In the past year, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams III and Marcus Smart have worked primarily as starters in Boston. And when it was the fifth start on the field, Boston set an impressive 27-7 record.
Granted, injuries got in the way and derailed frequently. However, for the upcoming 2022-2023 NBA season – outside of Danilo Gallinari – the Celtics should be relatively good to go on healthy.
So, with a healthy squad, coach Aimee Odoka has a decision to make. Does he maintain the same freshman who brought the Celtics back to life last season, or does he opt for fresh blood? Regardless of who takes the field first in Boston, the key five can go in two different directions and potentially seat one key player.
Defensive Player of the Year had an undeniably impressive performance on the defensive side of the ball last season. He even started every game he played in. However, this was not always the case in Smart’s career.
In his early years with C, Smart was a spark off the bench that saw plenty of minutes as the sixth man. He’s no stranger to that spot on the spin, so it wouldn’t be a shock if Boston decided to bring him back in the role.
The Celtics player with the longest tenure could disagree with this potential move, but in many ways it makes sense. Although he missed just 11 games in the regular season last year, Smart had multiple nagging injuries that kept him briefly in the playoffs. A sixth man role could help him circumvent these health issues later in the season, and some of his best work has been in matches he came off the bench.
While fellow rookie Robert Williams is no stranger to injury error, Gallinari’s ACL injury he suffered this summer has limited the C-Team to his big men. Before that, Williams may start out in a role on the bench, but his size and edge-guarding capabilities make it difficult to replace him.
Smart is certainly critical to Boston’s success as well, but the Brogdon acquisition changes a lot. First of all, Brogdon has a game similar to Smart. He is a great defender who can also shoot and act. They both averaged 5.9 assists per game last year, but Brogdon is the best player in replays and goal. Having someone in the starting lineup who can remove any offensive burden from Tatum and Brown could be very tempting for Udoka.
Of course, Smart can also record, but not reliably. He doesn’t shift in his three-point shot consistently like Brogdon and can catch a cold at the worst of times. If Smart returns to the bench, he will probably feel less pressure to take questionable triples and settle easier into a smaller offensive role.
No matter who gets the starting point, there’s no doubt that Smart should keep most of his minutes. The goalkeeper was the Defensive Player of the Year for a reason and he is C.’s heart and soul. With that being said, that doesn’t mean it has to necessarily start.
Brogdon has already said he would fit into any role the Celtics wanted, whether it’s a starting or sixth player. And while head of basketball operations Brad Stevens previously favored keeping the C-Team on a fifth start, that was before Gallinari’s devastating injury.
No matter which way the Celtics go, they have a team of great talent that can compete for the championship. Whether it’s from the bench or from the starting five, Smart and the company are eager to restart and return to the NBA Finals.