Al Horford is no lock to be in the Boston Celtics starting lineup opening night…or even in the rotation at all.
A COVID-19 Health and Safety protocols stint could be the undoing of any opening night return for Horford in green. Head coach Ime Udoka said it’s going to be “very close” in regards to whether he’ll make it back into the lineup.
With that in mind, who might start when the Cs return to a full capacity Madison Square Garden crowd for the first time since December 2019?
Well, HH sees this being a potential starting five that could get the start:
Boston Celtics opening night point guard: Marcus Smart
Barring something drastic in Udoka’s decision-making in the next six days, Dennis Schroder will be a second unit floor general and Marcus Smart will be the starter in the 2021-22 season.
Whether that changes as injuries (and hopefully not more COVID) starts carving the Cs rotation on a nightly basis as the season progresses is a current unknown. But Smart, an improved playmaker in recent seasons after cranking out a career-high 5.7 dimes per game last season, has finally ascended to the starting job he was drafted to fill after the Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walkers eras at the 1.
Boston Celtics opening night shooting guard: Jaylen Brown
As was said by Udoka, Jaylen Brown is all but certain to return to the starting lineup by the time the 2021-22 season tips off. As the #2 option and a large generator of Boston’s looks, Brown’s inclusion will be essential for any finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference.
That should be a realistic goal for the Cs, but they finish in the top three if Brown makes the sort of ascension Jayson Tatum has made. It’s not impossible considering the all-world athleticism Brown possesses.
Udoka needs to find the right balance of staggering Brown and Tatum’s minutes so the former California Golden Bear product could shine enough on his own. Tatum could also use a breather after carrying the Cs through the last stretch of the 2020-21 season as well as an NBA Play-in game and a series against a full-strength Brooklyn Nets.
Boston Celtics potential opening night small forward: Aaron Nesmith
It’s a razor-thin edge between Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith, but the sophomore out of Vanderbilt just had the stand-out game of the preseason.
For first-year HC Ime Udoka, seeing that sort of performance could lead to extended opportunities. His knock-down 3-point shooting (4/8 from beyond the arc) makes him a perfect wing complement to the high-usage ‘Jays’, especially as it went up against an 0/3 outing for Langford.
Boston Celtics potential opening night power forward: Jayson Tatum
As previously mentioned, Jayson Tatum could get Jaylen Brown to a postseason by himself. He single-handedly knocked off his buddy Bradley Beal’s Washington Wizards with a 50-burger and then did the same Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against a full-strength Brooklyn Nets Big 3.
Whether he is playing at the 3 or 4, Tatum will be there opening night ready to add to his legacy as one of the modern greats of the game.
Boston Celtics opening night center: Robert Williams
If Al Horford isn’t in uniform next Wednesday, Robert Williams will have a ton of responsibilities as the lone big man capable of starting for the Cs.
If he is, Williams will still have plenty of rebounding and defensive duties to attend to alongside the Dominican big man in a potentially supersized starting five.
Either way, the ‘Time Lord’ will have his time to shine against Nerlens Noel. Or Taj Gibson if Noel’s knee issue doesn’t stop flaring.