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With no deadline deals, the Celtics’ youngsters need to step up

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The Celtics will rely on rookies and sophomores for key roles.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The Celtics made no secret of their desire to turn their younger players and picks into bench depth. They reportedly were interested in adding veteran shooting or bigs to provide more insurance and rotation options for the stretch run and playoffs. However, no deals were completed and if the team isn’t able to upgrade through the buyout market (with apologies to Isaiah Thomas, impact players are seldom found there) then they’ll need to roll with the roster that they have.

The Celtics have a 15 man roster that includes 5 players that were not in the NBA last season (plus two rookie 2-way players). Add Robert Williams to the mix and you have a lot of young, inexperienced players. Some of those guys are already filling regular season roles and some might even be leaned on for rotation minutes in the playoffs.

Assuming full health, the top of the rotation will be narrowed in the playoffs. The starting five plus Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and one or two more will see the majority of the minutes. Who fills those last two spots would likely depend highly on matchups. Brad Wanamaker and Semi Ojeleye are the logical veterans that could fill those roles. However, one can’t assume full health with this team (or really ever). So there could be one or two rookies and/or 2nd year players playing key minutes that could swing a game or even a series.

Thus far Grant Williams has established himself at the head of that pack. He’s a useful contributor cut from the same cloth as Marcus Smart. He makes rookie mistakes like anyone, but he learns from them faster than most and seldom repeats those same mistakes. In short (pun intended) he’s the kind of guy that a coach can largely rely upon to be a positive influence on a game, even if he’s not putting up big counting stats.

Romeo Langford has been injured or buried on the bench for much of the season but has started to turn the corner lately. Our own Arjun Balaraman wrote about him yesterday.

But finally, with injuries plaguing the Celtics’ roster, Langford has received his chance to shine, playing nearly 57 minutes in the Celtics’ last two wins against Orlando and Atlanta. And while he was largely touted for his offensive game coming out of high school and college, Langford has forced his way into Brad Stevens’ plans with his impressive play on the defensive end.

One big wild card could be Robert Williams. His profile is almost exactly what the Celtics need right now. An athletic, long, bouncy player that can protect the paint and run to the rim. He has to get healthy though (latest reports indicate that he could be back on the court in March) and even then he’s still got quite a way to develop into a reliable contributor on a playoff roster. It all depends on what he shows near the end of the regular season, but he’s one of those guys that could be used for specific matchups.

The rest of the rookies are probably long shots to see time in the playoffs at this point. Carsen Edwards is too good for the G-League but hasn’t found his footing in the NBA yet. Javonte Green is a great break glass if needed type of guy. Vincent Poirier is big and tall ...and probably a step too slow.

In the near term, leaning on such a young roster increases risk and variability in a league that punishes inconsistency and rewards consistency. On a longer term perspective, however, getting these young guys valuable on the job learning experience could pay off in a big way in future seasons as the young core pieces (Tatum, Brown) continue to develop.