When Brad Stevens went from coach to executive, there were some skeptics out there. The team underperformed last year with Stevens leading the way, so how was he going to help this team in terms of management.
Right away, Stevens sent out frequently injured Kemba Walker and brought in well-respected Al Horford. Josh Richardson was an under-the-radar move that bolsters the bench, while Kris Dunn could be a sleeper move. The cherry on top was when he convinced Dennis Schroder to accept the mid-level exception and play on a one-year, “prove it” deal. With Schroder in the mix, the Celtics might have one of the most underrated starting lineups in the Eastern Conference.
Point Guard - Dennis Schroder
Around April, if someone told you that Dennis Schroder was going to play on the mid-level exception, what would you have said? Would you have said your friend was crazy? That it would never happen? Well, nobody is more shocked than Schroder, who reportedly turned down an $84 million deal from the Lakers because he wanted a $120 million contract.
Even so, Schroder will have a year to prove himself. The 2020 Sixth Man of the Year runner-up is a talented player, who averaged a career-high 5.8 assists last season. The year before that he averaged a near career-high 18.9 points with a career-high 38% shooting from three-point range. Schroder’s emergence into the lineup allows Marcus Smart to play his natural position off the bench.
Shooting Guard - Jaylen Brown
Had Jaylen Brown not missed the playoffs, who knows how the result would have gone down. Losing Brown was a huge loss. Brown made his first All-Star appearance last year after averaging 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.2 steals. He shot 48.4% from the field, including 39.7% from the three-point range. These are all top-tier stats at the small forward position.
With Brown healthy, the dynamic duo of Brown and Jayson Tatum are back in business. While Kemba Walker was an All-Star in his past, he never really fit with this regime. Brown and Tatum know they can’t rely on a third party to carry this team. As both enter their primes, we might have not seen the best just yet.
Small Forward - Josh Richardson
The Celtics are hopeful that Richardson can provide a “great value” version of Smart in the starting lineup. Richardson is not an All-Defensive player but is heralded as one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. By moving Smart to the bench, allows at least one stellar defensive player on the floor at all times.
Offensively, Richardson doesn’t shoot from outside very well but can provide double-digit points. With at least three offensive scorers in this rotation, Richardson has a role and can thrive in it. With that said, Richardson did once average 16.6 points per game, so the potential is there.
Power Forward - Jayson Tatum
Tatum was an All-NBA Third Team selection in 2020 but had a better statistical season in 2021. However, the overall team success, No. 7 seed in the playoffs, wasn’t there, so Tatum was left off the list. Still, Tatum had a phenomenal year where he averaged 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.2 steals. That included shooting 45.9% from the field, and 38.6% from the three-point range.
There is no question that this is Tatum’s team. The 23-year old has started to develop an impressive resume for himself. Last year was one of the worst finishes in his tenure. With a better overall supporting cast, we should expect Tatum to take another leap towards stardom.Center - Al Horford
Center - Al Horford
In Horford’s first stint with the Celtics, he made the All-Star team. That is unlikely to happen this time around as the 35-year old has a new role with the team. When you think of what Paul Millsap has done for the Nuggets the last few years, the team is hopeful that Horford can provide a better version of that.
Horford is coming off a respectable season in OKC. In 28 games, he averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds. What Horford brings to the table is his voice in the locker room. He is a well-respected veteran that will help guide a team that is, for the most part, in their mid-20s.
Peyton Prichard, Marcus Smart, Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Kris Dunn, Jabari Parker, Bruno Fernando, Enes Kanter
Smart averaged a career-high 5.7 assists last year. In recent memory, this could be the best playmaking backcourt the team has seen in the last decade if he plays alongside Schroder in the closing minutes of the game. Schroder’s offensive abilities are superior to Smart’s, which will allow him to focus more on defensive assignments.
The 27-year old made the All-Defensive First Team in 2019 and 2020. Last year, Smart had to play point guard with Kemba Walker out of the lineup most of the time. This backcourt will allow Smart to play his natural game, which makes the Celtics all-around game better.
Another key bench player to keep an eye on is Robert Williams III. In 52 games, Williams III developed into a starting-caliber center in the league. He averaged 8.0 points and 6.9 rebounds and shot 72.1% from the field. Defensively, he added 1.8 blocks. Having Horford on the team will only help Williams develop even more. Williams III has a ceiling as high as Horford, and who knows better how to play like Al Horford, than Al Horford himself?
The pickup of Dunn could be a diamond in the rough. Dunn never translated to offensive success in Chicago and Atlanta but is a proven defensive commodity. Pritchard could have a dazzling sophomore campaign. He shot 41.1% from three-point range in his rookie year, which included 66 games. Enes Kanter is low on the depth chart but averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in 72 games last year. He will see time on the floor.
What We Should Expect From The Boston Celtics?
The Celtics were able to turn away from Kemba Walker and add Schroder and Horford. Those two veterans will bring more to the table collectively than what Walker would have bought individually. Moving Smart to the bench doesn’t just help the starting lineup, but the overall team. For some players like Pritchard, Dunn, Romeo Langford, and Williams III, we could see a jump in their development this year.
This lineup could be the most underrated lineup in the East. It has a ceiling for making the Conference Finals. However, everything will depend on how first-year head coach Ime Udoka handles this squad. Udoka was seen as one of the best assistant coaches in the league. He was a finalist for the 76ers job last year before it was given to Doc Rivers. Assuming that the hype around Udoka is real, the Celtics might have gotten a lot better despite trading away a former All-Star.