2019-20 Roster Breakdown: The Ball Handlers
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics begin training camp Tuesday, 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 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
The C’s will have a new floor general running the offense this season, as three-time NBA All-Star Kemba Walker as is set to take the reins. Walker, who is already established as a New England sports legend after leading UConn to the 2011 NCAA National Championship, will become a Boston fan favorite in no time, thanks to his electrifying offensive skill set and endearing personality.
The 6-foot-1 point guard is coming off of the best season of his career with averages of 25.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game during his eighth campaign with the Charlotte Hornets. Having played in all 82 games, Walker ranked third in total points scored (2,159), field goal makes (731) and minutes played (2,863), fifth in 3-point makes (260), and 10th in free-throw makes (380), all of which helped lead to his first All-NBA selection.
As talented of an athlete as Walker is, his most valuable asset may be his character. He earned the 2017 and 2018 NBA Sportsmanship Award, which is given annually to a player who “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court with ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity.” That type of lead-by-example approach from a star player is something that should benefit the Celtics’ locker room this season and beyond.
The Celtics may have one unique asset that no other team in the league would: an All-Defensive First Teamer coming off the bench. Leading Boston’s second unit, once again, could be the one-of-a-kind defensive mastermind, Marcus Smart.
After years of wreaking havoc against opposing offenses, Smart finally earned his first All-Defensive nod last season, while also earning the most Defensive Player of the Year votes among all guards. One of the contributing factors that allowed him to take a step forward in the voters’ eyes was his improvement in the steals department, as his 143 snags placed him third in the league behind Paul George (170) and James Harden (158).
With that being said, Smart’s most promising leap was on the offensive end, where he saw his shooting percentages skyrocket. The 25-year-old guard shot 51.1 percent from inside the arc and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc, which were both sizeable increases from his previous career marks of 42.2 percent and 29.3 percent, respectively. He also saw his turnover rate drop from 2.4 per game to just 1.5 per game, which indicated growth as both a ball handler and a decision maker.
Brad Wanamaker didn’t have many opportunities to shine last season, as he was buried behind Kyrie Irving, Smart and Terry Rozier on the depth chart. With two of those players now gone, however, the second-year point guard should be able to earn more playing time.
While his stints were often brief, Wanamaker still showed promise last season, as he averaged 3.9 points, 1.6 assists and 1.1 rebounds, while playing 9.5 minutes per game in 36 appearances. The 30-year-old international journeyman also shot 47.8 percent from the field and a team-best 41.0 percent from 3-point range, both of which were impressive clips for someone who played so sparingly.
Many NBA pundits believe Boston got one of the greatest steals of the 2019 Draft when it selected Carsen Edwards with the 33rd overall pick.
The Purdue product was one of the most prolific scorers in the NCAA last season, as he finished third in the nation in total points (874) and fourth in 3-point field goals (135). He also put on one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament performances of all time, as he topped 40 points twice and broke the single-tournament 3-point record with 28 long-distances makes in just four games.
The 6-foot-1 guard saw his scoring skills translate over to Summer League play, as he averaged a team-high 19.4 points per game during just 23.4 minutes of action. That near point-per-minute rate suggests that Edwards could immediately impact Boston’s offense as a microwave scorer off the bench.
Another rookie ball handler who showed promise during Summer League was Tremont Waters. The 51st overall pick from this year’s draft was Boston’s leading passer during the summer session, having averaged 4.8 assists to go along with 11.2 points and 2.0 steals per game.
The 5-foot-11, New Haven, Connecticut native excelled in the passing game in college as well. He set an LSU freshman record with 198 assists during the 2018 season, breaking Ben Simmons’ former record by 40.
Waters was also one of the top defenders in the NCAA last season, as he finished second in the country in steals per game (3.03) and was named SEC Co-Defender of the Year.
As a two-way player, Waters will split his time between the Celtics and their G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.