The Celtics were back at full strength for the first time since 2019 during Sunday’s scrimmage against the Suns. Kemba Walker saw his minutes extremely limited as he eases his way back into the lineup following knee soreness but we got our first clue of what the Celtics rotation could look like when everyone is in their proper spots.
A big part of how the Celtics will be working towards during the seeding games if they are able to achieve good health is finding out which players are the best match alongside the C’s starters and Marcus Smart. It’s highly likely three of those players will be on the court at all times during the postseason so Brad Stevens is going to be working towards maximizing that talent by finding the best lineup combinations in the coming weeks.
In order to do that, Stevens is going to have to mix and match a lot with a fairly even talent level across much of Boston’s young bench. There are different strengths and weaknesses for each guy, which will cause playing time to shift depending on the matchup.
“Every time you take the court or every time you don’t take the court you’re being evaluated for a future opportunity,” Stevens said Sunday. “And I think that’s a huge part of being a professional basketball player. It’s how you prepare, it’s how you guy about your business, it’s how you play when you get an opportunity, and it’s how you respond to how you played.
“All that stuff matters, so it really is about we’ll go back and look to see if we’re playing better but then it’s about getting better tomorrow. Some guys are showing some things that I think can make our best players better. And those will be the guys that end up in the rotation: the guys that can bring out the best in our best players.”
So where exactly does everyone on the bench stand after two scrimmages? After an in-depth look at the film and Stevens’ rotations in those games, let’s take a big picture look at the bench in an edition of stock watch, where we look at everyone outside of the core.
HOLDING STEADY IN ROTATION (These guys haven’t done much to impact their assumed bench status in Orlando in either direction)
Enes Kanter: The Turkish center has been the first big man off the bench in both games for the C’s. Stevens has worked to protect him against dynamic pick-and-roll ballhandlers (i.e. keeping him off the floor against Chris Paul on Friday) but he’s been a regular piece against bench bigs in the first half of both games. Kanter looks healthier than March, as he’s resorted to crashing the offensive glass hard, setting screens and building solid chemistry with Smart in the pick-and-roll. His defensive warts remain in place (guarding the perimeter, lackluster rim protection) but he’s outweighing those so far in Orlando with his rebounding/finishing. He knows his job is to rebound and crash the glass on offense, so he hasn’t been stealing any shots from the starters. As long as C’s aren’t facing a stretch big off the bench, Kanter will get the first crack at these minutes (with a short leash).
Brad Wanamaker: A mainstay of Stevens all year long in the rotation at backup point guard. He’s been playing off the ball a bit more with Walker back, which opens the door for Marcus Smart to do some ball-handling with the second unit. Wanamaker’s value will be as a catch-and-shoot player from beyond the arc when he isn’t running the show, along with being a player that doesn’t chase bad shots. His main weakness on display in Orlando will be defending quicker guards at the point of attack. He struggled at times against the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Stevens will likely try to avoid exposing him on that front in the playoffs. As long as he keeps hitting open 3s, his spot is safe with limited minutes.
Semi Ojeleye: Stevens has said not to read too much into scrimmage rotations but we are going to do so anyway here. Ojeleye was the first forward off the bench in both games, getting consistent playing time with a mix of starters and reserves. The early returns have been promising for him. He’s not going to fill up the box score but the C’s don’t need him to. He needs to be a willing shooter when open and steady on defense. He’s checked both boxes so far. As long as he’s able to maintain above-average shooting from 3 (36 percent), these are his minutes to lose.