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Meet the Celtics: Breaking down what each player on the 15-man roster will bring to the team

Marcus Smart (left), Jayson Tatum (center), and Jaylen Brown return to lead the Celtics once again. They'll face Joel Embiid (background) and the 76ers Tuesday at TD Garden.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Despite the turmoil surrounding the one-year suspension of coach Ime Udoka, the Celtics remain the favorites to win the NBA title this season. They return their entire core from last season’s squad, which came within two wins of a championship, and they’ve added important pieces, such as veteran guard Malcolm Brogdon.

With the season beginning Tuesday night against the 76ers at TD Garden, here’s a roster breakdown.

Jayson Tatum ▪ Forward

Tatum made another All-Star team and was named first-team All-NBA last year after spearheading the second-half surge. His forgettable Finals performance left a bad taste. Tatum’s 3-point shooting dipped for the second consecutive year, to a career-low 35.3, and despite his recent honors, it seems as if he remains on the fringes of superstardom — for now.


But he does not get enough credit for his defense, his durability, and his willingness to make the right play. He’ll continue to draw extra attention from defenses but needs to continue to attack and put pressure on them.

Jayson Tatum's performance in the NBA Finals left something to be desired.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Jaylen Brown ▪ Forward

Brown has made a habit of having dominant first quarters and then sometimes disappearing for long stretches. No one dominates all the time, but it will be important for him to be more consistent.

Brown’s perimeter-shooting numbers dipped this preseason, but he appears increasingly confident beyond the arc. His drives tend to turn into adventures, and it’s unlikely that his ball-handling will suddenly become elite. He just has to make better choices.

Still, he has looked comfortable this preseason and could be in position for a breakout year at 26.

Al Horford ▪ Forward/Center

Horford is probably tired of people asking when he is going to start crumbling. He turned 36 in June but has shown no real signs of slowing down. And it sounds as if he is prepared to play on back-to-back nights often this year.


So, until further notice, he remains a backbone of this defense, using his combination of awareness, strength, timing, intelligence, and agility to help keep the Celtics’ elite unit in lockstep.

It is worth pointing out that his bounce-back season last year followed what was essentially a year off in Oklahoma City. The wear and tear accumulated during last year’s Finals run could be more significant.

Al Horford (seen conferring with new coach Joe Mazzulla) is coming off the first Finals appearance of his career.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Robert Williams ▪ Center

Williams appeared hobbled after returning for the playoffs following surgery on his left meniscus, and now he is expected to miss about two more months after undergoing a maintenance procedure on that joint. The Celtics are confident this latest scope will help him return to form with no pain, and his health is probably the most important story line of the first half of this season.

Williams, who turned 25 Monday, is an above-the-rim force at both ends. He’s not an All-Star like Tatum, but he has more room for growth and has not touched his ceiling. The next step will be adding a consistent jump shot, but there’s no rush.

Marcus Smart ▪ Point guard

Last season was redemptive for Smart. He became the first guard to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award since 1996, and after watching teammates such as Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, and Kemba Walker get the keys to the Celtics offense, he was the point guard who led them to the Finals.


Smart’s confidence has never been higher, and it shows. His shot selection has gotten better, but there’s room for improvement. Late in games, Smart needs to yield to Tatum and Brown.

Marcus Smart is the longest-tenured Celtic on the roster.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Malcolm Brogdon ▪ Guard

Brogdon hasn’t come off the bench since the 2017-18 season but seems ready to fully embrace his role as a sixth man. The Celtics played fast during the preseason, and Brogdon was one of the major catalysts, pushing the ball and making quick, precise decisions to keep defenses off balance.

He’s a strong defender and a good long-range shooter, and he’ll be on the floor to close games more often than not.

Derrick White ▪ Shooting guard

White was something of an enigma for the Celtics after being acquired from the Spurs in February. He struggled with his outside shooting so much that defenses all but ignored him on the perimeter, making things even more challenging for the others. But he was a pest in Boston’s switch-heavy defensive scheme, and on offense he kept the ball moving, helping fix some of the team’s early-season stagnancy.

He should be more comfortable after having a full offseason and training camp as a Celtic.

Grant Williams ▪ Forward

Another late-first-round find by former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, Williams realized he can become valuable just by playing good defense and making open 3-pointers.

He’s capable of guarding all five positions and looks very comfortable spotting up from beyond the arc. He had some intriguing moments on fast breaks and attacking closeouts this preseason, potentially showing where he’ll grow this year.


Grant Williams had a laugh during media day.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Payton Pritchard ▪ Guard

It appears that Pritchard once again will be out of the regular rotation to start the season, but he’ll get chances when there are injuries, or even trades, and he has always stayed prepared.

Offenses have tried to pick on Pritchard over his first two seasons, but he’s a fierce competitor and generally offered enough resistance to make opponents consider other weak links.

Blake Griffin ▪ Forward

The former six-time All-Star was working out by himself in Los Angeles and hoping for another shot when the Celtics called following the injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams. Griffin struggled as a shooter with the Nets last season, but he has improved in that area overall and remains an above-average passer.

And he showed during the preseason that he can still scuffle for second chances in the paint, an important role on this small squad. Griffin also led the NBA in charges taken last year.

Sam Hauser ▪ Forward

In the summer of 2021, Hauser was a little-known undrafted free agent from Virginia just hoping to stick around the organization. Now, the sweet-shooting forward is on a fully guaranteed contract and will get a chance to fill the void created by Gallinari’s season-ending ACL tear.

His teammates really believe in him as a shooter, which is good for his confidence and theirs. Hauser just needs to show he can hold his own defensively.


Danilo Gallinari ▪ Forward

The veteran forward signed a two-year deal in July and was expected to provide much-needed scoring pop off the bench. But he tore an ACL playing for Italy in a World Cup qualifier last month and is expected to miss the entire season.

Gallinari is back in Boston and said he intends to continue his rehabilitation here. He surely is thankful he has a player option for next season, when he’ll be 35 and coming off a severe injury.

Luke Kornet ▪ Center

President of basketball operations Brad Stevens raved about the 7-foot-2-inch center publicly and privately, and truly believes he can be a contributor. Kornet spent parts of the last two seasons with the Celtics, so his familiarity will help, and he’s a decent option as a skilled big who can space the floor with shooting.

Noah Vonleh ▪ Forward/Center

The Haverhill native secured one of the final two roster spots and showed during the preseason he can help on the boards. Coach Joe Mazzulla is probably going to keep experimenting with lineups while Robert Williams is out, and Vonleh could get an opportunity to show he belongs.

Justin Jackson ▪ Forward

The sixth-year wing and Vonleh are examples of Stevens’s preference to fill the end of the roster with veterans who haven’t quite reached their potential rather than undrafted free agents who are essentially lottery tickets. Jackson had a 10-day contract with the Celtics last year and isn’t a bad break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.