The Boston Celtics’ top five players in net rating through 11 games are all reserves. Considering how the Boston bench was maligned last season for its lack of depth and consistency, this seems particularly notable.
This season you’ll find Jeff Teague (plus-14.8), Semi Ojeleye (plus-14.6), Payton Pritchard (plus-13.0), Robert Williams (plus-12.8), and Tacko Fall (plus-10.6) before you bump into typical team efficiency leader Jayson Tatum (plus-6.2).
All this despite the fact that the bench has been essentially operating shorthanded this year. Not only has Boston had to pull up one reserve to the starting group nightly in place of an injured Kemba Walker but the team has routinely been thinned by health and safety protocols. What’s more, Romeo Langford, a top bench option when healthy, is sidelined for the start of the season as well.
Boston’s backups have upped their output, led in large part by the contributions of rookie Payton Pritchard, who is fourth on the team in both minutes and scoring. The Celtics’ bench ranked 29th in scoring last year at 28.5 points per game. This year that number has spiked to 36 points per game. More impressive is the efficiency at which the bench is operating, shooting 48.9 percent from the floor (2nd best in the NBA and up from 45.6 percent a year ago) and 40.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc (5th best, up from a gruesome 31.8 percent last season).
Teague, recruited to add depth in Walker’s absence and steady the bench, has given the group a veteran presence. But it’s the play of rookie Pritchard and Ojeleye that has been particularly notable.
"We've seen it with Payton before the guys went out. Payton has been doing it, coming in and really excelling,” said Marcus Smart. "Really just surprising us and everybody else in this league. He's showing that he belongs here.
"Semi's been doing this for as long as I can even imagine right now and we're really excited for those guys, especially Semi. He doesn't get as much playing time. He doesn't get much talked about, he doesn't get much exposure. But that guy works his tail off every day, day in and day out. He never complains, he comes in and he's professional, and he waits his time. When it's his turn and his number's called, he comes out and he applies what he's been working on and he comes to rise to the occasion.
“So we're not surprised that those guys are having the nights consistently that they are. We're just happy for those guys to be able to continue to do that.”
It’s fair to wonder if the Boston bench can be even more productive whenever this team is back at full health. Walker could be back as early as next week, which will give the team more bench depth. Langford, recovering from wrist surgery, could be back next month.
What’s more, Boston has a $28.5 million trade exception from delivering Gordon Hayward to the Hornets that could be utilized to acquire additional depth later in the season without having to send out salary.
Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Walker are going to account for most of Boston’s scoring this season. The bench doesn’t necessarily have to shoulder a load there. Reserve groups will almost always have one of those players on the court as a focal point.
But the bench has shown it can consistently impact winning, whether that’s providing a needed jolt and changing the energy of a game. Or Pritchard swooping in for a game-winning putback in Miami.
Yes, this year’s Celtics have a little something extra in reserve.