The Boston Celtics have reloaded around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and now get to test some lineup possibilities in training camp and preseason games.
Last season it was hard to find any consistency in who played and when, with the team perpetually shorthanded thanks to injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
With new and old faces brought in to support their core, who all will take on new responsibility, Boston no longer needs to rely on an unexperienced young bench to step up.
In his first year as head coach, Ime Udoka knows they need to tighten the rotation.
“We have a great veteran group on the bench other than the starters, obviously, bringing Dennis and Josh and some of those guys along as well as the young guys,” Udoka said Wednesday after practice.
“We have a ton of quality players. It will play itself out to some extent in training camp and preseason, but we feel comfortable with 10 to 12 of our guys. It’s just a matter of, like I mentioned earlier, game by game scheme and coverage and who we’re guarding and who we’re playing.”
Udoka stressed again that no one should be reading too much into his initial lineups. He’s just trying to get a sense of who he has and how they play together, with a pretty good idea of what Al Horford offers already.
The coach doesn’t see himself alternating the starting lineup too much this year, and when it’s all said and done, you imagine Tatum, Brown, Smart, Williams and Horford will be in to close out games. Unless they go small, at which point you could rock with Smart and Dennis Schröder.
Either way, the hope is the veterans they brought in allow them to eventually get down to a more optimal nine-or-10 man rotation.
“We feel comfortable with 12, as I mentioned it will play itself out over these last three preseason games, the last two weeks of training camp,” Udoka said. “We’ll see where we get in the game, it’s hard to play 12 guys obviously every night and, you know, 9-10 is a more manageable number. And so that’s where the competition lies and how they’ll play in the games and what we’ll see in the practice.”
Based on that one showing against Orlando, and having an idea of what the Celtics brought in, here’s who NESN thinks would make the cut in a 10-player rotation.
Marcus Smart, Dennis Schröder, Payton Pritchard
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Josh Richardson
Robert Williams, Al Horford, Juancho Hernangomez, Enes Kanter
END OF BENCH
Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford
Even with his improvement, Nesmith might lose out here without a really strong training camp thanks to the offseason addition of a combo guard like Richardson bumping him back in the depth chart. He may be 10-B with Enes Kanter at 10-A, but you probably have to go with a big here. It’s not necessarily to say Nesmith is worse than Kanter, but Kanter’s offensive rebounding can be incredibly impactful — especially situations where Robert Williams gets into foul trouble. When it comes down to it, Nesmith, Grant Williams and Romeo Langford still have a ways to go.
Boston has some more opportunities to keep experimenting with three preseason games left. They face the Toronto Raptors next on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.