4. Marcus Smart
Smart is this high up on the list because without Avery Bradley he’s the most obvious choice to take over some of his role. His ability to defend 1-4 would be a great compliment to Irving, who on most nights will probably be outmatched defensively by the opposing point guard. Smart will be able to defend players like John Wall and Kyle Lowry, and Irving can be tucked away on catch-and-shoot guys who have minimal to no creation ability. This would allow the Celtics to surround Irving with big, strong, and versatile defenders on the perimeter, and a big roadblock patrolling the lane in Aron Baynes.
On the other hand, Smart could come off the bench like he did last year and run a second unit that will have a bit of a different look. With a potential unit that could include guys like Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris, Smart would play a key role in being the floor general on a unit that wouldn’t require him to be as big of a shooting threat. Either way, Boston will heavily rely on Smart’s versatility throughout the year, and as the longest-tenured Celtic, he’ll play a big part in setting the tone for the season.
5. Jaylen Brown
Brown is the first wildcard on the list and by far the most important one. Coming off an impressive season that saw its fair share of ups and downs, Brown is projected to play a vital role on a team many consider title contenders. But projecting Brown’s performance is not easy. He shot the three better than most expected but was still slightly under league average on very limited attempts. It’s even less encouraging that he shot 31.2% on open or wide open looks via NBA.com. The case for starting Brown is simple—during the year it was clear that he played better when he was in the starting lineup and had better supporting talent.
Theoretically, in what projects to be a more talented starting unit, Brown might even be better since he’ll be around an extra playmaker in Gordon Hayward. If Brown can go to camp and show an ability to defend, hit open jumpshots, and make timely cuts, he will put himself in serious contention to be in the starting lineup.
6. Jayson Tatum
Tatum is another young player that finds himself in a very intriguing position. Usually top picks don’t play on winning teams, and if they do, (such as Brown last year), they’re relegated to very minimal roles with very short leashes. I think Tatum will have a very different experience. For one, Tatum is a better prospect than Jaylen Brown was coming in. Whereas Brown was an elite athlete with just enough ball skills to give you hope, Tatum is coming into the league with bona fide offensive skills that can translate to the next level.
Many are concerned with Tatum’s shot selection, but as I've highlighted here, Tatum can diversify his offensive skill set and gear it more towards what the Celtics want. Defense is going to be a hurdle for Tatum like it is for many rookies, and his weight will make his ability to defend different positions dependent on matchups. I wouldn’t expect Tatum to start, but he will have the opportunity to play big minutes, and he’ll be an instrumental part of how well the second unit performs this year.