This week the CelticsBlog staff is going to weigh in together on various topics. Please feel free to expand on these topics and give your own opinions in the comments below.
Brad Stevens has given new head coach Ime Udoka a brand new roster (without changing the key pillars). If you were in his shoes, who would you have in your regular rotation at the start of the season (assuming everyone is healthy and available)? Bonus question: Do you anticipate that rotation changing by the end of the season?
At the start of the season, I’d lean towards a starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams, with Dennis Schröder, Al Horford, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford and Grant Williams seeing the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Defensively, this is probably the best starting lineup the Celtics can put on the court right now — just an absolutely miserable nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with. I prefer Williams starting at the five for his unique ability to pressure the rim as a lob threat, but both he and Horford will likely require load management throughout the season, so that spot will probably be somewhat transient throughout the year.
Schröder has an easy case to start, but I prefer his fit as this team’s sixth man. He’s going to see his fair share of minutes regardless, but as the first substitution, he’ll work as an effective bridge to the second unit for this team. He fits well alongside Smart in the backcourt, and can then transition to leading the dance alongside more bench-heavy lineups as the other starters check out for rest. Meanwhile, I think there’s room for Grant Williams to carve out a role as a true four alongside either his fellow Williams or Horford. Enes Kanter isn’t a high priority for me on this roster, but he can steal some minutes in matchups against larger opposing frontcourts.
My one concern with this arrangement is how heavily it depends on youth in the second unit. For that reason, in an ideal world, I’d like to see Nesmith win a starting role over Richardson at some point during the year. Nesmith’s off-ball prowess would mesh well in the starting unit, considering the ball figures to be in the hands of Tatum, Brown or Smart in most situations. Meanwhile, Richardson feels like a more comfortable fit off the bench, where he’ll get to operate with the ball in his hands more often instead of being relegated to more of a 3-and-D role, which did not work out for him in Philadelphia.
I think Smart, Brown and Tatum are everyday starters, and the other two spots will be somewhat situational. There are occasions where I think running Horford and Williams early with the starters will make the most sense, and I think that combo will be the closing five. The ‘bench mob’ is, for once, reasonably deep with Schröder, Dunn, Richardson and possibly Parker all veteran contributors. These guys will also give Udoka some flexibility when it comes to starting lineups. Simply based on depth, I suspect the C’s sixth man will be a PG, probably Schröder, but the C’s veteran depth on the bench as well as a change in coaching may well mean that the C’s starters will see more time together as a unit, as compared to last season, where Stevens was often forced to leave a starter or two with the bench players due to inexperience.
I think Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are starters whenever they are healthy. The other two spots will likely depend on who earns them, matchups and health. I’m leaning towards Josh Richardson and Al Horford to open the year as starters. That would give Boston great size, versatility and switchability across the board.
Behind those five, Robert Williams will get the bulk of the backup big minutes. It just feels easier to control his minutes off the bench, and with Smart starting, Williams will give the team the energy boost. Aaron Nesmith should get the first crack at backup wing minutes. Dennis Schroder and Payton Pritchard will both play backup guard minutes. Their lack of size shouldn’t be an issue against fellow backups.
Then the Celtics have Enes Kanter, Grant Williams and maybe Jabari Parker for situational depth up front. And Romeo Langford and Kris Dunn will probably factor in at some point on the wing and in the backcourt as well.
Overall, the depth is miles ahead of where it was the last couple of seasons. And it’s versatile depth too.
As the site’s resident Al Horford truther this offseason, you already know i’m rolling out Al at the five, with Tatum, Brown, Smart and Richardson.
Rob is the obvious sixth man, and I’d like to see him receive more minutes than Richardson despite not starting.
My ideal second unit would look like Pritchard, Schroder, Nesmith, Parker (or Grant) and Rob Williams. For me, Romeo hasn’t shown enough to even see the floor over Grant or Jabari Parker. Hopefully he breaks through, but with Nesmith, Schroder and Pritchard around, I don’t think Romeo Langford fits anywhere on this team.
Both of these units provide solid versatility and great defense, I’m ready to roll.
Let me hit the bonus first. This rotation will change periodically throughout the year starting in the opening month, so I don’t expect much to stay the same here. It’s a hard question. Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown rank as the obvious ones. Josh Richardson is a popular answer for the two spot and the Celtics believe in his shooting. I’ll roll with it because I don’t necessarily believe in Al Horford’s ability to consistently guard wings for long stretches even if he fits the starting group more on offense than Richardson does. The Celtics stay long and versatile along the perimeter with Smart, the Jays and Richardson, and I think Robert Williams III probably needs to be the center. Boston played its best basketball with him inside last season, the team extended him at a modest salary and in year four it’s time to see what he can provide over a full season without any restrictions from the sideline. He’s the greatest hope for this team raising its ceiling and looked like a rare deterrent to players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson at his best. Above all, he moves the ball as assertively as anyone on this roster. I get all the reasons why Al Horford could start and I’m thrilled to have him back. He’ll need some minute restriction like Williams though, and a center share between those two makes some sense. If Boston’s playing a double big team, Al can easily slide into the lineup at the four and Richardson should be a good sport about bouncing between different roles too. I don’t think status will play a role this year as much as game plans, and being malleable could be one of the great strengths on paper along with managing the room for Ime Udoka. Of course, in another condensed, COVID-19 dominated year having flexibility at every position will be a great strength that the Celtics obviously lacked last season.
I still like an opening lineup (at the start of the season) to include Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford. From a shooting perspective that lineup is a little inside out with Al Horford making up for the guards a bit. But that’s a lock-down defensive unit (in theory) and puts reliable vets around the Jays putting them (say it with me now) in a position to succeed.
You can bring Schröder and Rob Williams in off the bench together. I think they could develop some good chemistry together attacking the rim and opening things up for shooters. And if you need to add shooting you can sprinkle in Pritchard and Nesmith as needed.
Romeo and Grant Williams have a chance to carve out roles and Kanter provides good depth at center. All will have a chance to fill in competently in the event of injuries or rest days. Assuming they are on the roster, Parker, Dunn, and Fernando seem like solid deep bench options.
That’s the way I see the rotations going at the start of the season, but I could very much see Robert Williams and either Nesmith or Pritchard force their way into the starting discussion as the season progresses.