When the Boston Celtics made one of the offseason’s blockbuster moves by acquiring Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards, they were thinking big — positionally, strategically, and quite literally.
Porzingis, listed at 7 feet, 3 inches on Basketball Reference, would be the second-tallest player in franchise history behind Tacko Fall. The Latvian was estimated to have a 7-foot-6 wingspan when he was drafted fourth overall by the Knicks in 2015.
Boston has brought in three smaller additions since the trade, and all three boast significant measurable advantages at their positions. Second-round rookie wing Jordan Walsh is 6-foot-7 with a ridiculous 7-foot-2 wingspan, forward Oshae Brissett can stretch 7 feet flat at his 6-foot-7 height, and guard Dalano Banton stands somewhere between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9, depending on the source you trust.
This is the most apparent commitment to length and positional size in Brad Stevens’s tenure as a coach or President of Basketball Operations. Sure, we’ve seen the Celtics occasionally gamble on size and length in the past. Robert Williams III and Romeo Langford had outlier wingspans that appealed when they were first-round draft picks, and calling Fall’s frame unique is an understatement.
But never have so many moves held such an obvious defining theme. I’d argue that before two weeks ago, Luke Kornet was the only addition of the GM Stevens era with standout measurables. Previous signings felt inspired by an easy-to-visualize role or a missing skill. These four so far feel different, because in all four cases, we’re not really sure what the roles will look like.
Porzingis rightfully commands the most question marks, but he’s also easier to picture in an NBA offense because he’s carved his niche. He can help bust zones, diversify the offense out of the post, and relieve pressure on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Just as importantly, Porzingis will likely be a staple of the drop-coverage defense that became the standard last season. Boston hopes the sheer size difference from 6-foot-10 Horford to Porzingis, for example, makes the coverage more imposing. Trading Marcus Smart, a superb screen navigator, puts even more pressure on Porzingis to threaten with his size.
Porzingis in a drop will be a very useful tool for this Celtics defense pic.twitter.com/FenLpdIHEf— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) June 27, 2023
But what about the other three? The Celtics have filled 13 of 15 full roster spots with Walsh and JD Davison still technically unsigned (though Justin Champagnie’s contract is non-guaranteed). And there’s the Grant Williams elephant in the room — so regardless of where he ends up, this roster is close to set, barring a surprise move.
Banton and Brissett have hung around the edges of regular NBA playing time since reaching the pros, but are only 23 and 25 years old, respectively. Walsh has league-ready defensive tenacity, though he’s got some developing to do offensively. The chances that one or multiple break into the regular season rotation might be higher than you think.
The Celtics didn’t add these players to target specific weaknesses on a 57-win team. They’re changing their approach to title contention, and believe the length and skill intersections here could help actualize the vision.
Banton is the antithesis of teammate Payton Pritchard — a hard-charging, fast-paced driver with enticing defensive versatility and a totally non-threatening jumper. It’ll be fascinating to watch the two compete for playing time as Boston’s possible third guard.
Dalano Banton thread— Ethan Fuller (@ethman43) July 3, 2023
I think this is such a good, interesting, different signing for the Celtics. 23 years old, 6-foot-9 combo guard with a unique mix of skills to use with his length.
First: Banton is a serious transition weapon, which Boston needs. Loves to push pace pic.twitter.com/BtdRlO0Unz
Brissett could end up replacing Grant Williams if the latter leaves, but is a far different style of backup forward. He’s longer and more impactful in help defense and as a shot-blocker than Williams, whose best work was grounded in sound positioning and physicality. Unlike Williams, Brissett is more of a vertical athlete and a real threat as a cutter. But Williams also honed his perimeter shot into a weapon with the Celtics; Brissett is still plagued by streaks.
Some quick thoughts on Oshae Brissett!— Ethan Fuller (@ethman43) July 1, 2023
Like him as a minimum-deal swing. Defensive versatility will be there, little punch on the glass at his size, but I'm also interested to see if he can attack off the second side/make quality cuts in Boston's offense.
Two clips of each: pic.twitter.com/Mxxa4rt3Tk
Walsh is in an entirely different category as a developmental rookie. It’d be unsurprising if he spent most of the season in the G League like Davison did last year. But there’s also a world where the Arkansas wing’s “violent” defense makes an immediate impact in bite-sized minutes.
All four additions could spark the biggest collective change on defense. The Celtics ranked 12th in postseason defensive rating, and even as a top-five regular season unit, things still felt like a step back from 2021-22. Joe Mazzulla slowly started drawing the team away from Ime Udoka’s switch-heavy schemes, and these signings feel like reinforcements.
Walsh projects as a phenomenal on-ball and switch defender. His length also allows him to pounce on passing lanes and close out hard on shooters. Brissett can similarly close out hard and alter shots. Banton has a nose for the ball whether he’s on or off it. Each man seems capable of boosting the back line; it’s not just about how they can slide onto the point of attack.
Then on offense with Porzingis commanding touches behind Tatum and Brown, finding cutters and outlets for the three playmaking hubs is a logical next step. Walsh, Banton, and Brissett will each have to figure out their own shooting struggles to stand out, but all three at least offer promise as cutters and driving threats. That’s another welcome sight given the peaks and valleys of Boston’s movement and spacing last season.
These four signings will impact the 2023-24 Celtics at varying levels. Porzingis is clearly a centerpiece, but the others could leapfrog established teammates, or they might not play significant minutes at all. That doesn’t mean they’re insignificant additions — the big picture approach to roster-building by Brad Stevens appears to be ushering in a new stylistic era.