2017-18 Roster Breakdown: The Ball Handlers
BOSTON – With all the versatility on the Boston Celtics roster, it’s not easy placing positional labels on the players.
That’s not an issue for Brad Stevens, however, as he doesn’t classify his guys with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 positional tags. Instead, the Celtics coach sings to his own tune with a set of hybrid roles to fit the multitalented nature of his athletes.
In the book of Stevens, players generally fall into one of the three following categories:
- 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.
The C’s begin training camp next week 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 2017-18 season. Boston currently has 14 guaranteed contracts, meaning it could add one more player by the end of the preseason. Regardless, this should give a solid indication of each member’s projected role with the squad.
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
The Celtics will have a new floor general running the offense this season, and he happens to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. It may be strange at first to see Kyrie Irving handling the rock for Boston after spending the last six seasons playing for the rival Cleveland Cavaliers, but fans will soon grow accustomed to having the four-time All-Star on their side.
Irving has a sizable scoring load to replace after the departure of 2016-17 Eastern Conference scoring leader Isaiah Thomas, but he should be able to fill the void. The 25-year-old managed to put up 25.2 points per game last season while playing alongside arguably the best player on the planet in LeBron James. There’s a good chance that number could rise now that he’s placed in an environment where he can be the go-to scorer all the time.
Irving also has a chance to shine in an area in which ball handlers should strive to excel in – the passing game. The four-time All-Star averaged 5.3 assists per game during his three seasons with LeBron James, but that number would have been higher if he was consistently running the offense.
Running the offense will be his job in Boston, and this environment should give him the opportunity to maximize his full potential as an offensive leader.
Just because Irving will be responsible for a large portion of Boston’s ball-handling duties does not mean that Marcus Smart should see a dip in minutes. Smart’s versatility will enable him to play alongside Irving at the 2, and he’ll probably even play the 3 at times. He’ll also have opportunities to handle the rock while Irving plays off the ball, similar to when Thomas was in Boston.
Smart is coming off of his best NBA season, having averaged career highs of 10.6 points, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game during the 2016-17 campaign. The 23-year-old was the leader of the second unit, and his role should continue to magnify as he heads into the last year of his rookie deal.
Boston’s longest-tenured player has already shown strides before taking the court for training camp; he revealed a few weeks ago to Celtics.com that he had dropped around 20 pounds during the offseason. A slimmed-down Smart should mean a more explosive Smart, which could lead him to a breakout campaign.
Terry Rozier emerged last postseason as Boston’s secret weapon off the bench. Don’t expect his electrifying play to remain a secret for long, because the whole league witnessed how he can impact a game.
Rozier rose to the occasion last spring, especially on the defensive end where he was able to hound opposing ball handlers with his length, lateral speed and quick hands. He also showed off improved handles during the postseason as he committed a turnover during only five of Boston’s 18 playoff contests.
Rozier’s defense is already at a high level, so this season look for him to focus on improving his skills as a playmaker. If he can do that, he should become a key glue guy for Boston’s second unit.
The Celtics bolstered the back of their rotation this summer when they signed well-traveled – yet still only 24-year-old – point guard Shane Larkin.
The fourth-year ball handler has played for Dallas, New York and Brooklyn, and most recently played overseas for Baskonia of the Spanish League.
Larkin’s last NBA experience was during the 2015-16 season when he averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game for the Nets. He started 17 of the 78 games he appeared in that season while averaging 22.4 minutes per game.