Here are evaluations of Celtics coach Ime Udoka and the team’s main reserves this past season.
Ime Udoka: A-
Udoka displayed the same countenance when his team was stuck in 11th place in the Eastern Conference as he did when it marched to the brink of an NBA title. The players gravitated toward his steady, even-keeled approach and also appreciated his tough love.
Udoka said from the start that he wanted this team to be defined by a physical, relentless defense, then he constructed the most dominant unit in the NBA. He empowered star forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and developed comfortable rotations following a collection of February trades.
There were times during the playoffs when he may have leaned too heavily on his top players, leading to some fatigue and regression. For the most part, though, he pressed all of the right buttons.
Most rookie coaches would be thrilled to guide a team to the Finals, but when this run ended, Udoka was mostly disappointed that he had not finished the job. He wants more. Udoka and his players will be familiar with one another at the start of next season, and that should lead to a better start in his second turn.
Derrick White: B
The Celtics’ resurgence started just before White was acquired from the Spurs in February, but his arrival and some coinciding departures truly kicked it into overdrive.
During the regular season, the Celtics outscored opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions with White on the floor, the best net rating among the team’s regular rotation players. But that figure isn’t quite as glossy as it appears, because just about every lineup was dominant those final two months. Despite White’s sparkling net rating, the Celtics were actually 1.8 points per 100 possessions better without him on the court.
Most often, White’s finest playoff moments did not show up in the stat sheet. He helped slow Nets star Kyrie Irving in the opening-round sweep and was at times the best option to combat Warriors superstar Stephen Curry in the Finals. On offense, he was unselfish and helped the Celtics play with great pace, an important facet for an offense that stalled when there was too much isolation.
But his outside shooting struggles were glaring. In addition to him missing shots, teams played so far off him that it congested things for others. During the postseason, the Celtics were 5.5 points per 100 possessions better with White off the court than on it. There were times when his confidence seemed rattled, but maybe this playoff experience followed by a full offseason with the team will help.
Grant Williams: B+
In the 2020-21 season, Williams’s playing time was inconsistent and his role was murky. This past year, he created opportunities simply by proving that he has two important skills: Drilling open 3-pointers and being a physical defender who is capable of guarding any position.
The third-year forward, who famously started his career by missing 25 3-point attempts in a row, has improved his overall and 3-point field goal percentages each year, and he hit a commendable 41.1 percent from beyond the arc this past season. For much of the year, defenses acted as if Williams did not exist. And once they were forced to acknowledge him, he learned to effectively attack closeouts and create opportunities for teammates.
He does tend to spend too much time being a carping critic of the officials. He’s never going to get superstar calls, and the complaining becomes a distraction. But Williams also is a good teammate, and he helped make it clear that the Celtics would not back down from Draymond Green as the Warriors star attempted to bully them in the Finals.
Payton Pritchard: B
Pritchard may have been the biggest beneficiary of the February trades in which the Celtics sent out seven players and added just White and center Daniel Theis. After operating on the fringes of the rotation, he was thrust into an important role, and he mostly took advantage.
Pritchard is known for fearlessly and successfully firing up deep 3-pointers. He shot 41 percent from the arc in each of his first two seasons. But he has become reliable in other areas, too. His 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked ninth in the NBA, and his plus-9.3 net rating in the playoffs led Boston’s rotation players.
During the postseason, opponents put an emphasis on hunting mismatches against the 6-1 Pritchard with bigger players. But he’s deceptively effective at the defensive end of the floor. Among rotation players, his 103.2 defensive rating during the playoffs trailed only Robert Williams.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Pritchard went out with a whimper following a strong start to the postseason. After going 3 for 4 from the field and 2 for 3 from the 3-point line in the Game 1 win over Golden State, he was just 3 for 16 overall and 1 for 11 from three during the rest of the series.
Daniel Theis: C
The Celtics acquired Theis from the Rockets in February to provide defensive versatility and floor spacing that former center Enes Kanter Freedom simply did not. His familiarity with the franchise he spent his first 3½ seasons with was a nice bonus.
Al Horford is 36 and Robert Williams has battled injuries throughout the first four years of his career, so there was a need for a suitable backup. And Theis stepped in admirably for Williams during the opening-round sweep of the Nets.
But Theis is 30 and just finished the first season of a four-year, $35.6 million deal. That’s a lot for a player who received just spot duty during the conference finals and Finals.
Aaron Nesmith: C-
The Celtics had high hopes for Nesmith after he had a strong finish to his rookie year in 2020-21 and carried that momentum into the NBA’s Las Vegas summer league.
But he took a step back this year and never carved out a spot in the rotation despite all of the injuries and trades that created opportunities. Nesmith’s effort was never in question, but sometimes he appeared to be moving too quickly for his own good, blurring the line between hustling and being out of control. He had more turnovers (31) than assists (22), and connected on just 27 percent of his 3-pointers.