(This is part two of a three part series.)
Are the Boston Celtics a championship contender? Ha, nope.
Are the Boston Celtics a tanking team? No sir.
There’s a lot of grey in between those black and white extremes.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of what a contending team should be made up of and who the Celtics have filling those roles. Again, this is my perspective. Results may vary.
Superstar 1A - Jayson Tatum is just a phenomenal player who has added to his game each year and still has room to grow. Zero complaints here.
Superstar 1B - Jaylen Brown is also a fantastic player. He’s cooled off just a bit from his early season dominance but the floor is very high and he seems like a great compliment to Tatum. Again, no complaints.
Third Star - Kemba Walker kinda seems like the ideal guy here, with an asterisk. He’s a dynamic scorer who’s been a lead guy for a long time and is perfectly comfortable taking a step back to let the other stars take the lead and spotlight. The asterisk is obviously health related. If he’s not healthy or needs to spend a lot of nights resting, he leaves the team with a hole in the lineup that is hard to fill.
Glue Guy - Can’t ask for a better intangibles guy than Marcus Smart. He’s established as one of the best defenders in the league, he’s developed a solid three pointer, and he’s very creative in creating offense for both himself and others. He’s been missing for much of the year and he can be hot and cold at times, but personally I’m happy with him here in this role.
Center by Committee - If you don’t have one of the top 3 or 4 centers in the league, it makes more sense to go with a center by committee. Why spend $15-20M on a center who might be your 5th or 6th best player when you can split that money 3 ways and get 48 solid minutes from the group? Theis is a perfect example of a solid rotation center. Rob Williams seems like he’s developing into more than just a solid player and he might have to be paid eventually, but for now he’s a great piece on a rookie contract. Tristan Thompson was supposed to be a solid veteran that gives us a different dimension and he’s been good-not-great. Add it all up and it is the team’s deepest position.
That’s a pretty solid starting lineup. That core of Tatum/Brown/Kemba/Smart should be a great place to start (necessary disclaimer about health). Where things drop off pretty quickly is off the bench.
Backup Ball Handler - Jeff Teague was supposed to be this guy. Not so great. Payton Pritchard has shown great promise here, but he’s still just a rookie.
Wing Depth - In theory this could eventually be Romeo Langford. With his extended absence, the team has tried to fill this hole with Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams, both of whom are better off as small ball 5’s than trying to keep up with athletic wings.
Long Distance Sniper - This is what Aaron Nesmith and Carsen Edwards were drafted to do. Neither has really found a foothold yet. Hard to space the floor from the bench.
3&D specialists - Best we’ve got is Grant and Semi. Maybe Williams can develop into this role in time, but he’s too inconsistent at the moment (which is what you expect from 2nd year players).
Deep Bench - Javonte Green, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters, Tacko Fall - all are at the end of the bench for a reason. They can fill in when needed, but you aren’t going to count on them for much.
Head Coach - Brad Stevens didn’t forget how to coach, but he’s not having a great year either. Sticking with the theme of “what you would want on your team” I’d very much want a guy that knows the game, borrows from all the great coaches, and keeps an even keel attitude. His rotations can be real head scratchers sometimes and honestly I’d kind of like him to come down harder on the guys for poor effort games. Given a better roster, however, I still believe that Stevens could thrive.
So the bottom line here is that this team has a solid starting five when fully healthy but a bench that leaves a lot to be desired. And when there are injuries or players resting (or missing for health and safety protocols), well... everything kind of falls apart and the Celtics are close to a .500 team. Without any changes, that probably still gets us into the playoffs but it might mean a first round exit.
So what should the team do from here? I’m glad you asked! Part 3 of the series is coming soon.