Boston’s front court depth has been murky all season, not because of talent, but injuries and roster construction. Robert Williams has been incredibly productive despite his minutes restriction and Daniel Theis is as consistent as ever. Both Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams have struggled on defense, so much so that Grant has racked up some healthy DNP’s while Tristan appears to have lost some of his minutes to Rob. Boston’s double-big starting lineup is inconsistent at best, but shifting Rob into the starting lineup doesn’t necessarily fix that either.
With such a crowded front court, why would the Celtics consider adding LaMarcus Aldridge as a potential buyout candidate?
I’m going to ignore Aldridge being old and slow and further complicate a log jam at center for now. First, let’s lay out how the double-big lineup could finally be dismantled, as if the strong showing against the Utah Jazz wasn’t enough to convince you.
Like many of you, I’d rather see Robert Williams in the starting lineup than Thompson. In a limited sample size, Theis and Williams on the floor together have a net rating of +26 in 66 minutes. Rob on the floor without Theis or Thompson is -7.25 in 437 minutes. Here’s every combination, via PBP Stats:
However, if Williams starts next to Theis, who is the first big off the bench? Is it Thompson for Williams? If so, what was the point? Theis can’t be pulled first either, unless Grant Williams is first off the bench instead of Thompson. I support any and all Grant minutes, but I can tell Brad Stevens isn’t as aggressive with player development as I would be, so that gets ruled out as well. Rob also has a hip condition that limits his minutes. It might not be realistic to see him in a significantly expanded role in the near future, but I can dream.
Admittedly, Aldridge is a variable that could theoretically smooth out the big man rotation in a way. If Grant is in Brad’s Healthy DNP Doghouse, Aldridge can play the four alongside Timelord or Thompson. Anything to split up the Theis-Thompson combination is progress, but instead of a double-big problem, we’d have a double double-big problem, right?
I’m probably stretching things by suggesting adding another big is a solution to any of this. Most of these numbers are pretty good, save the lonely Rob and Theis/Thompson lineups. But if the Celtics are really interested in Aldridge, it’s at least a curious plot twist from “we have too many bigs” to “maybe we don’t have enough bigs.”
Aldridge’s numbers have taken a sharp decline this season. His rebounding in particular is almost non-existent, although it was never very high to begin with. For what it’s worth, his per-36 and per 100 possession numbers aren’t too much lower than his best seasons, but the dip in shooting splits is a deal breaker for me. Aldridge looks pretty slow for a guy who was never too quick to begin with. If he can’t move, his shooting is on the decline, and he can’t rebound as a big, what’s the point?
Well, for one, any and all shooting is welcome. More than that, the Celtics desperately need to increase the quality of the shots they take. Could Aldridge provide that? Could the attention drawn by Jaylen, Jayson, and Kemba be enough to open up easy mid-range shots where Aldridge wants them? Based on Daniel Theis’ slightly increased involvement in the offense--namely his pick-and-pop midrange shots--I believe Aldridge could be used in a similar way. Aldridge is shooting 3.6 threes per game this season at 36%, which comes after never taking as many as three per game until last season. It’s about league average, which would rank him lower than most of Boston’s rotation, but above Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker who combine to shoot 13.1 threes per game. Maybe some average shooting in a relatively minimal role from Aldridge can go a long way.
As a fan of the game, I like what Aldridge brings to the floor as a smooth mid-range shooter, but if I wipe my aesthetic biases away, I can’t justify signing him other than having a warm body to play when other players need rest. But ultimately, let’s not to overthink it. His role is exactly what his skill set brings, and his best skill is shooting. So, why not? The Celtics are good enough to keep the 4th seed and probably not good enough to climb to 3rd. There’s very little at stake with buyout candidates, so they might as well roll the dice.
The opportunity cost of signing any one player as a cheap buyout option is low. Some front offices can spend a little more than others, but more or less, we’re talking about the veteran minimum here. For some teams, particularly contenders, these additions are meant to bolster postseason depth (e.g. Blake Griffin to the Brooklyn Nets), but not necessarily push a team from a second round exit to a Finals appearance.
I look at the buyout market in the same way I look at the recent lift on limitations to two-way contracts this year. Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters are now cleared to play in as many games as the Celtics see fit, thanks to a temporary provision to provide injury insurance in this unique season. These roster spots are great if they pan out, nothing lost if they don’t. A vet-minimum contract for a bought out player is pocket change too, making it a no-risk opportunity where any upside is just gravy.
Panic moves are too shortsighted for me to say the Celtics need to make one especially this season, but it might be worth it just to preserve the physical well-being of the team. This condensed schedule is insane and it’s not worth the wear and tear that comes with it. If no trade manifests before March 25th, a buyout candidate who can absorb 15-20 minutes might be necessary. Aldridge doesn’t really play a position of need, but if Brad insists on double-big lineups then there’s room to make it happen. And if they come up empty in the buyout market, then it’s time for Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall to get some more run. There’s no sense in treating a .500 year like a Finals run if there are no immediate impactful improvements.