The most obvious candidate is Enes Kanter. The 27-year-old already has eight years under his belt with modest levels of success. He’s been a starter on good teams, but over the last few seasons, he’s found a sweet spot as a bruiser off the bench. He’s averaged only 25 minutes per game over the last two years, but still turns in averages of double-digit points and rebounds.
What might have made him such an appealing free agent to Danny Ainge might have been Kanter’s short stint as a hired gun of the Trailblazers last year. After being bought out by the Knicks, Kanter arrived in Portland initially as a back up to Jusuf Nurkic and ultimately as a playoff starter when Nurkic was lost for the year. Kanter turned in a tidy 11 points and 10 rebounds per game in nearly 29 minutes per game as the Blazers marched to the Western Conference Finals.
Portland’s roster make-up is not dissimilar to Boston’s. Both teams are perimeter-oriented with their best players preferring to attack with the ball in their hands at the top of the circle or from the wings. That style of play gives Kanter plenty of space to bully opposing bigs off the glass. Kanter won’t be the dynamic defender and offensive playmaker that Al Horford was, but his game could complement a starting lineup that will (at least) feature Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Kanter has made a name for himself as a bit of a garbage man, cleaning up missed shots as a tenacious rebounder and getting easy bucks around the rim.
If there’s a facsimile to Horford still on the Celtics’ roster, it’s Daniel Theis. Horford--and to a lesser extent, Kelly Olynyk--were protypical bigs in Brad Stevens read-and-react offense. They both could stretch the floor and shoot from the perimeter and were capable passers at the nail. Before Theis suffered a torn meniscus towards the end of the 2017-2018 season, he was in the midst of role-setting stretch during his rookie season. By January and February, Theis had carved out eighteen minutes a night as Boston’s third big behind Horford and Aron Baynes. He shot comfortably from behind the arc and was a surprising rim protector at only 6’8.
The knee injury robbed him of his quick twitch reflexes last season and he never seemed to regain his form from his rookie year. However, Boston still re-signed the restricted free agent this summer to a “show me,” two-year deal for $10 million. Theis is now the most seasoned of the Celtics’ center corps and has the corporate knowledge of how Brad Stevens wants to play. He won’t be able to replicate Horford’s production (particularly in the playoffs), but if Boston wants to insert a player at the 5 who knows what he’s doing and doesn’t have a lot of statistical expectations on him, Theis could be that player.
Nearly half of the Celtics’ roster are rookies. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart will lead the youth movement now and it’s not inconceivable that Robert Williams could speed up his development and become part of that foundational mix. By most accounts, team officials have gushed about Timelord’s work habits and improvements this summer. He showed some leadership skills and maturity in Summer League, a far cry from his war on alarm clocks two summers ago. He’s raw and will have to show realized progression to get on the floor at the tip.
The most promising aspect of Williams’ game from Vegas was his passing. Assistant coach Scott Morrison talked about giving him more playmaking oppportunities in Summer League and Williams responded. He said in July, “I love working out of the high post, I love passing the ball so anytime I get to be a passer, I like it.” That’s something that Horford did so well over the last three years and if Williams can bring that to the table in Year 2, he could be a strong consideration to start.
Everybody loves a wild card. Back in 2013, Stevens started Vitor Faverani, a surprise free agent signing out of Brazil. Even with a veteran like Kris Humphries and rookie Kelly Olynyk at his disposal, Faverani got the nod. It’s conceivable that Vincent Poirier could, too.
Poirier had been on the Celtics radar for a few years as a efficient rim roller. Here’s a snippet from CelticsBlog’s Max Carlin’s scouting report on the Frenchman:
Poirier is a monster at the rim. Around the basket in the half court in non post-up situations, Poirier finished in the 93rd percentile in ACB play, per Synergy. Specifically, as a roll man in pick-and-roll, he finished in the 82nd percentile, per Synergy. Thanks to strength, touch, and good decision-making, Poirier is a potent individual finisher in the pick-and-roll...”
In Charlotte last season, Kemba Walker ran the most pick-and-rolls in the NBA as a ball handler at an impressive 90.9th percentile. His centers included Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez, and Frank Kaminsky, not exactly the cream of the roll man crop. While Timelord might seem like the better lob target in the long run, the 7-foot, 25-year-old Poirier who has played professional basketball for the last five years is ready now. Poirier turned in an impressive World Cup run with France backing up Rudy Gobert and caught the eye of NBA teammates like Nic Batum and Evan Fornier. “We can’t count on Rudy [Gobert] every game,” said Fournier. “[Poirier] was huge. He wasn’t scared by Bogut and Baynes. He was amazing tonight.”