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If this, then that: three predictions for the Celtics starting lineup and rotation

Anybody see my Jump To Conclusions mat?

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

IF Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are better playmakers, THEN Aaron Nesmith starts

For Brown and Tatum to make plays, someone has to be finishing them. That means adding shooting around that dynamic duo. We haven’t yet seen Nesmith start next to Brown and Tatum. When the Celtics did go small last Monday, Ime Udoka opted for Juancho Hernangomez at the four. That’s still a possibility and with COVID putting Brown and Al Horford into the league’s health and safety protocols, there won’t be a dress rehearsal for whomever Ime Udoka starts next Wednesday.

Here’s the case for Nesmith. On the offensive end of the floor, his role is fairly established: space the floor and make shots. In last night’s loss in Orlando, he wasn’t just making shots (4-for-8 from 3, 7-for-14 in the preseason), he was attacking off the dribble and scoring at the rim for a team-high 23 points. Those are all positive signs for Nesmith’s confidence and progression. As a starter though, his role will be simplified. After the game, Udoka called Nesmith “a very good complementary piece.” If he does start, that’s all he has to be.

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

IF Dennis Schroder and Payton Pritchard are a combo, THEN Al Horford is coming off the bench

Maybe I’m reading between the lines, but when Horford said earlier this week that he “wants to start because he’s a competitor,” that sure sounded like there’s a possibility that he isn’t. It makes a ton of sense. Horford didn’t start in Boston’s first preseason game against the Magic and Udoka has said that in practices, he’s getting Horford a lot of time with the young guys.

Even with last year’s sabbatical in Oklahoma City, Horford is still 35 years old and the Celtics should take every precaution to maintain the bounciness we’ve seen so far in training camp. More so, Udoka has stressed balance as he figures out the Celtics rotations and as much as Horford still has starter-level talent, plugging him into the second unit guarantees less of a drop off from the starters.

He’ll still see plenty of time with the Jays and will close games, but bringing him off the bench affords him more time to mentor Boston’s youth while employing his knowledge against opposing teams’ benches. It also continues his partnership with Schroder from their Atlanta days and nurtures a relationship with Pritchard. Udoka has said that he’s intrigued with the Schroder-Pritchard pairing because it puts two playmakers — three if you include Horford — together and you can pretty much add anybody to that trio to bridge the gap to the starters.

IF the Celtics are playing small, THEN we’ll see more Grant Williams and Juancho Hernangomez and less Enes Kanter

We’ve gone over the double-big lineup ad nauseum, but ultimately, Boston’s best foot forward and the style of play that’s going to really put pressure on opposing teams is playing fast and small. I’m sure we’ll see the Timelord-Horford duo a ton, but playing with more mobile fours like Brown, Tatum, Hernangomez, and Williams will space the floor more and be more effective defensively if the Celtics plan on switching everything.

In Orlando, neither Williams nor Hernangomez had particularly good shooting nights, combining on 1-for-8 from the field. Williams did however flash that versatility that makes him such an intriguing rotational piece.

Whether it’s defending bigs (Mo Bamba), reading the play, and making a steal...

...or guarding quicker wings like Terrence Ross, Williams has proven so far that he should be part of the rotation conversation.