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Bench (numbers) With Attitude

The Celtics bench has plenty of attitude, but how is the production as reserves?

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

At Media Day on Monday, the Boston Celtics reserves were christened B.W.A. or “Bench With Attitude”. This catchy nickname immediately took hold (get your B.W.A. shirt here!). While it’s a fun moniker for a reserve group that is expected to include Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele and Robert Williams, the truth is that group does have attitude by the bucketful.

During last year’s playoff run, a member of the Celtics organization told CelticsBlog “To win in the NBA, you have to have a few @#$holes to win. They are you guys who take no crap from anyone. They don’t care who they are up against. They’ll let them know they are here and will be here all day long. We have a lot of @#$holes on our team.”

That quote encapsulates the entire idea of “Bench With Attitude”. A bunch of guys who don’t care about who starts and who doesn’t, and will do whatever it takes to win. With the aforementioned players, the Celtics have that. Brad Stevens knows that whenever he calls upon his bench that they will give him everything they have. It might not always result in great scoring or shooting. But that group gives Stevens defense and, yes, attitude.

It’s also important to note that the bench, outside of the young guys (Ojeleye, Yabusele and Williams), consists of proven players now. Morris and Baynes are vets who have been there and done that. Smart is in the mix for league’s toughest defender, despite primarily playing as a reserve. Rozier stepped up last season after Kyrie Irving went down and showed he’s a starting level point guard. Theis came over from Germany and was an integral bench piece from day one with his energy, shooting ability and versatility on defense. Even Ojeleye, despite his youth, showed flashes with his defense. If he can begin hitting the open three-pointer consistently, he’ll force his way into the rotation sooner, rather than later.

A lot has already been written about the Celtics depth. Everyone has an opinion on who should start and who should come off the bench. Stevens himself alluded to the issue when he said “I’ve not been asked who we’re starting, but I’ve read that we’ve already figured that out. So whatever.” While it may seem clear who should start and who should be reserves, the reality is that Stevens will use the entire roster. Boston has enough depth to spot players rest days when necessary and not see much drop-off in production.

And production is where it matters. Last year Rozier and Baynes were starters for large portions of the year. Morris was a starter for two years in Detroit before returning to a mostly bench role in Boston. Smart has long been called Boston’s sixth starter, because of the role he plays. For those four players, does it matter if they start or come off the bench? Is there a difference in their production? The answer might surprise you.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Let’s start with Marcus Smart. In four years, he’s played in 261 regular season games with 83 starts. The most games he’s started was 38 during his rookie season in 2014-15. Last year, Smart played 54 games and started just 11 of them. In the postseason, Smart has opened the game even less often, with 11 starts in 43 career playoff games, including 4 starts in 15 games last year. How do his number stack up as a starter vs a reserve?

Marcus Smart

Starter 31.8 10.0 4.1 3.7 36.9% 29.5% 97 104
Reserve 27.2 9.2 3.5 4.0 35.5% 29.3% 101 107

As you can see, Smart’s game is pretty much the same no matter his role. His shooting is still poor, but his counting stats remain in the same range. He’s slightly more involved as a playmaker on the second unit, which makes sense given he’s playing with less talent as a reserve. Interestingly though, his defensive rating falls off some. This could also be attributed to having lesser talent alongside when he’s in a reserve role.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

How about Smart’s backcourt mate, Terry Rozier? Rozier has started in only 16 of his 193 regular season games, with all of those starts coming last year after Kyrie Irving was rule out. In the playoffs, Rozier started all 19 of Boston’s games, after not starting any in his first two postseasons. Unlike Smart, Rozier saw a huge uptick his numbers as a starter:

Terry Rozier

Starter 33.6 15.6 6.4 5.1 38.1% 38.9% 105 103
Reserve 17.5 6.4 3.2 1.8 37.6% 34.7% 101 106

The increase in scoring, rebounding and assists can all be attributed to playing more minutes and the increased role Rozier plays during those minutes. Seeing his shooting rise is likely because he sees more open shots when he plays with better players. And his defense is better, likely for the same reasons. Rozier obviously thrived as a starter last year, but was even better in the playoffs. In the postseason, he average 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG in 36.6 MPG. His shooting jumped to 40.6% overall and his offensive rating skyrocketed to 115. How Rozier transitions back to a bench role is a key question for the Celtics this season.

NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

For Marcus Morris, that transition shouldn’t be as difficult. He started 21 of his 54 regular season games with Boston and four of 19 playoff games. Essentially, Morris played the intended reserve role that Danny Ainge had in mind when he acquired him from the Pistons. For his career, Morris has started in just over half of the games he’s played with 239 starts in 470 games. Prior to last season, Morris had played in just four playoff games (all starts) with Detroit in 2016. Many had concerns about his production level as a reserve, but how does it actually look? First for his career:

Marcus Morris

Starter 31.9 13.2 4.8 2.1 42.6% 34.8% 104 108
Reserve 20.5 9.1 3.9 1.0 43.0% 36.9% 104 108

Morris’ numbers jump up with over 11 more minutes, but his impact remains largely the same as his offensive and defensive ratings are equal no matter his role. Interestingly enough, his shooting gets better when he comes off the bench. This could be attributed to Morris being a starter-level player going against reserves.

What about in Boston last year?

Marcus Morris in Boston

Starter 27.7 14.6 5.1 1.3 45.0% 38.3% 109 103
Reserve 26.1 13.0 5.5 1.3 41.4% 35.7% 102 109

Now that’s an interesting story. Morris’ counting stats stayed basically the same, but his shooting and efficiency both took a leap as a starter. The shooting is easily enough explained, as Morris likely saw far better looks as a starter than a reserve. When playing as a reserve, he tended to try to carry the offense. Those trips often resulted in a late-clock, contested, mid-range jumper. Morris’ defense also fell off as a reserve, likely due to not playing as much with Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Aron Baynes. Those four all help cover for Morris, who likes to play a physical style of defense that leaves him prone to being beat and needing help from his teammates.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

What about All of Australia? Aron Baynes came to Boston with the idea of being Horford’s backup, maybe an occasional starter. Instead he started 67 of the 81 regular season games he played and 12 of 19 playoff games. Those numbers shattered his previous highs for starts, as he had started in just 14 of 295 regular season games and only 1 of 26 postseason games before joining the Celtics. Baynes gave Boston what they needed alongside Horford, as he embraced the dirty work. He would set screens, rebound, defend the opposing center and challenge shots at the rim. Baynes’ constant presence in the paint gave opposing big men fits at times, witness the second round matchup with Joel Embiid.

How do the numbers look for his career?

Aron Baynes

Starter 19.9 6.9 5.6 1.1 48.2% 15.8% 103 104
Reserve 13.4 4.9 4.0 0.5 51.3% 11.1% 109 104

Baynes’ numbers are similar to Smart’s, in that they stay relatively similar despite his role. He actually gets more efficient as an offensive player as a reserve, because he can score on backup big men easier than he can against starting-level bigs. One thing to note: Baynes fouls more as a starter (2.6 fouls per game vs 1.8). This can be attributed to a couple of things. First is an increased minute load. The second is going against better talent. Whether it be defending his own man or challenging shots at the rim (ask Giannis Antetokounmpo!), Baynes is more likely to get in foul trouble against better players.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After looking at the numbers, we can expect that Smart will perform as he always has. The one change to his role could be that he might not always be a part of the closing lineup, if the team is healthy. That is something to watch for. Baynes should perform about the same, but with the added benefit of taking some three-pointers, as he showed in last year’s playoffs.

Rozier and Morris are the question marks. Rozier was markedly better as a starter and now has had a taste of opening games for the first time. Morris has been about the same as a starter vs reserve for most of his career, but was much better when he started in Boston as opposed to coming off the bench. With Irving and Gordon Hayward healthy, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for either player to open games this year.

The Celtics will be a very good team, barring something really unexpected. The starting five has the potential to be one of the best in the NBA. The bench performance will make the difference from being very good to being great. To win a title, Boston will need to be great. How Rozier and Morris re-adapt to bench roles will go a long way to determining the Celtics success this season.

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