The Celtics’ bench could use an upgrade prior to the March 25 trade deadline. The return of Marcus Smart will certainly help the team’s depth, but there is still room for some help. Boston’s bench was a bit of an enigma during the first half of the season. Here are some evaluations:
Robert Williams: The emergence of Williams might have been the most promising development over the season’s opening half. His per-36-minute numbers: 15.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 2.4 assists, 2 steals. Williams is unlikely to play 36 minutes in any game this season, of course, partly because there are two other capable centers on the roster, and partly because his playing time remains limited after he missed most of last season because of a hip issue. But the 23-year-old has shown that he could be Boston’s big man of the future, potentially pairing with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for years to come. Williams still has occasional lapses and can be foul-prone, but his teammates love knowing that when they throw a lob in his general direction, he will probably handle it.
Jeff Teague: Teague’s first half probably best mirrored the Celtics’: sort of weird. He went from being the backup point guard to playing a total of just 31 minutes over an eight-game stretch in which Smart was not even available. Teague was second among rotation players in 3-point shooting (42.2) but last in overall field goal percentage (37.3). He often seemed to be hurting the Celtics when he was on the floor, but his plus-3.8 net rating was second among rotation players. He did go into the break on a high note, averaging 20 minutes during Boston’s current four-game winning streak, including 14-point nights against the Raptors and Clippers.
Payton Pritchard: Pritchard was pushed into duty when Kemba Walker missed the first 11 games of the season and the rookie quickly played a critical role in Boston’s 8-3 start. He had a last-second putback in a win against the Heat and a 23-point performance in a win over the Raptors. His progress slowed when he missed two weeks because of a sprained knee, and he went through a February shooting slump, but he appears to have snapped out of that. Some teams have targeted Pritchard on defensive switches, but he has often pushed aside size constraints with his pestering approach. He also enjoys soaring among trees to grab offensive rebounds that can make an opposing coach go bananas.
Semi Ojeleye: The Celtics probably would not have picked up Ojeleye’s option for this season if Gordon Hayward had returned. But Hayward left, Ojeleye came back, and he has shown signs of improvement in his fourth season. He is shooting a career-best 38.3 percent from beyond the arc and will continue to get open looks because he will often share the floor with considerably more dangerous offensive players. Boston has eight lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together this season, and Ojeleye is a member of the most dominant one. When joined by starters Tatum, Brown, Walker, and Daniel Theis, the Celtics outscored opponents by 36.7 points per 100 possessions.
Aaron Nesmith: When the Celtics selected the former Vanderbilt sharpshooter with the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft they were hopeful that he could provide much-needed scoring pop off the bench, much like Heat rookie Tyler Herro did last season. But that hasn’t happened. Nesmith quickly dropped far out of the rotation, even unable to get opportunities when Boston was severely undermanned. In mid-February he earned regular playing time with his hustle and defense. His 107.3 defensive rating actually leads the team. But Boston went just 2-5 in those games, and Nesmith did not play in the last three games before the break, all wins.
Grant Williams: Williams’s first half was inconsistent and he mostly slipped out of the rotation in February before erupting for 17 points in Thursday’s win over the Raptors, more points than he scored over the previous 12 games combined. He is actually Boston’s leading 3-point shooter, at 43.3 percent, yet teams continue to leave him so open that he usually has time to set his feet and think about things for a moment before firing away. His minus-6.6 net rating is the worst on the team. But coach Brad Stevens consistently praises Williams for his ability to stay ready and able despite his scattered opportunities.
Javonte Green: Last month the Celtics fully guaranteed Green’s contract for this season, and the former undrafted free agent who spent several years toiling overseas remains a lesson in perseverance. He started two games and has gained Stevens’s trust as an athletic and reliable defender. His 3-point shooting has ticked up a notch, from 27.3 percent last season to 31.8 this season, but a few more percentage points would make him a more alluring option. Among the end-of-bench players on this list, though, he seems like one of the few who has a decent chance to return in that role next season.
Carsen Edwards: Edwards was the third Celtics player, joining Tatum and Robert Williams, to test positive for COVID-19 in January. He said he experienced mild symptoms. His 16-point performance in last month’s road win over the Clippers was his only real first-half highlight. The bottom line is Boston drafted him to knock down 3-pointers, and his 32.4 percentage leads only Green and Smart.
Tacko Fall: Here’s one for the advanced stat fans: The Celtics have outscored opponents by 29.1 points per 100 possessions over Fall’s 57 minutes on the court. Theis has the next closest net rating, at plus-4.3. That tiny sample size was mostly built during blowouts, of course. But Fall did handle himself well in the Jan. 8 win over the Wizards, when Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams were out. Fall registered 4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 19 minutes. Fall has become more comfortable defending the pick-and-roll, and he runs the floor better than he did as a rookie. He is still not ready to be a regular contributor, however.
Tremont Waters: When Waters showed flashes of his potential as a rookie on a two-way contract last season, some wondered whether he could emerge as dependable backup this season. But he ultimately returned on another two-way deal, and the signing of Teague and the emergence of Pritchard have kept him on the bench. If there is a bright spot for Waters, it is that his assist-to-turnover ratio has gone from 1-1 as a rookie to 2-1 this season.
Romeo Langford: Langford has yet to play after undergoing offseason wrist surgery. The second-year wing is expected to make his debut relatively soon after the All-Star break, and the Celtics remain confident that he can be a key contributor.