The Celtics could have their preferred starting 5 on the floor for only the seventh time this season Wednesday night, but the trickle-down effect could be a boost for a bench unit that’s made individual strides lately but hasn’t been able to parlay that into group success.
Consider this: Boston’s starters are averaging 80.5 points per game this season, the fourth highest total in the NBA. The bench is averaging 26.6 points per game, the second-lowest mark, while shooting a meager 38.9 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Injury woes to starters, especially the extended absences of Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams, hasn’t allowed Boston’s bench mob to develop much continuity. It hasn’t helped that second-year players Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard have struggled and have seen limited roles.
But with the Celtics possibly at full health for Wednesday’s visit from the Philadelphia 76ers, there’s an opportunity for Boston’s reserves to show they can more routinely impact winning.
For this week’s Forsberg Four on Celtics Post Up, we dug into the numbers behind the encouraging recent individual play from some of Boston’s key bench players:
CAN’T SPELL LANGFORD WITHOUT THE “D"
Opponents are shooting a mere 37.8 percent when guarded by Romeo Langford this season. That’s 6.1 percent below his opponents’ expected field goal percentage, the best number on the Celtics among regulars.
Langford has made defense his calling card early in his pro career and he’s subtly making life miserable for perimeter players, especially near the basket.
Opponents are shooting 11.2 percent below expectation on all shots inside 10 feet and Langford routinely uses his size and length to harass his defensive assignments. The Celtics are limiting opponents to a 103.5 points per 100 possessions with Langford on the court, or 1.4 points less than their season average. That defensive rating dips to 101.5 with Langford on the court over the last 10 games.
LET FREEDOM RING
Enes Freedom is a known rebound vacuum but this season he’s corralling 16.8 percent of all Boston’s misses when he’s on the floor, the best offensive rebound rate of his entire career. In fact, it’s the best mark in the NBA by nearly two percent.
Freedom is eighth overall in total rebound percentage among players averaging 10-plus minutes per game. Also notable: Opponents are shooting a mere 36.5 percent against Freedom this season, or 8.6 percent below expectation.
Now, some of that is a small sample size, but Freedom saw opponents shoot 48.8 percent against him during his first tour in Boston. Even if Williams is back in the starting lineup on Wednesday night, we’d expect Freedom to get some reps jousting with Joel Embiid and his defense will truly be put to the test.
MAESTRO OF THE MIDRANGE
Josh Richardson is stuffing analytic nerds (like me!) in lockers this season by feasting from the mid-range. He’s shooting a robust 54 percent (26 of 48) on all midrange jumpers, including making an absurd 62.1 percent of all long midrange jumpers (14 feet or deeper).
Now, it’d be nice if he could shuffle back a couple steps and shoot anywhere close to, say, 40 percent on 3-pointers (he’s at 34 percent from the season). But beggars can’t be choosers for a Boston team desperate for bench scoring.
Richardson’s defense has been excellent and you can’t help but think the Celtics hold off the Spurs in San Antonio if he had been out there to help against their big guards. Richardson will have no shortage of motivation Wednesday after an underwhelming one-season stint with the Sixers a couple years back.
MAKE ROOM, STEPH AND LARRY
Only nine players in league history have landed in the 50/40/90 shooting club — shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc, and 90 percent at the free throw line — but a quarter of the way through the 2021-22 season, Grant Williams finds himself in rare air.
Williams has emerged as Boston’s most confident 3-point threat and is shooting 51 percent from the corner (call it Grant’s Tomb, because he’s burying everything). Now, is it sustainable? After shooting 58.8 percent at the free-throw line last season, that might be the hardest number to maintain, especially on limited free throw attempts.
But Williams has been fantastic from all over the floor. While we tend to fixate on his 3-point explosion, Grant Williams is shooting 86 percent at the rim (18 of 21 overall). That’s up 24 percent from last season and a crazy number for an undersized big. The real question: Can Williams maintain his production even if he’s playing a smaller role off the bench.