3 holes the Boston Celtics must fill after adding Kristaps Porzingis

Boston Celtics (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images) /
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Boston Celtics (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The Boston Celtics must replace Marcus Smart’s playmaking

Smart’s departure has left the Celtics considerably thinner in the playmaking department. The fan favorite took a leap as a passer last season, averaging a career-best and team-leading 6.3 dimes while handling a 17.8% usage rate – his lowest in four seasons. Despite his increased assist count, Smart averaged fewer turnovers than Tatum and Brown with just 2.3 per contest.

Plain and simple, Smart was Boston’s best distributor of the basketball last season. Among Boston’s six most-used lineups, three of them boasted an impressive 60.0 AST% or better. Naturally, all three of them included Smart.

Thankfully for Boston, Tatum has made strides as a playmaker every year. The Celtics may need their superstar wing to take his biggest leap yet next season and fully embrace a “point forward” mentality. In fact, Stevens may have traded Smart for this exact reason: to unleash Tatum as a floor general.

After all, the Celtics seem to enjoy their greatest success in the playoffs when Tatum runs the offense. The All-NBA forward led Boston in assists during the postseason. Having averaged a whopping 4.2 turnovers during his 2022 NBA Finals run, Tatum also saw his turnover average drop to 2.8.

In addition to Tatum, players like Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon have the ability to create for others. The pair of combo guards is more than capable of taking on additional passing responsibilities. Boston’s recent signing of free agent point guard Dalano Banton provides some intrigue, but the Toronto native is far from a shoo-in for consistent playing time.

The Boston Celtics could trade for a pass-first point guard

While the Celtics may have the personnel to internally fill their playmaking hole, they don’t have to go that route. In fact, they would likely benefit most from adding another point guard to the roster.

Enter Mike Conley and T.J. McConnell.

Either of these options would provide the Celtics with an instant playmaking boost. Conley’s 16 years of experience as an NBA point guard and his crafty southpaw skillset would surely aid Boston in its quest for an 18th championship. The 35-year-old averaged a career-high 6.7 assists last season, averaging 7.7 with the Jazz prior to the trade deadline.

At his size, Conley is an underrated defender who made an All-Defensive team in 2013. He played a big role in instilling a defensive culture for the grit-and-grind Grizzlies during his illustrious time in Memphis. Boston holds all of the ingredients for a league-leading defense, but their play on that end waned at times last postseason.

Mike Conley also runs the pick and roll at a high level

Last season, Money Mike ranked eighth leaguewide in frequency as a pick-and-roll ball handler. From their time in Utah to their Minnesota reunion, Conley has always brought out the best in Rudy Gobert’s offense with an airtight two-man game. In 23 games with Conley, Gobert recorded more points, shot attempts, and free throw attempts.

Robert Williams III could benefit more than anyone from a pick-and-roll maestro. While the athletic big man sometimes struggles to create his own shot, he remains an emphatic lob threat with some of the best hops in the NBA.

With Karl Anthony-Towns in trade rumors, the Timberwolves may be fully buying into a youth movement that syncs up with Anthony Edwards’ timeline. This offseason, Minnesota has already resigned 24-year-old Nickeil Alexander-Walker and picked up another young guard in Shake Milton.

If interested, Boston could muster up a trade package for Conley centered around Brogdon. Due to the torn tendon that hampered Brogdon in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston might have to send some draft compensation to sweeten the deal.

T.J. McConnell would be a phenomenal backup point guard

Indiana’s McConnell provides a cheaper option than Conley, and he would lock right into a backup point guard role with the Celtics. McConnell has quietly established himself as a fantastic playmaker throughout his career, but his consistent role as a second-stringer has turned him into one of the most underrated passers of the last decade.

Last season, McConnell shot remarkably well with a 54.3% clip from the field and a 44.1% mark from the 3-point line. He also shot a career-high 85.3% from the charity stripe as he put up 8.7 points per game and averaged 5.3 assists in 20.3 minutes a night.

Per 36 minutes, McConnell averaged a stellar 9.4 assists while playing in 75 games and only starting in six of them. It may sound crazy, but if he joined the Celtics, McConnell would make a legitimate argument for Boston’s best pure passer since Rajon Rondo.

McConnell creates high-percentage looks for his teammates as well as any point guard in the league. The diminutive playmaker averaged the third-most High-Value assists per 75 possessions last season, according to NBA University and stats they gathered from Basketball Index. These dimes include passes to 3-pointers, assists at the rim, and free-throw assists.

Trading for McConnell wouldn’t demand a player like Brogdon, but the Pacers would likely ask for some kind of draft capital, along with some young players to match McConnell’s $8.7 million salary.

A deal for McConnell could look something like this: