If you’re a big fan of James Young or RJ Hunter, here’s some good news for you: They’re probably going to make the main roster.
Now, here’s the less-good news: They aren’t going to play much.
Wait, there’s more good news: Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown are pretty good at basketball, and they can run the fast break like Usain Bolt delivering pizzas.
Give a Tommy Point to Jordan Mickey, too. Not for slamming an uncontested dunk, but for running the floor as a big man. That’s how you make your way onto a roster, Jordan.
Rozier, Young and Mickey were all under the microscope this summer with opportunities to become a regular rotation player in the wake of Evan Turner. Rozier said the opening was “something that was on [his] mind every day” after his excellent summer league run, and it’s only gotten better for him since. Rozier led the Celtics in assists with seven in 21 minutes off the bench against Brooklyn in a 100-97 win. I know, I know, it’s the Nets, but Rozier even added 10 points on 60 percent shooting. The bench squad wasn’t expected to be completely devoid of shooting going into this year, but there was justified doubt about whether or not the backup guards would be scoring threats in a spacing-obsessed league. Rozier’s more refined point guard skills in addition to Marcus Smart’s adjusted shooting form. The Celtics could realistically have four legitimate long-range threats in Rozier, Green, Olynyk and Jerebko.
I doubt Rozier will be one of the first off the bench because Isaiah Thomas exists, but he seems capable of taking on 10-15 minutes when the season starts, and we can see what he can do from there. I would also expect Jonas Jerebko to be given a similar workload as a backup forward. As we’ve seen with Brad Stevens in the past, bench minutes could go anywhere, at any time.
Ahead of Rozier, I would expect Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jaylen Brown to lead the bench in minutes. Marcus Smart, to me, is by far the most intriguing player on the team because there’s almost nothing I could say to non-Celtics fans to convince them he’s as good as he’s hyped to be. He shoots an abysmal three-point percentage and doesn’t excel in any one stat on the box score. Brad Stevens described him best by saying “I think his greatest strength will always be that he’s a guy that makes winning plays that sometimes aren’t quantified” on a Bill Simmons’ podcast. I love delving into stats to use to compare players, but it doesn’t apply here. The only important “stat” to track with Smart is winning plays-per-game, of which he averages several. Interpret it as you will. Smart played about 27 minutes per game last season and I would predict it to be in the same ballpark this season.
Kelly Olynyk played about 20 minutes per game in 2015-16, and that’s a number I expect to increase a little. Despite starting most games, Jared Sullinger only played about 23 minutes per game last year, so Olynyk could inherit the extra three minutes at the very least if his shoulder holds up. Olynyk was ninth in RPM (2.82) last season among centers and will be given ample opportunities to score in a lineup with Smart and Rozier attacking the basket and looking to kick out.
Jaylen Brown is somebody I expected to start in the 10-15 minute range because he looked like such a raw talent in the summer league, but he took a huge leap in the preseason and could easily see 20 minutes each game. That highlight I showed you earlier is the type of play we could see every game from Brown. His instincts and athleticism are unreal for a 19-year-old, and his defense alone will earn him time. His offense is sporadic at best right now, but anybody who consistently attacks the basket and finishes with some regularity is bound to make an impact one way or another, and he could even develop into a three-point shooter before long. I loathe the compulsion we have to compare rookies to accomplished veterans, but Brown reminds me so much of a young Andre Iguodala with his explosiveness and airtight defense.
Every bench needs a veteran, and the Celtics have Gerald Green. Wait, Gerald Green is a veteran now? Green’s 30 years of age makes him the oldest Celtic by a few months, and he’s come a long way since we included him in a trade for some Kevin Garnett guy. Green is another player who can jump out of the building and has added a lot of scoring options to his repertoire, from mid-range pull-ups to catch-and-shoot threes. The Celtics were very thin at small forward before the summer, and I think adding Green and Brown fills that void perfectly, and I expect them to split the backup minutes when Crowder is resting.
If I had to whip up a depth chart, it would look something like this:
But I don’t care about depth charts. I care about lineups. What I want to see is a defensive line up of death featuring Smart, Bradley, Crowder/Brown, Johnson, and Horford. I’ve also noticed that Brad likes to run small lineups with three guards, specifically Thomas, Smart, and Bradley to throw teams for a loop and keep the offense in steady motion without sacrificing much defensively. Hell, we could even see some tall-ball if the 76ers get healthy – so who do we run out then? Smart, Crowder, Jerebko, Johnson/Olynyk, Horford?
We’ll see what Brad Stevens has in store for the start of the regular season, which is just around the corner.