The Boston Celtics tip off training camp in 11 days. Their first preseason game is just 16 days away. The regular season tips in 32 days.
Yup, we’re little more than a month away from meaningful basketball games again. Let’s fill what’s likely the last quiet week of this abbreviated offseason by tackling your lingering questions in this week’s Celtics Mailbag.
How do we feel about big man depth? I personally feel this might be this squad’s Achilles heel. -- @ErosStudios
And we’ll combine that with …
Who will be the surprise in playing bigger minutes to limit wear and tear for Al Horford, Robert Williams III, and the Jays? Need them super fresh for playoffs ... but still get into top 4 in East. — @SBussberg
Consternation with Boston’s big-man depth is understandable. Horford is 36 and you would think the team would consider pacing him. Robert Williams III's injury history is well documented and the team won’t want to run him into the ground after he rushed back from a meniscus tear to aid Boston’s playoff run last season.
Last year, the Williams III-Horford duo combined to log 3,809 regular-season minutes, or roughly 48.4 percent of all available minutes at the 4/5 positions. That’s 4,000 minutes to fill if that duo remains as healthy as they did last year.
So how exactly will the Celtics fill those minutes this season with a depth chart that’s thinner on experienced big men? Boston will certainly go small and lean into their surplus of guard depth. But there’s also a lot of confidence in the team’s front office that Luke Kornet and Mfiondu Kabengele can fill depth minutes.
Some will scoff considering Kornet has played only 339 minutes over two stints with the team the past two years. But Kornet is the biggest body on the team at 7-foot-2, 250 pounds and he’s a capable body on both ends of the floor.
Kabengele used a strong summer to land a two-way slot. A good camp could put the former first-round pick in consideration for a full-time gig (though many of Boston’s camp bodies have more than four years of experience so there’s no obvious choice to shuffle into that two-way slot). You might have seen some summer hype videos with Kabengele knocking down a bunch of threes, but the Celtics would be content if he embraced a Clint Capela model and just used his size and athleticism to be a wiling rim runner and rebounder.
Grant Williams can certainly fill minutes in the "big" role, especially as a corner-office dwelling power forward, but only three percent of his total minutes last season came at the center spot (and his efficiency plummeted in that small sample, per Cleaning the Glass positional data). Williams did log 35 percent of his minutes as a center as a rookie (and had a glossy +7.0 net rating in those minutes, per CTG) but the team would probably prefer to have size alongside him. That being said, Williams can confidently defend bigger bodies and use his strength to hold his own if defending the 5 position.
Maybe a camp invitee like Noah Vonleh muscles into the conversation, too. Boston will give the current in-house talent every opportunity to win those available depth minutes and then gauge the need for upgrades further down the road.
Who's getting the final spot for camp -- grizzled vet, undrafted rook, or international recruit? — @philmillershart
Boston’s camp roster is set. Brodric Thomas, a two-way player last year, is the only one not yet formally inked to his Exhibit 10. Teams tend to churn camp invitees with the goal of funneling desired talent to the G-League but, for the moment, the Celtics seem content with the collection of former first-round picks that will comprise the end of the camp roster.
Now, if the question is who emerges with one of three currently open roster spots, my early guesses would be Jake Layman, Justin Jackson, and the Celtics keep the 15th slot open for maximum flexibility (and tax savings). Layman was a steady reserve in Portland and Minnesota. He fits Boston’s schemes and does enough to mask his perimeter shooting woes. Jackson has never quite tapped into his potential but got a call for a 10-day when the team was thin on bodies last year and then had a solid summer league.
Losing Galo with no replacement might cost us a championship. — @umpirejimmy1
For a team that desperately could have used some veteran depth pieces in the NBA Finals three months ago, it’s impossible to say that Danilo Gallinari’s absence is inconsequential. But the continued development of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will dictate the team’s championship hopes a whole lot more than the availability of a 34-year-old 9th man.
With four back-to-backs in the first couple of months, does coach Ime Udoka give the Jays games off to save them for the spring and hopefully summer? — @jluck_89
Horford will almost certainly get strategic rest. Maybe the Celtics tread carefully at the guard position given injury histories and the depth they have. But for Brown and Tatum, I think it’s more likely we just see Udoka simply try to keep their minutes lower. Tatum is a gamer who wants to be on the court each night. Brown has battled some injuries, most notably his hamstrings, but he’ll be eager to assert himself at every opportunity.
Who are the 5 that will start, and the 3 or 4 to be in the rotation? — @hendy73
I don’t see any reason to mess with what works. Boston’s starters were a wrecking ball last season. I think you see the same Tatum, Brown, Williams III, Horford, and Marcus Smart combo to start the year. Malcolm Brogdon will play plenty of minutes and maybe shuffle up to a starting role, especially if Horford gets rest. Brogdon, Derrick White, and Grant Williams should see the heftiest minutes off the bench. Kornet could play more than, say, Payton Pritchard depending on how Ime Udoka deploys talent. Pritchard deserves time; he might just have to be patient given the guard depth.
Which non-playoff team from last year has the best opportunity to be our first-round matchup? — @T_MacDonnell
Assuming the Celtics are a top seed then I doubt it would be Cleveland, who should be in the mix in the top half of the East. Maybe the Hornets? But forget the non-playoff teams. You might draw one of the returnees early. And while you want to believe that nothing can be quite as daunting as the Brooklyn-Milwaukee-Miami gauntlet the Celtics drew last season, this year could be equally tough. The East is overflowing with talent. A whole bunch of good teams could be in the play-in round and clawing their way into the 1-8 or 2-7 matchups.
Would you like to see Rob attempt a few jumpers per game? What improvements as a team do you hope to see for the upcoming season or would like to see? — @yella_ghost
Do you know how many shots Time Lord took outside of 14 feet last season? Seven. I don’t expect him to suddenly morph into LaMarcus Aldridge but I wouldn’t mind if he more frequently took advantage of teams that give him space. Reporters have seen him consistently hit midrange shots in practice. It feels like every Boston center eventually extends their range to the 3-point line. Now, we want Williams III near the rim as much as possible but he shouldn’t be bashful with his mid-range game.
When is Celtics Media Day? And where will we be able to watch it? — @GreenRuns4Ever
Media Day is Monday, September 26. We’ll have details soon on how you can stream the festivities live on NBCSportsBoston.com. And just go ahead and set your DVRs for NBC Sports Boston that night for even more takeaways from Media Day.