NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics season was a rollercoaster.
They lost their longtime GM Danny Ainge, replacing him with former head coach Brad Stevens – a rookie GM. He himself was replaced by a rookie coach in Ime Udoka. What looked like a season of transition was seemingly confirmed when the Celtics sat at 18-21 just after Christmas.
From there, though, the team made a remarkable turnaround.
Behind a devastating defense, led by eventual Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, the Celtics shot to second place in the Eastern Conference standings with a 51-win season.
The Celtics made the NBA Finals, losing to Golden State, and they did it the hard way: Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami – all extremely difficult opponents.
There is a feeling of missed opportunity to the Celtics’ season. Though, stepping back, it’s clear to see that this has been a year where the team far exceeded expectations.
How can they build upon this brilliant campaign going forward?
As one might expect from an NBA finalist, this roster is in rude health.
Official Wise Old Head Al Horford aside, the team’s top 10 players by minutes played are all under 30. The only backup, Daniel Theis, is knocking on that particular door.
Ainge’s fingerprints are all over this side. Theis, Horford (both favorites of Stevens the coach) and Derrick White were the only ones brought in by the new regime.
The Celtics are led by their dynamic young wing pairing of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who were selected with back-to-back No. 3 picks in 2017 and 2016, respectively.
Between them, they’re good for about 50 points a night along with a swathe of other counting stats, all whilst providing stellar defense.
When playing alongside the rest of Boston’s starting five – Horford, Smart and Robert Williams – the Celtics enjoyed a league best 95.5 defensive rating.
Smart was wonderful this season. You can debate the merits of his Defensive Player of the Year award, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact hat he is probably the best defensive guard in basketball and, unlike the Kris Dunn’s and Gary Payton II’s of the world, Smart is a decent offensive player as well. He’s still an average shooter, but it is a stark improvement on what he was even 24 months ago.
Williams is the key to Boston’s defensive scheme. His ability to guard inside, switch onto perimeter players, and act as a roaming deterrent allows the rest of Boston’s players to focus on their assignments. He put up career high numbers across the board.
The cerebral Horford, who enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in his 15th season, mentored Williams. He thrived in a complimentary role at both ends of the floor. In contrast, his past few seasons in OKC and Philly, where he was asked to do too much.
Behind that fantastic five is a solid bench. It is led by Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and Derrick White, who impressed after coming over from San Antonio mid-season.
Clearly, this Celtics line-up is impressive, though the white light of the playoffs – in particular the Finals – poked some holes in the Celtics fabric.
Their starting five is perhaps the best in the NBA, but behind them there are some issues. Put bluntly, the Celtics need to improve their depth pieces.
Robert Williams’ game-to-game effectiveness seemed to rest solely on the pain in his knee. When he was hobbled, the Celtics struggled mightily. Horford turned 36 during the finals, so he can’t really be relied upon to step into a larger role at this point in his career.
Theis is a nice player – capable in spot minutes. He wasn’t sighted in the Finals, though, and there’s a reason. Grant Williams is tough as nails and a capable shooter. He’s not all that multiskilled, though, and, despite his raw strength, is undersized at the four.
The Celtics desperately need frontcourt depth.
They could do with some auxiliary scoring from the wing, as well. Aaron Nesmith didn’t impress me while playing in college. Since, he has done nothing in his short time as a pro to suggest he’s anything more than a situational player.
Backing up Smart, Pritchard is a fine shooter. Where he’s found lacking is staying in front of quicker point guards and in running an NBA offense. That second issue is perhaps mitigated by always having one of Tatum or Brown on the floor. However, Pritchard would want to develop his play making, all the same.
The Cap Sheet
As things stand, Boston will pay a little over $151 million for 13 players, though that’s on the assumption that the team options on five players are picked up.
Sam Hauser and Juwan Morgan are nothing more than replacement level depth pieces. They may be kept around if they agree to minimum deals. Nesmith and Pritchard will be on the third year of their rookie deals. With team options for both 2023 and 2024 the Celtics can afford to be patient when assessing these players.
Grant Williams is a different matter. He’s a potential restricted free agent after next season. Whilst he’s slowly, but surely, established himself as an important member of Boston’s rotation, there are still varying opinions on how much he’s worth in the open market. The bellwether could be Williams’ outside shooting. As a rookie, he shot just 25% from beyond the arc, increasing that to 37.2% last season and a scorching 41.1% this time around — three very divergent numbers. Whichever one proves to be indicative will go a long way in dictating how much Williams gets paid on his next deal.
If I were running the Celtics, they would probably be a laughingstock, so thank your lucky stars Celtics faithful. But, if this writer was deciding on Williams’ extension, the Celtics would wait and sign him after next season when his value would be clearer — knowing that you have matching rights to any external offers he may court.
Boston moved their first rounder in this draft to San Antonio for Derrick White. It’s fair to say the deal satisfies them at this point.
They hold the #53 overall pick, too. Expect them to look at an athletic, project wing who may eventually develop into a solid backup for Tatum and Brown.
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