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2022-23 Roster Breakdown: The Ball Handlers

With the first Celtics preseason game just a few days away, it’s time that we break down the roster and give an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like heading into the 2022-23 Season.

Rather than classifying the players with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 positional tags, we are taking a page out of President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens’ book by placing each athlete into one of the following three roles:

  1. Ball handlers – Typically played by the 1.
  2. Wings – A hybrid between the 2, 3 and 4.
  3. Bigs – A hybrid between the 4 and the 5.

We begin this series with arguably the most important role on the court – the ball-handling position.

The Celtics entered last season with only three point guards/true ball handlers on their roster. Now with five floor generals to choose from, it’s their deepest position.

Here are the guys who will be facilitating the offense:

Marcus Smart

Last season, after spending the first seven years of his career backing up four different All-Star point guards, Marcus Smart was finally handed the reins to the Celtics offense. In his new role, the eager veteran did not disappoint.

Smart logged 12.1 points and career-high assist numbers across the board: 417 total dimes, 5.9 assists per game, and an assist percentage of 25.6 percent.

On the defensive end, he was as elite as ever. Smart became the first guard in more than a quarter of a century to win Defensive Player of the Year, and also earned his third selection to the All-Defensive First Team. He ranked among the league’s top 10 in steals, defensive win shares, and loose balls recovered, while leading the Celtics to the best defensive rating in the NBA.

It’ll be hard to top all of those achievements, but Smart is a player who has always found ways to improve his game. Now that he’s fully adjusted and comfortable in his new role as the lead ball handler, we can expect another big year out of the longest-tenured member of the team.

Malcolm Brogdon

One of the few deficiencies that the Celtics dealt with last season was a lack of playmaking depth. Such should no longer be an issue following the offseason addition of Malcolm Brogdon.

A versatile combo guard with elite shooting and driving ability, Brogdon’s presence will add a whole new layer to the Celtics’ offense.

Over his last three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, Brogdon averaged 18.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. The only other players who achieved such marks during that same span were Luka Doncic, James Harden, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, and Russell Westbrook. 

Brogdon, who ranked fourth in the NBA last season in drives per game, is a player who can create scoring opportunities for himself at the rim and for his teammates via kickout passes. This means more even scoring opportunities for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are on the horizon.

At 6-foot-5, 229 pounds, Brogdon also has the size to match up with opposing wings, which should come in handy now that the C’s are light in the wing department.

Derrick White

A midseason acquisition at last February’s trade deadline, Derrick White was thrown into the rotation right off the bat. He didn’t have much time to grow accustomed to the new environment, but having a full offseason and training camp should help him in that aspect.

White had been serving as one of San Antonio’s primary playmakers prior to the trade, posting averages of 14.4 points and 5.6 assists per game ahead of the deadline. Those numbers dropped slightly to 11.0 points and 3.5 assists per game after transitioning to a bench role with the C’s.

Numbers aside, White’s presence as an extra facilitator played a major role in Boston’s midseason turnaround, as it posted an NBA-best 20-6 record after the deadline. He seemed to have a natural knack of bringing out the best in his teammates despite being the new guy.

White’s feeling far more settled now that he’s had a Finals run, a full offseason and a few days of training camp with the team. “I'm much more comfortable now,” he said. “I know where I'm supposed to be at on the court, off the court, everything – just is much more comfortable this time.”

Payton Pritchard

When the fourth point guard on the depth chart is also the most efficient shooter on the team, you know that you have an extraordinarily deep group of ball handlers. In just two years, Payton Pritchard has established himself as just that: Boston's most reliable shooter and a player who is not afraid to step up in big moments.

Pritchard led the team in 3-point percentage in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns, posting nearly identical marks of 41.1 percent and 41.2 percent, respectively. He’s one of two players in Celtics history – along with Ray Allen – to have career shooting marks of at least 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the free-throw line. And his 92.4 percent clip from the free-throw line is the highest in NBA history among players who have attempted at least as many shots as he has (66).

Despite being behind Smart, Brogdon, and White on the depth chart, Pritchard should still have an opportunity to earn solid minutes because of his sharpshooting reliability. Every team needs a microwave scorer off the bench, and that’s exactly what he’s capable of being for this team.

JD Davison

Rounding out the ball handlers is the lone rookie on Boston’s squad, JD Davison. The 53rd overall pick in the 2022 draft earned one of two two-way spots with the Celtics after an impressive showing at Summer League.

Davison, who turns 20 on Monday, averaged 8.2 assists per game in Las Vegas, making him the second straight Celtics player to lead the Summer League in that category after Pritchard paced the league with 8.5 the previous July. Only Lonzo Ball has averaged more assists per game than those two with 9.2 for the Lakers in 2017. Davison finished with 41 total assists, which set a Celtics Summer League record.

Although it’s unlikely that Davison will be able to carve out a role on this year’s Celtics squad, he’ll still have an opportunity to play big minutes for the G League team along with some spot minutes for the NBA squad. As one of the most athletic and explosive prospects from this year’s rookie class, he’ll have a high upside for years to come.