With less than two weeks to go before Boston’s first regular season game, the Celtics are still in experiment mode. Head coach Ime Udoka has yet to announce a starting lineup against the New York Knicks, but he does have an idea of what players are in the mix for the rotation:
After Wednesday’s practice, Udoka said that the coaching staff is “comfortable with 10 to 12 of their guys” as part of the eventual rotation, but that “9-10 is a more manageable number” by the time the start of the regular season kicks off on October 20th.
In their first preseason game, the substitution patterns were largely expected. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Robert Williams started. Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard were the key contributors of the young core. Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson played considerable minutes as the vets off the bench. There was however a bit of a curveball inserting Juancho Hernangomez into the starting five instead of Al Horford.
Going into tonight’s tip against Toronto, this could be Udoka’s final chance to try some off-the-wall combinations before he has to start paring down the roster before the regular season. With Jaylen Brown unavailable due to COVID health and safety protocols, there’s an opportunity to insert a few players where they regularly wouldn’t play.
Schroder as a starter: Schroder is Boston’s best penetrator. As a Laker last season, he lead the team in drives at 13.3 per game. That instinct would ease the playmaking load off of Tatum and energize Timelord’s pick-and-roll game. Schroder has said he sees himself starting. Smart has a new contract. Let Schroder start...in a preseason game.
Smart as 6th man, 6th starter: If Schroder slots in as the starting point guard, that makes Smart the first man off the bench, a position he’s fairly familiar with under Brad Stevens. Smart is most likely the starting in two weeks, but his defense on the second unit, particularly against a Raptors team chockfull of wings, would help.
Double bigs: With Brown out, we should finally see the Horford-Williams double big lineup in today’s exhibition. Tatum slides up a weight class to small forward, either Nesmith or Richardson replaces Brown at the 2, and Horford and Williams start in the front court together. Udoka has said that they’ve experimented with this lineup in practices, but we didn’t see it on Monday. The Raptors play relatively small without a seven-footer on the team. Instead of matching up with them, the Celtics could choose to crush them with their size.
The back end: Yesterday, CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith took a look at Boston’s end of the bench. Udoka went thirteen deep vs. Orlando and those players are pretty much locks to make the regular season roster. Sam Hauser (who spoke exclusively with CelticsBlog on Friday) is already on board with a two-way spot. Juwan Morgan, despite being hamstrung with a hamstring injury during training camp, was the early favorite to lock up the other, but Theo Pinson and Garrison Mathews are now in consideration. There’s also Bruno Fernandez (guaranteed deal) and Jabari Parker (partially guaranteed). The question is whether Boston needs a back up big, another point guard, or more shooting at spots #14 and #15. Expect the bulk of the fourth quarter to help sort that out.