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Once considered a weakness, depth is becoming a strength for the Celtics

Joe Mazzulla can mix-and-match based on what the team needs at a given moment.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics
Luke Kornet and Victor Wembanyama go head to head.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

When the Celtics acquired Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, the consensus was that Brad Stevens deliberately constructed a top-heavy roster and would fill in the missing pieces from there.

The star power was obvious, but depth was a legitimate concern – at least to the public. In hindsight, perhaps Stevens knew something others didn't at the time.

As the season has progressed, the Celtics reserves have turned that doubt into faith among fans with their steady production. The top-six is obviously the overwhelming strength of the team, but the bench is proving it belongs among the elite.

Not every game is pristine, and not every player is dynamic on a daily basis, but it’s a classic case where the sum is greater than its parts. If you put players like Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet, Oshae Brissett and Neemias Queta on another roster, they may not produce as efficiently.

On this roster, with stars around them, they know their roles and execute those roles at a high level. No one’s expecting Brissett, Queta, Svi Mykhailiuk or Dalano Banton to play 25 minutes in the NBA Finals, but if they continue to deliver in spurts when called upon in the regular season, that makes life easier for everyone around them.

Joe Mazzulla preaches the importance of coaching the same way when the second unit is on the floor. Getting regular reps with the outcome decided allows them to feel more comfortable and prepared when they appear in close games.

It’s clear the starters trust and appreciate the reserves, and vice versa, and it’s obvious the starters have taken Mazzulla’s motto to heart.

“We play through those guys, Payton, Sam,” Jaylen Brown told reporters Wednesday. “Getting those guys touches in a game like this, it’s important to build confidence and get our guys feeling good.”

As a bench player, nothing is more important than providing energy. That manifests during a game, but it also extends outside of basketball.

It’s clear Kornet’s charisma is contagious and that his Celtics teammates genuinely find him hilarious. The NBA season is a grind, and ridiculous shenanigans like suggesting he has ice in his veins after hitting a free throw go a long way.

When a starting guard is out, Pritchard simply takes on added responsibility and ensures there’s no drop-off. Hauser is always ready to shoot, but he prides himself on excelling defensively as well.

Queta is starting to unlock his potential. He’ll never replace Rob Williams (sorry, Neemias), but he’s starting to build toward having a similar mind-set on the court.

“He’s one of those kids that doesn’t know how good he can be,” Mazzulla said. “He hasn’t been in the league a long time. He’s only played like 300 minutes in the NBA, and he’s starting to see when he plays with a certain presence, we’re a different basketball team.”

The unit isn’t just a hodgepodge of players who happen to be together. It’s a well-thought-out core with a playmaker (Pritchard), shooter (Hauser), energizer (Brissett), glue guy (Stevens), superhero (Kornet) and enforcer (Queta).

JD Davison and Jordan Walsh even joined in on the fun Wednesday night. I mean, seriously...Walsh is already averaging 64 rebounds per 48 minutes. Wilt could never.

The most important part is that Mazzulla can mix-and-match based on what the team needs at a given moment. Whether they play 20 minutes or don’t see any action, they’re all about the greater good.

Is this the most talented bench in the NBA? Probably not. But it’s blossoming into one of the most complete units – one where the players bring out the best in one another and mesh perfectly.

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