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BOSTON – With all the versatility on the Boston Celtics roster, it’s not easy placing positional labels on the players.
However, Brad Stevens does his best seeing 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 in a few days, 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.
Two days ago, we tipped off our roster breakdown series with Boston’s ball handlers. Today, we present their perimeter mates – the wings.
Wingers are commonly the top shooters on the floor and are relied upon to take on a heavy scoring load. Defensively, they’ll often be tasked with suppressing elite scorers on opposing teams.
The C’s have loaded up with half a dozen wings this season, five of whom are new to the roster. Here’s a closer look at the depth they have to offer at the position.
The Celtics had been in search of an elite wing scorer since the Paul Pierce era came to a close five years ago. This summer, they found their guy in Gordon Hayward.
The 6-foot-8 forward spent the majority of his first seven seasons serving as the cornerstone of the Utah Jazz. He carried a heavy load during his time in Utah and was the team’s only All-Star last season, but a lot of that pressure should be taken off of his shoulders in Boston where he will join forces with fellow All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.
Hayward is coming off of his strongest NBA campaign after averaging career highs of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, all while leading the Jazz to a 51-31 record and the fifth seed in the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs. He also shot an impressive 47.1 percent from the field, including 39.8 percent clip from 3-point range last season, and that efficiency could surely climb this season since he will no longer be the lone scoring threat that opposing defenses will lock onto.
The 27-year-old brings great versatility to the C’s, which should allow him to fit in extremely well. Throughout his career he’s mostly been viewed as a 2-3 combo, but last season he proved he could also play the 4. According to basketball-reference.come, 30 percent of his playing time last season came at the power forward position.
It also helps Boston's cause that Hayward has a strong relationship with Brad Stevens, having played under the coach for two seasons at Butler University. The two made an appearance together in the 2010 NCAA title game, and now they’ll look to make it to the NBA’s version of the big stage.
While Hayward’s addition on the wing will give Boston explosive scoring and elite shooting, Marcus Morris will provide the C’s with toughness and grit on the defensive end.
Over the last two seasons, Morris served as an instigator in Detroit’s starting lineup. He has a chance to earn a similar role with Boston, who is in need of some defensive help after the departures of wings Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. During his career, Morris has proven to be one of the most proficient stoppers in the league of superstar LeBron James, which would come of value if the Celtics and Cavaliers meet up again in the Playoffs.
The six-year vet can also provide an offensive punch, as he averaged 14.1 points per game during his two seasons in Detroit while shooting 34.5 percent from 3-point range. He could see even better efficiency from beyond the arc with the Celtics, since most defenses will be focusing on stopping Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.
Jaylen Brown is the only returning wing from last season’s squad. He’s tied for the third-longest-tenured player on the team. And he’s only 20 years old.
Don’t let Brown’s youth fool you, however; he earned plenty of regular season and playoff reps during his rookie campaign, which boosted his confidence and should allow him to come out of the gates flying when the 2017-18 season begins.
Brown averaged 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season, all while shooting 45.4 percent from the field, including 34.1 percent from 3-point range. Stevens was impressed by his growth, and the youngster even earned 20 regular-season starts for the East’s top seed.
Brown’s great length and impressive athleticism serves as a great foundation for a star-in-the-making. Now, he just needs to focus on fine-tuning his skills on the court. The intelligent Cal-Berkeley produce should continue to see a rise in playing time, as his versatility and strong defensive play will be much-needed this season.
Nineteen-year-old Jayson Tatum should take some notes from Brown’s rookie campaign. If the No. 3 overall selection from the 2017 NBA Draft does that, he’ll should also be on track to earn some quality minutes at the wing position this season.
Tatum is the youngest player on the roster by 495 days, but his advanced skillset will likely allow him to break into the rotation immediately, just as Brown did last season. His offensive creativity, which was displayed during Summer League, is well beyond his years, and it should help him to develop into a high-volume scorer during his NBA career.
Like all rookies, Tatum will likely experience growing pains as he goes through his first NBA grind. But if the 6-foot-8 forward works hard and remains patient, just like Brown did, he should be rewarded with plenty of playing time this season.
Expect most of Tatum’s reps to come at the 3 and the 4, the latter of which was his primary position at Duke University.
While the last two No. 3 overall draft picks will be fighting for playing time this season, the third-to-last pick of the 2016 NBA Draft will be doing the same. Abdel Nader, who Boston selected 58th overall two summers ago, has shown surprising strides over the past year-plus, as he has become just the second Egyptian-born athlete to play in the NBA.
The 23-year-old forward is coming off of a stellar season with the Maine Red Claws, during which he averaged 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, all while becoming the first internationally-born player to win D-League Rookie of the Year.
Nader’s progress in the D-League prompted Boston to sign him to a multi-year deal over the summer. Now, the C’s hope he will provide depth and versatility at the wing position during the upcoming season.
The Celtics parted ways with their strongest wing player in Jae Crowder over the summer, but they replaced him with someone who may be even more powerfully built. Second-round draft pick Semi Ojeleye stands at 6-foot-7, 235 pounds, and is arguably the most impressive-looking physical specimen on the team.
Ojeleye is more than just muscles, however; he’s also a very skilled basketball player.
He spent two seasons at Duke before transferring to Southern Methodist University, where he dominated the court for the Mustangs. Last season, he averaged 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game at SMU, all while earning AAC Player of the Year honors.
Ojeleye is a strong shooter from the perimeter, a ferocious dunker, and most of all an NBA-ready defender who can guard multiple positions. That combination of skills could earn him a spot in the Celtics rotation before you know it.