After boasting the most dominating starting five in the league last year, Brad Stevens built a bench to match it in the offseason. The plan was to add Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White to an already ferocious defensive back court and surround the Celtics’ stars with shooters like Danilo Gallinari and Grant Williams. However, injuries have forced head coach Joe Mazzulla to pivot early in the regular season.
Over the last four games, Mazzulla seems to have settled on a four-man bench squad of Brogdon, Sam Hauser, Grant Williams, and Luke Kornet and they’ve delivered. Through 34 minutes so far, they’re boasting a 41.4 net rating (127.1 offensive, 85.7 defensive) with Macolm Brogdon as it’s engine.
On Friday night, the former Rookie of the Year and #1 option in Indiana scored a season-high 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting with four assists. “He’s really propelling that second unit,” Horford said of Brogdon’s veteran influence off the bench. “That’s something that I feel like, once we click, then it’s going to take us to another level.”
Brogdon is a missile of a point guard, laser-pointed at attacking the rim, shrinking the defense, and either drawing contact and getting to the line or finding his teammates. Jaylen Brown’s loud dunk to close out the third quarter doesn’t happen without Brogdon making the initial penetration.
Noah Vonleh and Blake Griffin have both had chances to claim that back up big role, but it’s been Kornet that has seemingly taken hold of those minutes behind Al Horford. He was the favorite at the start of training camp before an ankle injury took him out for the majority of the preseason. At 7’2, he’s a capable defender with a unique defending style and almost to a fault, a very willing passer. Pair his watchtower passing with Brogdon’s driving and the combined shooting of Williams and Hauser (a ridiculous 24-of-45 from behind the arc) and the Celtics have pieced together a serviceable second unit.
Last season, the Celtics second unit ranked 26th in the league with 30.2 points per game; through eight games this year, they’re up to 34.1 points per game, good for 16th. It’s obviously a small sample size, but after the bench was supposed to be a strength heading into the year until the depth chart was decimated by injuries, they’ve cobbled together something that’s working.
But Brogdon wants more. “I’ve been telling them, ‘we’ve got to be the best second unit in the league.’ We gotta embrace that,’ he said. “We are the second team. We’re going to be the best in the league and we’re going to take full ownership of that.”