The bench has been one of the biggest question marks for this Celtics team all year long and that’s largely been a byproduct of Boston’s poor health situation before the Orlando bubble With such a top-heavy starting lineup, Brad Stevens always planned on his second unit lineups having 2-3 starters (or Marcus Smart) on the floor at all times. That was rarely able to happen in the first 65 games of the regular season as the C’s only found themselves with their core five players fully healthy for 15 of those games.
Those absences usually forced Marcus Smart into the starting five and left the C’s bench lacking name recognition and firepower on the offensive end. Defense has always been the priority for this group in the Stevens era but the offensive production for the undermanned bench was a serious drag on this team in the first three quarters of the season and the numbers show that.
Celtics bench pre-Orlando (64 games)
27.2 ppg (29th)
45.4 percent shooting from field (15th)
32.6 percent from 3 (25th)
6.1 FTA per game (20th)
+1.1 net rating (7th)
Boston’s bench was largely propped up in these games offensively by design with the likes of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown carrying the offense for stretches. However, the inconsistent 3-point shooting and inability to score put the C’s in a bind on many nights when the starters came out flat. With younger players being put in spots they weren’t ready for yet, the C’s suffered once the injuries starting piling up.
Danny Ainge saw this happening at the trade deadline but opted against even adding an offensive-minded rental like Alec Burks or Davis Bertans to the mix. He didn’t want to steal shots from his core and believed that this bench group would be better if and when it got to full strength.
That has happened in Orlando after a four-month layoff. Kemba Walker is still working his way towards full strength in regards to his sore left knee but the C’s core has remained at full strength for the entire run of seeding games before everyone got the day off on Thursday. The end result has been everyone falling back into their planned role with Marcus Smart coming off the bench for big minutes. Brad Wanamaker has turned into a second guard off the bench as a secondary ball handler instead of an initiator as well.
Stevens has also had more options at center now beyond just Enes Kanter with the return of Rob Williams to full health. We’ve already covered some of his standout play in the past week that has helped him force his way into the rotation after spending the first three games on the bench.
And while the Celtics reserves weren’t exactly impressive in Thursday’s 96-90 loss to the Wizards on a day Boston’s top-six got the day off, the ones who matter for the postseason looked good.
Enes Kanter: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists in 18 minutes
Brad Wanamaker: 6 points, 4 assists in 18 minutes
Rob Williams: 6 points in 6 minutes on 3-of-3 shooting
Semi Ojeleye: 13 points, 8 rebounds 2-of-6 from 3
It’s these four and Smart that will make up Boston’s bench rotation until further notice. Grant Williams and Romeo Langford could be called upon situationally if one of these four struggles defensively but they are on the outside looking in right now. With Ben Simmons out, Ojeleye may not even play much against the Sixers. Kanter, Wanamaker, R Williams and Ojeleye have been the mainstays in the rotation with Smart in Orlando and have delivered far steadier production in their natural roles than we saw earlier this season amid the injuries. Let’s first look at the bench play in Orlando over the seven games when the regulars played.
Celtics bench production in Orlando (7 games)
50.5 percent shooting (3rd)
35.7 percent from 3 (11th)
39.6 ppg (10th)
9.6 FTA per game (7th)
+4.2 net rating
That’s a 50 percent jump in points per game in the bubble for the second unit. While it may be tempting to point to Smart for the scoring gains, he’s actually struggled mightily with his shot (32 percent from field, 8.9 ppg) in Orlando thus far. Instead, it’s been the likes of R. Williams and Wanamaker that have been giving the C’s production a lift off the pine on a nightly basis. Let’s take a look at a few bright spots we’ve seen already
Brad Wanamaker: 71.1 percent true shooting (best among guards on the team)
Rob Williams: 84 percent shooting from the field (22-of-26)
While the individual production has been stellar, the team play on the court has been even better in the