The Celtics frontcourt has been rather thin in recent years, but I have good news. Aron Baynes is really put together.
Baynes had a strong showing in his first preseason game with Boston, and he’s one of the most experienced players on the young roster. With Kyrie Irving, he brings championship pedigree from his San Antonio Spurs days. It’s rare that LeBron James loses a playoff series these days, but Baynes has seen the light. If the early preseason is any indication, Baynes has secured a spot in the Celtics rotation. His size doesn’t necessarily translate to grabbing more rebounds, but I’ll be damned if having a brick wall in a green jersey won’t provide enough of an interior presence. I knew he was big, but Tommy Heinsohn is right, he’s big.
Brad Stevens has suggested that starting lineups can change, not just throughout the preseason but in the regular season as well. With so many young players looking to get into the rotation, Baynes’ minutes are essentially his to lose. Not to say I expect him to fall off, but that breakout game from Daniel Theis has to have him sweating a bit. Another point of intrigue is that Guerschon Yabusele was one of the first off the bench against the Charlotte Hornets, and he handled his minutes pretty well as a six-foot-eight center.
Pretty well, as in, he was as clumsy as he was sturdy. Yabusele didn’t score in his 15 minutes of play, but you can rest assured his hand at least grazed every single available loose ball. His shooting mechanics are clunky and he runs like a baby deer wearing sunglasses at night, but the Dancing Bear’s defensive potential is already being realized. Even if Yabu has no offensive repertoire when the regular season begins (unlikely to be the case), I would fully expect Brad Stevens to reward him with minutes for hustle and defense if nothing else. My first impression is that he graduated from the Marcus Smart school of basketball, where ‘winning plays’ is the only assignment and everything else is extra credit. With so much roster turnover, the Celtics’ defense-creating-offense reputation of yesteryear is essentially gone, but Smart and Yabusele could bring it back, so long as somebody can put the ball in the hoop (By god, that’s Jayson Tatum’s music!).
Of course, the night was stolen by Daniel Theis. As Tommy Heinsohn would probably say, the kid has good hands. Theis had an above average night on both ends, and it’s worth noting that the Celtics second and third stringers were holding their own against the Hornets starters in the third quarter. 12 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes is not sustainable, but his defensive footwork is clearly NBA-ready and I have no doubts we’ll see plenty more of him in the preseason.
The biggest remaining question mark is Marcus Morris. Not because I doubt his abilities, but because he missed the game while dealing with a court case and there are three remaining preseason games for him to form chemistry with his new teammates. (Update: he's not playing against Philly either) Brad Stevens is enough of a chemistry wizard that I won’t worry about it, but the Celtics offense was shaky early on against Charlotte when it came to playmaking and execution. Irving, Hayward, and Horford’s shooting were as smooth as you remember it, but the Celtics struggled to score off of the back door cuts that they set up for Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley last season.
The bottom line is that the preseason won’t provide all the answers. Baynes will almost certainly play regular minutes all year, but he’s only on a one year deal while the other young forwards are on their multi-year rookie contracts. While Baynes is absolutely money from mid-range, the rookies in pursuit of his minutes are just as physically strong, quicker on their feet, and if their jump shots develop, provide better spacing. So, to finally answer the question in the title, I predict that Yabusele and Theis are more viable long-term options, and I have high hopes for Semi Ojeleye, who could easily be the best scorer of the group.