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Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White could become a terrifying trio

Finding minutes and the right role for all three is the definition of a good problem to have.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart rises up to contest a LaMelo Ball layup.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

When the Celtics landed Malcolm Brogdon this offseason, the move was almost universally lauded as a momentous and mutually beneficial one.

If Brogdon could stay healthy, he could provide exactly what they needed and serve as the missing piece to help take them to the next level.

The only question was whether or not the Celtics had too much of a good thing. Brogdon, Marcus Smart and Derrick White are all excellent players, but would there be enough minutes and enough of a niche for all three? Is it possible to have too many players who can handle the ball, facilitate and play lockdown defense?

The long answer is more complicated, but the short answer is pretty clear-cut: No. A team can’t have too many players with that skill set.

Sunday offered an early glimpse into how Brogdon, Smart and White will complement one another. Preseason trends can sometimes be misleading, but they can also be illuminating when viewed through a certain prism. The Celtics probably won’t score 134 points or rack up 41 assists too often, but it appears their ball movement and shot selection have a chance to improve this season with such a poised and well-rounded trio in command.

They’re all unselfish players who want to win, and Brogdon’s willingness to come off the bench reflects that more than anything. He has a legitimate shot at the Sixth Man of the Year award, and the preseason opener was a reminder of why.

Brogdon was in control all game, consistently setting Sam Hauser, Grant Williams and other shooters up for uncontested looks. Sure, the Hornets were rather discombobulated on defense, but Brogdon made them pay almost every time.

He finished with 11 points, nine assists, five rebounds and was plus-18 in a team-high 24 minutes. Brogdon looked comfortable with the players around him, as though he had played with them for years rather than days.

Smart and White each scored seven points and combined for seven assists. None of them had to do too much, but all three were involved on both ends.

The Celtics started with a super switchy Smart-White-Jaylen Brown-Jayson-Tatum-Al Horford lineup. That appears to be the most likely starting five to open the year. When Smart and White were out there together, White often outletted the ball to Smart to initiate the offense.

White consistently got open looks in the corner – ones he needs to continue to shoot with confidence and knock down at a decent clip. Smart was his usual self, probing and making defenses uncomfortable on offense and aggravating the Hornets as a pest on defense.

When Brogdon checked in to an ovation six minutes in, Smart stayed out there and White went to the bench. The Celtics have the luxury of often having two of them on the court at the same time. Last year, the offense sometimes got stagnant in key moments with just one primary ball-handler on the court.

This year, especially in the playoffs, offense will develop more organically because there won’t be as much pressure on Tatum and Brown. As Brogdon showed right away, he can come in off the bench and serve as a stabilizer and organizer.

When Smart exited later in the first, Brogdon handled the ball even more alongside Payton Pritchard. They looked sharp together and are a duo to keep an eye on moving forward. Brogdon will help Pritchard – a rhythm player who can get hot at any moment – generate quality looks.

Brogdon spearheaded the Celtics’ game-changing run in the second quarter. He didn’t try to do too much and made the simple read. Then White checked back in with 7:48 left in the quarter and played next to Brogdon. Brogdon primarily handled the ball, and White mainly relocated and spotted up.

Then it got even more intriguing, as the Celtics went with an even more switchy Smart-Brogdon-White-Brown-Tatum lineup. Sure, they’re a bit undersized, but the amount of scoring and playmaking is insane. It helps that Smart is basically the basketball equivalent of a pitbull and can guard centers when he has to. That lineup may not be sustainable for long stretches, but it’s certainly dangerous in short stints.

It places a lot of pressure on other teams to make a choice. If they go big, the Celtics can exploit that big man. If they go small, it’ll be awfully tough to beat the Celtics at their own game. It may not work against someone like Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic, but it would work against many teams.

All three guards saw the court in the second half, with Brown and Horford, and once again looked as though they had been there before. The 17 first-half turnovers were the only downside to an otherwise magnificent showing, but that number will decrease as they get more comfortable playing together – as it did in the second half Sunday.

Even as they got deep into their bench, the production was still consistent. Whether it’s Brogdon, Smart or White playing with the second unit, opposing teams generally won’t have a player of that caliber. The opposition can only fight fire with fire for so long.

Finding minutes and figuring out the right roles for all three players is the definition of a good problem to have.

If Sunday is any indication, they should complement one another extremely well. The Celtics will always be elite defensively, but it’s already clear they have a chance to be even more lethal offensively – in large part because of the way their three starting-caliber guards will work in tandem.

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