2020-21 Roster Breakdown: The Ball Handlers
Now that the Boston Celtics have officially the preseason, 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 2020-21 Season.
Rather than classifying the players with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 positional tags, we are taking a page out of coach 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.
We begin this series with arguably the most important role on the court – the ball-handling position.
Boston has a handful of guys who are capable of steering the offense, and it’ll often have multiple ball handlers on the court at once to keep opposing defenses honest.
Here are the players who will be controlling the pace for the Celtics this season:
The Ball Handlers
Marcus Smart has improved year over year throughout his first six seasons in Boston. Heading into the 2020-21 campaign, the franchise’s longest-tenured member has the opportunity to make his biggest impact yet. Having lost both Gordon Hayward and Brad Wanamaker in free agency means that Boston will have to fill some major voids in its backcourt, especially early in the season while starting point guard Kemba Walker recovers from an offseason knee procedure.
Fortunately, the C’s have a couple of veterans in Smart and Jeff Teague, along with some promising young facilitators who should all be able to help fill those shoes. Smart in particular will likely be taking on a heavy burden in a facilitating role, which should be no issue for him after leading the Celtics in assists last season. He’s coming off of career-high averages in scoring (12.9 points per game) assists (4.9 APG), 3-point makes (2.3 per game), and minutes (32.0 MPG).
While being one of the main generals of the offense, he’s also been the commander of the defense, earning back-to-back selections to the All-Defensive First Team. At 26 years old, Smart still has most of his prime years ahead of him, and he should have the opportunity to showcase everything he’s made of this season.
As previously mentioned, Kemba Walker is expected to miss the start of the season after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee earlier in the offseason. However, once he’s back to 100 percent health, he should be able to return to his role as Boston’s primary ball handler.
Despite last season’s injury woes, Walker was spectacular in his time on the court. He took no time in adjusting to his new teammates and was arguably Boston’s most valuable player of the first half of the season. He finished second on the team in both scoring (20.4 PPG) and assists (4.8 APG), while leading the team in 3-point makes per game (3.2). He also represented the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game as a starting point guard.
Now that he’s got a full year under his belt with his new team, Walker should be even more comfortable running the Celtics’ offense. The key to carrying such a role out all depends on his ability to recover from that knee procedure.
Boston’s addition of Jeff Teague Monday afternoon could wind up being one of the most underrated free-agent signings of the offseason. An 11-year vet, Teague brings a great wealth of knowledge and experience to a young Celtics team, as well as a skill set that should also allow him to fit in quite well. He’ll provide the offense with speed, playmaking, and perimeter shooting, along with the ability to pressure the ball on other end of the court.
Over the course of his career, the former All-Star has averaged 12.6 points, 5.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. More importantly, he’s hardly shown any signs of slowing down, being just one season removed from dishing out a career-high 8.2 assists per game with Minnesota.
Moreover, Ainge views Teague as a selfless player who just wants to win while helping the younger players around him to develop. “I think that Jeff's at a stage in his career where he wants to share what he's learned in this 12-year career,” Ainge said Tuesday morning. “He still has some juice, had a couple of 30-point games last year. And we still think that he can step in, especially early on, to bridge the gap until Kemba comes back ready to go.”
Carsen Edwards didn’t get a chance to play a whole lot during his rookie season, but he has an opportunity to earn a far more significant role heading into his second campaign.
Edwards appeared in roughly half of Boston’s 2019-20 regular-season, but never found a consistent rhythm, shooting 32.8 percent from the field while playing fewer than 10 minutes per contest. He did, however, showcase great scoring potential at times. First, there was the preseason game against Cleveland last October when he scored 30 points while knocking down nine 3-pointers in just 21 minutes of action. He also had an 18-point outburst against Washington last November.
The potential is clearly there for the former NCAA Tournament hero to turn into a microwave scorer. All Edwards needs is an opportunity.
Sticking with the theme of rising-sophomore ball handlers, Tremont Waters is another promising young facilitator who could earn more opportunities at the NBA level this season.
Waters showcased a well-rounded skill set during his time with the Maine Red Claws last season, as he averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game while earning G League Rookie of the Year honors. His contributions at that level clearly impressed Boston’s front office, which re-signed the tenacious, 5-foot-10 guard to another two-way contract in November.
After playing in only 11 NBA games last season, Waters will look to earn more chances to prove himself in the coming months. All of the experience and success he gained in the G League should certainly help out with that.
Rounding out Boston’s youthful trio of backup ball handlers is rookie point guard Payton Pritchard. The four-year Oregon product was selected by the Celtics with the 26th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft just two weeks ago.
Despite the short turnaround, Pritchard could wind up making an early impact, as the C’s attempt to cope with the early absence of Walker. Pritchard brings a little bit of everything to the table, coming off a senior season during which he averaged 20.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game, all while shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3-point range. As a result of his incredible success, the 6-foot-2 guard collected a pile of recognitions last season, including Pac-12 Player of the Year, consensus first-team All American, the Lute Olsen Award for the nation’s most outstanding non-freshman, and the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top point guard.
While he is only a rookie, Pritchard will bring a diligent work ethic and strong leadership skills to the Celtics locker room right off the bat based on the manner in which he led the Ducks over the past four seasons.