Brad Stevens has set up this year’s training camp to be filled with competition for playing time, possibly even roster spots, from the bottom of the roster all the way to sixth man. Some of the trials will be against one or more players, some are demonstrations of personal improvement. Let’s break down the challenges each Celtic faces from the bottom up.
Taylor Funk Competition: Is he better than the Justin Champagnies of the world? Funk is on an Exhibit 10 contract which means that as a 26 year old rookie he has to show that he’s better than someone’s 15th man. Or their two-way contract guys. Basically, is he good enough to stick in the league?
Neemias Queta Competition: Is he better than Luke Kornet? The Celtics will need minutes from their number four center this year even if KP, Al, and Rob all remain healthy. Luke has been a fine fill-in when called upon, so for Queta to get minutes he needs to do everything that Kornet does and a little bit more.
Jay Scrubb Competition: Is he a better shooting guard than an injured Malcolm Brogdon or his contracted replacements? Scrubb showed in Summer League that he was willing to put in immediate effort to expand his comfort zone on the court. Can he continue it and does his shooting range and scoring abilities allow the Celtics to not panic over Brogdon’s health?
JD Davison Competition: Is he better than Jaylen Brown’s handle? 50 years ago, JD would’ve been tearing up the ABA with his speed, athleticism, lob passes, and general sense of fun. No one would’ve worried about turnovers; just win, baby. Davison so far reminds me of Year One Rob Williams sheepishly sleeping through his alarm: a dumb but forgivable offense, once. And if this were his first year as a pro, 11 turnovers in the Summer League wouldn’t bother me. But after one year, he needs to show he can play with poise and purpose to go with his flair.
Delano Banton Competition: Is he a better playmaker than Payton Pritchard? Banton looks like he can fill a number of lanes, but his real long-term value to the Celtics is as at the point directing the offense through and over opponents. He doesn’t have to have an exceptional handle, but he has to be able to get things in motion with speed and accuracy.
Jordan Walsh Competition: How quickly can he physically mature? Walsh hasn’t finished growing and last year he played in a total of 36 games against collegians. In addition to adjusting to the speed of the pro game, he will also need to build up his strength and stamina to ensure that he develops good work habits rather than lapsing into bad overcorrections because he lacks the strength or lasting power.
Luke Kornet Competition: What skill makes the Celtics go with a four-man big rotation? Luke reminds me in some ways of JD Davison: he’s a fun guy who is comfortable being creative within the game. Witness the Kornet Kontest. For him to be a rotation regular he needs to go beyond being a novelty act to give the Celtics something --high post passing, outside shooting, reliable rebounding, something-- that has the coaching staff looking for reasons to use him rather than counting the seconds until one of the three bigs is ready to come back in.
Lamar Stevens Competition: Can his defense offset his offense? Lots of folks are positioning Stevens to fill in for Grant Williams this year, but until he shows he has a consistent offensive contribution within the Celtics scheme right now he’s a taller Semi Ojeleye. Great defensive energy but someone that allows opponents to play 5-on-4 defenses. Less so if Coach Mazzulla exploits equity opportunities in the midrange game.
Sam Hauser Competition: Svi Mikhiailiuk. Everyone knew he could be a high volume three point shooter. Developing the footwork on the defensive end last year to make everyone in the NBA pay when they tried to isolate him was a big bonus. Sam’s next hurdle seems to be moving without the ball to find more open spots. His minutes may be coupled to who the point guard is at any given time.
Svi Mikhiailiuk Competition: Sam Hauser. Svi seems to have more movement to his offense than Sam, but Sam has the edge of knowing his teammates. Part of this duel, I think, comes down to how much off-ball movement the Celtics offense employs this year and how much the offense goes through the high post.
Payton Pritchard Competition: Can he give Grant/Marcus energy as a point guard? Pritchard is a pain in the ass and I mean that in a good way. He’ll pester opponents by sneaking in for offensive rebounds, stealing balls on inbounds plays when the other team is sleepwalking, and shoot 3-pointers from anywhere in the 617 area code. If he can do that while directing the offense, he should be good for 20 minutes a night or more. Otherwise he’s an energy/microwave guy.
Oshae Brissett Competition: Can he shoot better than Lamar Stevens? On paper he looks like he can give the Celtics minutes for both Tatum and Brown the best of all of the wing players on both sides of the ball.If his offense or defense can be exploited by opponents I think it opens up opportunities for other players down the bench.
Malcolm Brogdon Competition: Is he over elbow problems and trade rumors? Shooting 44% from three-point range makes a lot of things manageable. If Brogdon’s elbow is back to full health, he’s the sixth man again with no questions asked. If it isn't --or if he and the Celtics organization remain at odds over the failed trade to the Clippers-- I would expect a trade before the deadline, maybe even during training camp.