With regular-season games just around the corner, it’s time that we break down the Celtics' roster to give an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like for the 2022-23 campaign.
Rather than classifying players with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 positional tags, we’re taking a page out of President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens’ book by placing each athlete into one of the following categories:
This past week, we’ve analyzed the Celtics’ depth at the ball-handling and wing positions. Today, we wrap up our Roster Breakdown series by highlighting Boston’s bigs. As their title indicates, these are often the largest players on the floor and are usually responsible for handling the post and protecting the rim.
Here are the players who will be sharing that job for the Celtics this season:
If Marcus Smart is the perimeter patroller of Boston’s defense, then Rob Williams is the interior anchor. The 6-foot-8 center established himself as one of the elite rim protectors in the NBA last season when he led the league in defensive rating and finished third in total blocks, all despite missing more than a quarter of the season. Even with the missed time, he still managed to land on the All-Defensive Third Team.
Williams was the most improved player on the team last season after being elevated into a starting role, churning out averages of 10.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks per game. His offensive role as a lob threat also helped him finish second in the league in field-goal percentage with a clip of 72.8 percent.
Unfortunately, Williams is expected to miss approximately the first two months of the season as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. But when he returns, he’ll continue to be of utmost importance for Boston’s championship quest.
Considering what he’s still capable of at age 36, Al Horford may be the most impressive member of Boston’s roster. Not many NBA players make it into Year 16, let alone a 6-foot-9 center. Yet Horford is still going strong, in a starting role at that.
Last season, he returned to the Celtics feeling rejuvenated and averaged 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds (his highest mark since 2013-14), 3.4 assists, and 1.3 blocks in 69 regular season games. In the playoffs, he upped his scoring and rebounding to 12.0 PPG and 9.3 RPG, while playing 35.4 minutes per contest.
Despite coming off 92 total appearances last season, Horford claims to be entering this campaign in tip-top shape. His presence will be especially important during these first couple of months, as he’ll look to step up at the 5 in Williams’ absence.
The name Williams coincided with improvement last season, as Grant Williams took just about as big of a leap as Rob. After slimming down in the summer of 2021, G-Will saw his production jump up, as well as his role with the team.
Williams averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 77 appearances (21 starts), becoming Boston’s most reliable and durable sixth man off the bench. The biggest improvement he saw was in his 3-point shot, which skyrocketed from 32.0 percent in his first two seasons to 41.1 percent in Year 3.
Williams also played a massive role in Boston’s postseason success, highlighted by his career-high 27-point effort in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Milwaukee, in which he tied Stephen Curry’s Game 7 3-point record with seven makes from beyond the arc.
This offseason, Williams focused on expanding his shot repertoire so that he can be an even more reliable offensive weapon. And on defense, he’ll continue to be one of the hardest-working players on the team, while serving as one of their vocal leaders.
Just two weeks before the start of the regular season, the Celtics made an unexpected free agency splash by signing six-time All-Star Blake Griffin.
Although he may be past his All-NBA-level prime, the 33-year-old power forward/center still has plenty to offer as someone who can provide an offensive spark – both at the rim and from beyond the arc –and defensive hustle off the bench.
Griffin hangs his hat on putting his body on the line for his team, as he showed last season when he led the league in charges despite missing 26 games. He also takes pride in the opportunity to play for a championship contender such as the Celtics, claiming that he’ll accept any role as long as he’s able to help them achieve their title goals.
The former No. 1 overall pick should provide Boston’s frontcourt with extra stability, especially as it navigates through some injuries at the start of the season.
When it comes to fitting the big man mold, Luke Kornet takes the team crown – at least from a literal standpoint. Standing 7-foot-2, 252 pounds, Kornet is the tallest player on the roster by a full four inches, and he uses that size to his advantage around the rim.
During his first stint with the Celtics two seasons ago, Kornet blocked 25 shots in 252 minutes. He also made 68.2 percent of his shots from inside the 3-point arc in the 18 appearances that he made.
Kornet only saw action in 15 games last season, including 12 for the Celtics, but he has an opportunity to earn more playing time at the start of this season while Williams recovers from surgery.
“I realize there’s definitely a great chance of being a more involved member, in terms of being on the court,” Kornet said at Media Day prior to the start of training camp. “I think it’s kind of the same thing I’ve always done, just being ready for whatever role I’m given.”
Rounding out Boston’s big man group is third-year power forward/center Mfiondu Kabengele, a 25-year-old former first-round pick who has claimed one of the team’s two-way roster spots.
Kabengele spent his last two seasons split between the Clippers and Cavaliers organizations before joining the C’s for the 2022 Summer League, where he stood out with his rebounding, shot-blocking, lob-catching, and electric style of play.
Kabengele averaged team-high marks of 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for the Summer C’s, while also finishing fourth on the team in both points (14.8 per game) and assists (2.4 per game).
Celtics fans got a taste of Kabengele’s energy during the first preseason game when he dropped in 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting effort in 10 minutes of action. His most memorable play was diving between two Hornets players for a loose ball, which brought Boston’s bench to its feet and got a rise out of two-time NBA Hustle award-winner Marcus Smart.
Kabengele’s two-way contract will give him an opportunity to showcase his talents both in Maine and also in Boston whenever the NBA squad is in need of some frontcourt depth.