage scorer and ancillary shot creator. He’s excellent in both regards, but he can be elite with Tatum and Brown pulling defensive attention away from him.
For Richardson, his jump shot diet needs to be minimized. He’s a below-average 3-point shooter, but his height and length give him a leg up in the midrange. Instead of spotting him up like the Mavericks and the 76ers did, I’d like to see Richardson finish some 16-foot actions and experiment with short dibble pull-ups against dropped defenses.
However, it’s equally essential that Richardson gets to the rim as much as he clips from midrange. He drove just six times a game with the Mavericks, and with his physical tools, the Celtics should aim for a dozen or so drives per game.
Moving on from scoring but staying in the offensive realm, I don’t expect much out of Richardson and Schroder as passers. They’ll have an ample amount of ball-handling reps, but they won’t be responsible for creating offense, and instead, they’ll be asked to connect it.
With Robert Williams and Al Horford, most of these ball-handling reps will come in pick and roll, with designed movements around the perimeter to give the two multiple outlets. J-Rich and Schroder are good passers for their position, both possessing good touch, vision, and processing speed.
The Boston Celtics can take advantage of these tools by putting them in the proper scoring positions to become playmakers. These guys can bend and exposes defenses if defenses are willing to bend for them.
It’s up to Udoka and his coaching staff to figure out how to make that happen.
On the flip side of the ball, I expect great things from Schroder and Richardson. Both have daunting wingspans, quick feet, and play rough-nosed defense. They have good instincts, good motors, and best of all, they complement the other defenders on the Celtics roster.
Schroder and Smart is the best point of attack backcourt in the NBA. Shuffling between the two will give the opposition no rest as they hack at the ball and rack up push-offs from frustrated ball-handlers. Their point of attack defense also gives Horford and Williams a leg up, and their increased resistance gives them more time to rotate to the rim and help if they have to at all.
Richardson will likely play a helper role on the defensive. His point of attack defense has never been his strong suit, but his rim protection and overall use of his hands have shown through for most of his career. J-Rich can play in passing lanes and stuff out unsuspecting scorers at the rim. Not only will Richardson contribute to stops on the defensive end, but he’ll also kick start tons of transition scoring opportunities. In this area, everyone on the Boston Celtics roster thrives.
Truthfully, I don’t think we’ll see much of Schroder and Richardson on the court simultaneously, but I am sure both will be heavily involved in the Boston Celtics rotation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Richardson has a big bounce-back year and Schroder repeats his 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year run.