Celtics Lead

Breaking Down Boston’s “Bench With Attitude”

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While much of the Boston Celtics’ hype is centered around their switchable, exciting, fully healthy starting lineup, the bench returns as the same productive six-man unit. Last year the second-stringers became key players during the team’s onslaught of injuries. Marcus Smart lead with defensive intensity, Marcus Morris shut down LeBron James, Aron Baynes learned how to shoot threes, and Terry Rozier created his own brand. With a whole summer to grow together, expect an already stellar bench to become possibly the best in the NBA. Marcus Morris christened this squad the “Bench With Attitude” on Media Day. Their toughness and talent evidently back up the nickname.

Terry Rozier, Point Guard

Photo courtesy of Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

“Scary Terry” is an appropriate moniker for one of the most dangerous bench players in basketball. Rozier produced before the playoffs and lead with pride during the postseason. He’s an exemplary rebounder and defender for a point guard, averaging 4.7 rebounds per game and posting a 104 defensive rating during the 2017-18 regular season. He’s not a prolific passer, but the C’s bench needs Rozier more as a bucket-getter.

Rozier’s biggest trouble area lies with his shot consistency. Despite making 38% of his triples last year, Rozier was a poor mid-range shooter. However, during the playoffs, Rozier stepped up his close-range accuracy while slipping to 34.7% from long range. If he can even out these bumps, Rozier will become a dominant scorer among all point guards in the league. Still just 24, Terry Rozier is ready to thrive as a high-usage bench leader.

While Scary Terry looks like an ideal prospect to develop, the Celtics are hard-pressed to find any spending money, and Rozier becomes a restricted free agent next summer. His services could be used by many NBA teams, and his youth fuels perceived upside. The Celtics may want to trade Rozier to get a return before he potentially leaves in July of 2019. At the same time, he also plays a huge role in a potential Celtics championship run. Rozier’s situation will be watched closely by many NBA teams.

Marcus Smart, Shooting Guard

Photo courtesy of Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Marcus Smart may be the heart of the Boston Celtics, but his lack of offensive game keeps him from becoming a true two-way threat. Smart improved his shot by the narrowest of margins last year, turning in a field goal rate of 36.7% (30.1% from deep). These numbers are horrendous, and get even worse in the playoffs, where Smart shot merely 33.6% from the floor. This lead to offensive ratings under 100 and increased desperation by Celtics fans to glorify Smart’s prowess on the other end.

To his credit, Smart is still one of basketball’s best defensive guards. He’s also a solid facilitator, as shown by his 4.8 assists per contest last year. Smart may never become more than a seventh man unless he makes dramatic offensive improvements, but his passion is vital to the chemistry of the Celtics. He’ll also be playing this season after losing his mother in September, a tragedy that could either damage Smart’s energy or give him extra motivation. The team and the fan base will all rally around the 24-year-old throughout the season.

Semi Ojeleye, Small Forward/Power Forward

Photo courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As a rookie second round pick, Semi Ojeleye dealt with his fair share of struggles adjusting to the pro game. He shot just 34 percent from the floor, did not pass or rebound especially well, and generally failed to make any meaningful impact in his low-usage role. Ojeleye showed promise on the defensive end, especially when matched up against one of the league’s terrors in Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, he has a long way to go if he wants to become a quality role-player on a championship contender.

Ojeleye played 34% of his minutes as a small forward last season, and given the Celtics’ wealth of bigs, he’ll likely spend more time at the 3 this year. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward project to absorb most of the time on the wing and overlap with the bench. This means Ojeleye will probably get another year of low-usage, low-pressure playing time to continue his development. Don’t expect much from the sophomore besides steady, general growth.

Marcus Morris, Power Forward/Small Forward

Photo courtesy of Christopher Evans

Marcus Morris does not bring the flash of some of Boston’s younger talent, but he is the epitome of reliable production. Though he battled injuries last year, playing in just 54 games, Morris displayed efficient scoring (13.6 PPG, 36.8% 3PT), solid rebounding (5.4 RPG) and useful defense. His admirable effort against Lebron James in the playoffs serves as a tribute to his veteran leadership. Morris has a tough, loud, bold personality that energizes Boston, similar to Smart.

The upcoming season is an important contract year for Morris. He currently makes $5.375 million, a team-friendly salary for a player that would start in most NBA rotations. Given Boston’s looming cap crunch, is he a long-term piece? Does NBA chess grandmaster Danny Ainge use Morris as a trade piece, or does he refrain from tampering with the chemistry of the team at the risk of letting Morris walk? The future is clouded. As long as Morris is on the roster, he fills an important need for the C’s. But come February, be ready for some swirling rumors.

Aron Baynes, Center

Photo courtesy of Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Originally a ho-hum signing last year, Baynes blossomed into a ferocious anchor for the Celtics. Though he averaged just over 18 minutes per game, Baynes set a career high in rebounds with 5.4 per contest. He also notched a 103 defensive rating and a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 2.1, both extremely high marks. The Australian shot 46% from mid-range during the regular season, demonstrating offensive ability as well.

In the playoffs, Baynes showed off a shocking new part of his arsenal: a three-point shot. After converting just 14.3% of his treys during the regular season, spring Aron Baynes made 11 of 23 attempts (47.8%)! If this small sample is no fluke, Baynes is suddenly a much more dynamic offensive center. Though he’ll no longer be starting due to Gordon Hayward’s return, he will be the primary center off the bench. And given Horford’s age and history of small injuries, Baynes will likely find plenty of spot-start duty over the course of the year. The big man is an impressive hidden gem for Boston.

Daniel Theis, Center

Photo courtesy of Brad Rempel

Though already 26, Daniel Theis enters his second year in the NBA after coming over from Germany. He was featured sparsely last year, but posted impressive numbers despite playing only 15 minutes per game. Theis shot a stunning 74% within three feet, as well as 54% from 10-16 feet and a poor-but-promising 31% from behind the arc. His per-36 minute stats include: 12.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Theis was also stingy on the opposite end, notching a defensive rating of only 100.

While a knee injury ended his season prematurely, Theis is the most talked-about secret in Boston. Unfortunately, he has the toughest path to minutes among the six current BWA members.  Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris have priority right now, and young guns Guerschon Yabusele and Robert Williams could make cases for time. If Theis continues to display the skill set he showed last year, he will likely maintain his current role. Look for him to grab more opportunities if Morris or Baynes go down with an injury.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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