The prevailing thought after the Celtics’ whirlwind offseason seems to be that Boston got better at the top, but their depth took a hit. On Zach Lowe’s most recent podcast, he talked about how the Celtics have the best top-6 in the NBA, but will struggle to find useful minutes after that.
And I get it – I understand where Lowe and other analysts are coming from. Simple math can tell you that the C’s lost more rotational players (Marcus Smart, Rob Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams) than they gained quality starters (Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis), so one could logically assume that they now have less depth.
I think this sentiment is massively overblown, though.
Last season, depth was a strong point of Boston’s during the regular season. Players who weren’t necessarily in the every-game rotation – such as Payton Pritchard, Luke Kornet, and Sam Hauser – could be deployed at a moment’s notice and significantly help the team win games.
Celtics’ coach Joe Mazzulla made a similar point during Monday’s media availability with NBC Sports Boston:
“The one area that no one’s talking about and I’m really excited about is our second unit. Guys like Payton [Pritchard], and Sam [Hauser] and [Oshae] Brissett and Luke [Kornet] and Jordan Walsh… Last year, our second and third units won us games.”
Even though players on these second and third units had significant regular season roles, they basically all got buried on the bench during playoff time. And honestly, I think that was a mistake by Mazzulla. There’s this assumption that Hauser, Pritchard, and Kornet can’t play during the playoffs, but I simply don’t buy it. Each of them brings valuable, translatable skills that I think could have been quite useful for the Celtics last season, even if only to give the stars a quick breather. And this season, some of these guys will presumably get a chance to play bigger, more meaningful minutes.
Yes, they’re part of the Bus One Boys — a reference to the players that have to board early on the team’s transpo to the arena — and sometimes, that’s all they’re known for. But, they’re also really good basketball players who can help their team.
Let’s start with Pritchard. Honestly, there’s no argument anyone could make to me that 15 Payton Pritchard minutes a game would be a bad thing. He’s one of the most solid players on the team and can absolutely add value on both ends of the court. He doesn’t have an offensive weakness, and he’s elite at handling pressure. He has the ball on an absolute string. He’s also a career 40% three point shooter, so he’s valuable to have on the court with the wide array of playmakers that the Celtics have. His height might make some view him as a “defensive liability,” but he brings tons of energy and works his behind off every possession. I’m not nearly as worried about his lack of size on that end as others are, especially with the incredible remaining defenders that’ll share the court with him.
Hauser, like Pritchard, absolutely strokes it. And again, with the on-ball creation that the Cs have – especially with the addition of Jrue Holiday – it’s important to have the remaining players on the court be able to space the floor and make the defense pay for helping. Hauser, a career 42% three point shooter, can do just that. Also, he’s not as much of a weakness on defense as people think he is. He can hold his own.
Then there’s Kornet. The front court is likely at the top of people’s minds when discussing Boston’s lack of depth. But, I think we need to give Kornet a bit more credit. He was an incredibly serviceable big man last season, and he shines in his role. He doesn’t try to do too much; he just sets screens, rebounds, plays hard, and works for his teammates. What more could you want in a 15-minute-per-game big man?
All three of the Bus Boys have something in common: they can play their role. And in a ROLE player, that’s more important than their skillset, at times. They don’t need to do too much, and they know that. They see the top end of the roster and know that they just have to fill in the gaps. And I think they’re all primed to do just that.