In our next edition of Ranking the Celtics, we’re going to get into our next tier of players: the key rotation team. These are the guys that won’t start but will be part of the everyday rotation for the Celtics. It’s possible that some of these guys may not be Celtics by the time camp starts, but for the sake of clarity we’ll work under the assumption that everyone is back.
Tier 2: Key Rotation Players
Marcus Smart (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.8 apg, 54 gp)
We all know what Marcus Smart is and what he’s going to bring, which is both promising and concerning. On one hand, his defensive instincts, improved playmaking, and emotional lift provide an element to the Celtics that every championship team needs. He’s a grinder who creates a level of determined focus that raises the game of his teammates.
With that being said, he’s statistically the same player he was last season and even took a slight bump up in turnovers. He still hasn’t found a way to finish well at the rim, and outside of free throw shooting he doesn’t do anything that involves shooting the basketball at an average level. However, the team has always performed better when he’s on the court.
Stevens has called Smart both a “6th starter” and someone who lifts the energy of the players around him, which impacts how his teammates perform when he’s on the court. Despite his individual shortcomings, there’s no mistaking that his role as a glue guy is massively important to what the Celtics want to do.
Terry Rozier (11.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 80 gp)
I was very, very, close to ranking Rozier above Smart but stopped short due to Smart consistently having a bigger impact on the team.
Rozier has gotten better every year he’s been in the league and has accepted all of his roles while continuing to work hard at improving his game. It’s important to note that like Brown, Rozier came into league as a non-shooter and was mostly seen as a non-shooting, off-guard who was a bouncy athlete. He still needs to get better finishing at the rim and creating for others, specifically out of the PnR, but the consistent progression brings optimism that he can figure it out. A lot of people have pegged Rozier as the possible odd man out based on his projected salary, but Boston may be wise to just keep him anyway and benefit from whatever bump they get from his game. It could just be the extra push that gets them banner 18.
Aron Baynes (6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, 81 gp)
Aron Baynes was just everything the Celtics needed. On a team littered with versatility, switchability, and shooting, they needed a big, strong center that could bang in the post, protect the rim, and accept a limited role. Baynes checked all the boxes with a smile on his face through it all. The Celtics defense was the best when Aron Baynes was on the court, and even with the acquisition of Texas A&M rookie Robert Williams, Baynes should be back again for an encore season.
Marcus Morris (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.3 apg, 54 gp)
Mook, Mook, Mook. The reserve swingman gave us all a swing of emotions with every dribble. Morris was huge part of Boston closing the season strong, but he also had a subpar playoffs and too often got caught up in matchups. His greatest contribution was his aggressive attitude that made the city fall in love and his mentorship of rookie Jayson Tatum, who he could have just as easily ignored and seen as competition. With Hayward set to come back and both Brown and Tatum expected to assume bigger roles, there’s a real concern that Morris could become disgruntled due to a lack of playing time. But with his desire to win and versatility, it’s possible that he could scrap up a role just big enough during the regular season to keep him happy.
Daniel Theis (5.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 63 gp)
Theis was the lost gem that is easy to forget if you only paid attention to the box score. Despite his size limitations, Theis was able to play and guard either frontcourt spot and was legitimately one of the smartest players on the team. He understood positioning on defense, spacing on offense, and was even starting to get comfortable launching from three before his injury. With the acquisition of Williams and the probable return of Baynes, Theis is going to have to scrap to find a role on the team. Depending on how ready Williams is, he might still be able to have all of the “reserve versatile big” minutes before hitting free agency next year. If not, he’ll need to prove a consistent ability to hit three-pointers so that he can play alongside the bigs. At 6’9”, he has a good enough feet to stay in front of most wings, it’ll just be a matter of making them commit to him on the offensive end.