Training camp and the preseason are in the books. We’ve had a good look at the talent at the Boston Celtics disposal, barring new addition Nathan Knight. The top-6 are locked in. We know who they are, what they bring, and how devastating they can be. However, there are still rotation places up for grabs.
Joe Mazzulla has options. The first choice he must make is how deep of a rotation he wants to utilize during the regular season. Mazzulla could keep things tight. An eight-man rotation makes sense on paper. However, the NBA season is long. Running a tightened rotation from the jump comes with the risk of burning out your top-end talent. Maybe a nine- or ten-man group makes sense to begin the season.
I might be biased here. The way I was taught (and continued to be taught) martial arts involves learning over-exaggerated movements. Over time, you peel away the exaggerations. Eventually, you’re left with a refined movement based on sound technique. Then, you tweak until you’re satisfied with the product.
I view basketball rotations in a similar way.
Start out with a deep group. Nine or ten guys. Toy with combinations, substitution patterns, and minutes distribution. Gather data. Who plays well with each other? How are teams attacking certain lineups? As the All-Star break draws closer, Mazzulla and his coaching staff should have a firm grasp on their best rotations and combinations.
Time to start peeling off the layers.
That sort of approach also benefits some of the deeper bench guys. There’s an opportunity to earn a play in the postseason rotation. Everybody gets their chance to impress. Boston’s roster may be top-heavy, but some ballers are further down the pecking order. There will be a couple of head-to-head battles throughout the season.
Battle of the shooting specialists
Hauser vs. Svi preseason stats
This season, Sam Hauser isn’t the only shooting specialist on Boston’s roster. The third-year forward will face stern competition for minutes from Svi Mykhailiuk. Both players flashed their perimeter scoring ability during the preseason. Svi shot better and showed off some bounce around the rim.
However, Hauser is earning a reputation for being a bit of a 3&D wing. Last season, Hauser withstood a barrage of opponents looking to target him on the defensive end. It got so bad teams were being taken out of their offense every time Hauser checked into the game. Hauser is a better player because of it. He’s proven he can defend in isolation and as a system defender.
Hauser will likely be ahead of Svi to start the season. His ability to defend in multiple scenarios will be a valuable addition to the bench. However, if his shot isn’t falling, or if he finds himself in another long-term shooting slump, Svi will be on hand to step in.
Battle of the defensive wing specialists
The battle for bench minutes
Assuming Lamar Stevens sticks with the Celtics heading into the new season, Mazzulla will have three defensive wing specialists on his bench. Given the Celtics' top-end talent, it’s logical that only one of Lamar Stevens, Oshae Brissett, and rookie Jordan Walsh will see any form of consistent playing time during the early part of the season.
Stevens had the better preseason out of the three wings. He defended well, switched with pace, and provided an offensive punch when required. You can see why he got minutes as a spot-starter for an impressive Cleveland Cavaliers team last season.
Brissett brings energy and hustle but is incredibly raw on the offensive end. Walsh has the most upside and serious length, but is most likely going to get his reps in Maine. We will likely see each player get their shot in the rotation. However, to begin the season, any defensive wing minutes are likely Stevens to lose.
Battle of the backup bigs
The battle for bench minutes
Neemias Queta has become an instant fan favorite. The seven-foot big man brought energy, size, hustle, and rebounding to the Celtics rotation. Queta outperformed Luke Kornet when given the opportunity. However, Queta is currently on a two-way contract with the Celtics.
As such, Kornet will be the third big in the rotation to begin the season. Preseason production doesn’t guarantee it will translate into the regular season. Queta will get opportunities. There will be games where he's on the bench or in the rotation. It’s up to him to prove his preseason showings weren’t just for show. Queta will need to provide substance when on the floor.
Kornet may have struggled during preseason, but he’s a proven commodity for the Celtics. He’s a reliable screener, a good drop defender, and has been known to occasionally shoot the three. There’s no reason why he can’t hold onto his spot as the Celtics' third big-man, as long as his performances improve once the new season gets underway.
The Celtics are championship favorites for a reason. Their top six can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league. However, you have depth for a reason. Ensuring that depth can contribute is an important part of Mazzulla’s job. Keeping a deep rotation for the first stretch of the season makes sense, or at least, I think it does.
Payton Pritchard has earned his spot off the bench. Dalano Banton will likely be on the outside looking in. That still leaves 1-3 open slots. There will undoubtedly be some roster battles. Competition is a good thing. Hopefully, the Celtics embrace that competition en route to another deep playoff run.