BRIGHTON, MA — After two blockbuster consolidation trades that saw Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis join the Boston Celtics, depth is the first word that comes up when discussing potential weaknesses.
Accounting for the loss of Grant Williams as well, the Celtics swapped out four high-level rotation players for two and will now be left to scrounge together a second unit with guys who played fewer than 20 minutes per game last year.
Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard, and Luke Kornet are set to highlight a Celtics second unit that has a lot to prove heading into the year.
“There [are] some new faces in the second unit as well, but you got Payton, Luke, and I, who have played together for the last couple of years, and we have great chemistry,” Hauser said after Saturday’s practice.
Last season, Hauser saw a massive increase in minutes, finishing eighth on the team in total minutes played (1,290). His three-point shooting was crucial to Boston’s success, especially early in the year. He ended the season shooting 41.8% from deep on 4.2 attempts per game.
Boston also brought in a few new wings over the summer. Oshae Brissett, Lamar Stevens, Svi Mykhailiuk, and rookie Jordan Walsh could all have a chance to earn playing time, but Hauser will likely be spearheading that group off the pine.
“Yeah, I definitely got a lot of good experience last year,” Hauser said. “Played in a ton of games. Got to play in the playoffs a little bit. You know, there are some things I need to work on that I have been working on. So, I’m excited to let it snap on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Kornet didn’t see the same number of minutes Hauser did, but he appeared in 69 games, the fifth-most of any player on the roster. His 11.7 minutes per contest last season will undoubtedly spike this year.
Kornet hasn’t played more than 15 minutes per game since the 2019-20 season with the New York Knicks, but his opportunities should take a massive jump, and the Celtics are fine with that.
“It starts with Luke,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said of the Celtics’ backup center rotation after Saturday’s practice. “I thought Luke really did a great job last year, and I think he’s an underrated player. And I don’t think people realize how effective he is.”
While he only played 698 total minutes, Kornet ranked in the 90th percentile of bigs in opponent effective field goal percentage (-2.9%). And while the Kornet Kontest spiraled into a meme greater than the man it spawned from, Boston is very high on him heading into the year.
“He’s a guy [who’s] always in the right spot defensively,” said Mazzulla. “He’s a guy that makes the right play on the offensive end. And he makes the right screen read almost every single time, which creates 2-on-1s for us. And he can guard our defensive system very well and communicate it.”
And while Wenyen Gabriel and two-way addition Neemias Queta could vie for minutes, Kornet will be the Celtics’ go-to.
“We’re going to heavily rely on Luke because of what he’s done last year and just kind of how he carries himself,” Mazzulla said. “And then the preseason breeds opportunity from the other guys to see who can fall along those lines of what Luke does for us.”
As for Pritchard, he earned the least playing time of the three, playing in just 48 games and totaling 643 minutes. With Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White ahead of him in the rotation, Pritchard was cast to the side.
But with Boston’s new core, Pritchard should see a serious increase in minutes - something he’s been preparing for all summer.
“I think Payton’s had a great camp,” said Hauser. “He’s really, really been aggressive. He worked really hard this summer, and I think he’s out for blood this year. So, I’m really excited to see what he has to bring to the table this year.”
Boston’s bench depth may not be the most highly touted around the league, but internally, the Celtics are confident.
Unfortunately, the Bus One Boys may never be the same.
“Yeah, I guess some would say our captain has left the building,” Hauser said on the departure of Bus One Boys leader Blake Griffin. “But we’ll see. We still got Payton, Luke, and I. You have to earn your rep for the Bus One Boys. So we’ll see who’s on Bus One this year.”