2021-22 Roster Breakdown: The Bigs
With the start of Celtics training camp just a couple of days away, it’s time that we break down the roster and provide an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like heading into the 2021-22 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:
- Ball handlers – Typically played by the 1.
- Wings – A hybrid between the 2, 3 and 4.
- Bigs – A hybrid between the 4 and the 5.
This 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:
Robert Williams saw his role increase significantly from the first half to the second half of last season, as he transitioned from being a backup big into becoming the Celtics' starting center. Even with Al Horford and Enes Kanter back in the mix, there is still a great chance for Williams to remain in such a role – especially considering how well he meshes with Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who says Williams is his “favorite person to play with.”
The 6-foot-8 big man has seen perennial improvement since entering the league, increasing his scoring, rebounding, and assists in each of his first three years. Last season, he produced career bests of 8.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 0.8 steals, while playing 18.9 minutes per game. So on a per-36 minute basis, he put up 15.2 points, a team-high 13.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 3.4 blocks, and 1.6 steals.
However, his games and minutes were limited due to a long list of health issues, including hip, knee, toe, and ankle injuries. He also missed extended time in the league’s Health and Safety Protocol. If he can avoid such misfortune this season, Williams would find himself earning much more playing time, which could then help turn him into one of the best stat-sheet stuffers in the league.
The first move that Brad Stevens made during his presidency was bringing Al Horford back to the Celtics. And the new head of basketball operations had great reason to.
Since Horford’s departure two summers ago, the Celtics have lacked in the stretch-big department. So having him return fills a significant void.
Horford’s versatility makes him an invaluable weapon on both ends of the floor. He’s able to score in the post, from the mid-range, and out beyond the arc. He can handle the ball and he’s a great passer, meaning teams can run their offense through him. And he’s a solid rim protector who can defend multiple positions, as proven when he earned All-Defensive honors with the Celtics four seasons ago.
The big question with Horford is whether his age will limit his action. At 35 years old, he is the only Celtic in the plus-30 committee, and typically a player with a 6-foot-9, 240-pound frame would begin to feel all those years creeping up by now. However, Horford has yet to see a decline in his production; last season with Oklahoma City, he averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, while also shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc on a career-high 5.4 attempts per game. So as long as he keeps sipping from the fountain of youth, Horford should continue to have significant minutes on his plate.
Stevens brought back another locker room favorite in Enes Kanter, who has now ping-ponged back and forth between Portland and Boston over the past four seasons.
The 11-year veteran is coming off a stellar season with the Trail Blazers after averaging 11.2 points and a career-high-tying 11.0 rebounds while playing 24.2 minutes per game. He placed second in the NBA in both offensive rebounding percentage (16.8 percent) and total rebound percentage (24.2 percent), trailing only Hawks center Clint Capela in both categories. He was also one of only 11 players who appeared in all 72 games despite the uncertain nature of last season.
Kanter may not be seeing quite as many minutes now that he’s back with the Celtics (he played 16.9 minutes per game in Boston two seasons ago with averages of 8.1 PPG and 7.4 RPG), but his rebounding efficiency should remain the same whenever he's on the court. He’s a great option if the Celtics are in need of playing some traditional big minutes, as he’s a low-post monster and one of the most elite glass-cleaners in the league.
Grant Williams has established a solid frontcourt role through his first two seasons with the Celtics. He hasn’t necessarily been a stat-sheet stuffer, but he’s been a jack-of-all-trades type of player who provides defensive versatility, above-average shooting, non-stop hustle, and vocal leadership.
At 6-foot-6, Williams doesn’t fit the typical mold of a big; however, his 240-pound frame gives him plenty of strength (he was the leading bench-presser at the 2019 NBA combine) to bang bodies with opposing 4s and 5s. And Boston’s certainly going to need some extra muscle in the frontcourt this season after the departures of strongmen Semi Ojeleye and Tristan Thompson.
Another factor that will keep Williams earning minutes is his 3-point shooting, which has improved drastically since his rookie season when he missed his first 25 attempts from beyond the arc. He went from shooting 25.0 percent on 1.4 attempts per game in his first season to shooting 37.2 percent on 2.0 attempts per game in Year 2, including an exceptional 44.6 percent clip on corner triples.
Juancho Hernangomez is an interesting case in our roster breakdown because he’s somewhat on the fence between a wing and a big. With Minnesota last season, he played 23 percent of his minutes at the 3 and 77 percent at the 4 (via Basketball-Reference), which would categorize him as a wing. Though, he also played significant minutes at the 5 when he was in Denver in previous years. So, as we considered Boston’s immense depth at the wing and the likelihood that Hernangomez will serve almost entirely as a stretch-4, we decided to slot him with the bigs.
The stretch-4 was a role that Boston needed to fill this summer, and Hernangomez gives them a solid option to call upon off the bench. The 25-year-old Spaniard has seen his scoring climb in each of the past four seasons, including a mark of 7.2 PPG last season while playing an average of 17.3 minutes per appearance.
A good chunk of Hernangomez’s scoring comes from beyond the 3-point arc, where he owns a career shooting percentage of 35.1 percent. He only shot 32.7 percent from deep last season, but playing in an offense that includes a pair of elite playmakers in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum should be mutually beneficial, as defenses will need to keep tabs on Hernangomez when he’s stationed out beyond the arc.
It didn’t take long for Bruno Fernando to win over Celtics fans this past summer, after revealing that Kevin Garnett is his favorite player of all time. The newly-acquired center will also likely earn their respect on the court once they see the KG-esque intensity that he brings to the game. If you happened to watch any Summer League action, then you already know what we’re talking about; he was the loudest, most enthusiastic player on the floor in Vegas.
Fernando joins the C’s after spending his first two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, for whom he made 89 appearances, including 13 starts. At 6-foot-9, 240 pounds he brings a powerful presence to the frontcourt, which helped him to pull down 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season.
The 23-year-old still has some areas to improve upon before he can carve out a consistent role in Boston’s rotation; however, being around a couple of established vets in Horford and Kanter should help with his development.