2018-19 Roster Breakdown: The Ball Handlers
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics begin training camp in less than one month, so it’s time we break down the roster and provide an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like heading into the 2018-19 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 number 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
Kyrie Irving gave Celtics Nation a taste of dominant scoring and world-class handles during his inaugural, injury-shorted season in Boston. Now, fully recovered from knee surgery and chomping at the bit to return to the court, the five-time All-Star could produce an even more impressive campaign the second time around.
Irving averaged a team-high 24.4 points per game last season, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from 3-point range, and dishing out 5.1 assists per game. He accomplished all of that despite dealing with persistent knee soreness caused by tension wire that had been implanted during a previous surgery in 2015.
In late March, Irving opted to go under the knife and remove the wire, marking an end to his phenomenal campaign. The offseason was a period of healing for the 26-year-old point guard, but now he’s back at full health and is ready to run the Celtics’ offense once again.
The fact that Irving was able to produce such impressive numbers and dazzling plays last season despite facing continual irritation indicates that his second season in green could be even more spectacular, as long as he maintains his health.
Perfectly complementing Irving’s explosive offense is the tenacious defense provided by his back-up, Marcus Smart.
With a new contract in hand, Smart will continue with his role as Boston’s sixth man, being a glue guy off the bench who is capable of providing spot starts for Irving if needed.
Smart, too, was limited last season due to injury, having undergone hand surgery in mid-March. However, he was able to return to action midway through the first round of the Playoffs to help spark Boston on a tremendous postseason run.
Smart took on more of a playmaking role during his fourth season with the team, averaging 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and a career-high 4.8 assists per game over 54 regular season contests. As Boston’s longest-tenured player, he has also developed into one of the team’s primary vocal leaders, both on the court and in the locker room.
Last season’s injuries to both Irving and Smart opened the door for Terry Rozier. The eager, young point guard seized the opportunity by bursting into the national spotlight with authority.
After spending the first two and a half seasons of his career as a role player, Rozier finally earned his way into the starting lineup during a Jan. 31 matchup against the New York Knicks. He answered the call with his first career triple-double, officially marking the birth of “Scary Terry.”
Rozier lived up to his newfound moniker by averaging 15.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game over the last 29 contests of the regular season, seeing 16 starts during that span. His success magnified during the postseason, as he started all 19 of Boston’s playoff games and produced 16.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 5.7 APG.
Rozier’s role will likely diminish with the return of Irving, but his continuing development and contributions to last season’s playoff run will surely enable him to earn significant playing time this coming season. He and Smart together should make one heck of a second-unit backcourt tandem with their collective tenacity and fearlessness on both ends of the court.
Brad Wanamaker may be a rookie by NBA terms, but the 29-year-old combo guard still has more professional experience under his belt than half of the Celtics roster.
After playing four years of college ball at the University of Pittsburgh, Wanamaker made his way over to Italy in 2011 to start his pro career. Over the course of seven years, he bounced around from France to Germany to Turkey, and also had a short stint with the Austin Toros of the NBA G League (formerly the D-League) in 2012.
Wanamaker collected numerous accolades while he was overseas, including the 2015 German Basketball Bundesliga Finals MVP, the 2016 German BBL MVP and the Turkish Finals MVP. He was also a two-time Turkish League All-Star, a two-time German BBL All-Star and the 2015 German BBL All-Star Game MVP. On top of all of that, he won two German BBL championships alongside Celtics big man Daniel Theis, one Turkish League championship and one D-League championship.
Last season in the Euroleague, Wanamaker averaged 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game. The most valuable trait he has to offer is his versatility on both ends of the court, which should allow him to fit into Stevens’ system seamlessly as either a ball handler or a wing.