Our next mailbag answer concerns the Celtics frontcourt depth and rotations.
“Assuming Daniel Theis is fully healthy, how big a role does he have on this team? It seems like he was really coming into his own before he got injured and Stevens was starting to trust him with bigger minutes. Is he still a regular rotation guy? Any chance Robert Williams steals his time?” - by zphendrickx
In an NBA where teams are increasingly downsizing for longer and longer portions of games, Daniel Theis is probably the fourth or fifth big in the Celtics rotation to start the year. He’s behind Al Horford and Aron Baynes as traditional bigs. And he’s behind Jayson Tatum and possibly Marcus Morris as players who play up. But there seems to be a role for Theis despite that. When bulk is needed, Brad Stevens will call upon Baynes. When he needs someone a little quicker, he’ll go to Theis. That should leave plenty of minutes for the second-year player to continue developing in the NBA. As for Robert Williams, he’s pretty far down the pecking order, but that’s OK. The plan is for Williams to largely develop in practices and in the NBAGL with the Maine Red Claws. It would be a big surprise if Williams took any minutes from Theis this season.
Based on what we saw last season, Theis has one particular attribute that should keep him a notable contributor in the Celtics’ rotation this year: adaptability. Few things are more important in the NBA right now than the ability to be versatile, and Theis can wear many different hats: rim-protector, defender in space and on the perimeter, prolific rebounder, rim-runner, pick-and-pop shooter, hustle guy. He can’t be schemed off the court in any specific way, which will prove invaluable in the never-ending hunt for playoff mismatches.
Robert Williams is incredibly talented, but he’s a rookie on a team with title aspirations, and so I would expect this season to be more about learning how to be a pro and play Celtic basketball than about actually producing on the court. This is the last year of Theis’ contract, and I would expect Williams’ upside and the team’s looming salary crunch to make that the unfortunate end of his Boston career, but in the short-term, Theis should certainly be the guy getting rotation minutes in the frontcourt. (edited)
The fun bonus to the Celtics current situation is that Williams will be able to learn a lot by watching the guys above him in the rotation. Obviously Al Horford is the ultimate role model veteran teammate. But Baynes has a unique blend of hard work and goofy charm that might rub off well on a kid like Williams. Then there’s Theis who is the closest thing to Robert’s skillset on the team. Put it all together and sprinkle in a lot of Brad Stevens (and staff) and this could be a productive year for the rookie even if he hardly plays at all.
Daniel hits it right on the head: after Al Horford, Theis could be Boston’s most versatile and adaptive big. While I agree with Keith that Baynes brings the bulk, his effectiveness is limited to matchups with paint dominant centers like Philadelphia and Detroit. But with the league going smaller and Theis’ skillset, I could see him leapfrogging rotational players from last season and really getting some run in meaningful minutes. Unless Williams shows a jump shot he didn’t have at Texas A&M or health he didn’t have this summer, I don’t see him making an impact in 2018-2019.