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.
While ball handlers – the first group we outlined in our roster breakdown – could be considered as filling the most important role on the court, the wings unquestionably play the most versatile role on the court. These are the players that will slash, score and defend, and could very well wind up filling in both as ball handlers and as bigs.
The quietest acquisition the Celtics made all offseason was adding a fully healthy and operable Gordon Hayward to their roster. A season ago, he was “healthy,” but he sure wasn’t himself. The expectation is that he will be far closer to his former All-Star form during his second active season with the Celtics.
Many forget how good this guy was before he broke his ankle on Opening Night in 2017. He was an All-Star in the Western Conference during the 2016-17 season while averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He developed himself into an athletic playmaker who was able defend at a high level.
That athleticism will surely show face far more often this season; if not every night, then most nights. He’s going to be a focal point of the offense with his playmaking and shooting abilities. This version of Hayward – after a full offseason of workouts with no restrictions – is a player the Celtics simply did not have last season.
Jayson Tatum is the second-highest rated player on the Celtics when it comes to ESPN’s NBArank. Tatum came in as No. 35 player in the league, behind only Kemba Walker on the Celtics, who was ranked No. 17.
It says a lot about Tatum’s reputation that he is ranked so high after just two seasons in the NBA. The league knows that he has superstar talent, which was on full display during Boston’s run to Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. He was Boston’s No. 1 scoring option during that run.
He might not be the unquestioned No. 1 option this season, but alongside Walker, he should be option 1A at the very least. Tatum has reportedly worked all summer to ease away from the midrange game, which was considered by many to be a chink in his armor, and concentrate on 3s and layups. Doing so this season should result in a spike in both free-throw rate and offensive efficiency for the ultra-talented 21-year-old.
Tatum averaged 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.9 free throw attempts per game last season. It would be a safe bet to expect all of those numbers to improve this season.
Jaylen Brown was a late addition to Gregg Popovich’s Team USA squad this summer, but he wound up playing a key role for the team at the World Cup. His average of 20.0 minutes per game ranked fifth on the team (minimum three games played) and he finished the tournament with averages of 7.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
Those numbers might not raise any eyebrows, but much of Brown’s play did. He was asked to be a defender and a rebounder, both of which he did at a high level, and he also shot the ball well (48.8 percent on 2s, 35.3 percent on 3s) and showcased an improved level of aggression.
The Celtics want more of that this season. With the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Marcus Morris, Brown has moved up the totem pole when it comes to standing within the offense. He, like Tatum, will now slide into a similar role to the one he filled during the 2018 postseason.
Semi Ojeleye is a great piece for any team to have in its rotation. He’s a strong and versatile defender who is willing to accept any role. That’s a rare combo.
Ojeleye, who is entering his third season, has been called on at times to step into the lineup and serve as the team’s primary defender against the likes of league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and others. He has performed well in such a role, and there’s no reason to expect anything different this season.
The one area where Boston needs Ojeleye to improve is with his 3-point shooting. He made 32.0 percent of his 3s as a rookie and 31.5 percent of his 3s as a second-year player. Eclipsing 35.0 percent this season would be a welcomed improvement.
There may be no bigger question mark on Boston’s roster than No. 14 overall pick Romeo Langford. He is an unknown quantity to the team’s fan base because an injury prevented him from playing in Summer League.
That injury has since healed, and word out of the Auerbach Center is that Langford has been very impressive throughout the remainder of his summer workouts. That’s no surprise, considering that he was the No. 5 recruit in the nation coming out of high school – behind only R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Bol Bol.
Langford played the majority of his one and only season at Indiana with a torn ligament in his shooting thumb, yet he still averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. At 6-foot-6, with a wingspan that nearly reaches 7 feet, and with a high level of skill to boot, Langford has all of the tools to make a surprise impact this season.
Max Strus, who is signed to a two-way contract with the Celtics, has the potential to be a deadly outside shooter. He shot 36.3 percent from beyond the arc last season for DePaul, while serving as the team’s primary scoring option. His percentages are likely to improve as a spot-up shooter.
Boston clearly sees potential in Strus as an off-ball shooter, a playmaker and a respectable defender. The 6-foot-6 wing will hone his craft for the majority of the season under the tutelage of Red Claws Head Coach Darren Erman, who served the last four seasons as the Associate Head Coach of the New Orleans Pelicans.
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