Jeff Teague and Grant Williams are out. Javonte Green and Aaron Nesmith are in. Except when they’re not.
The Celtics have looked marginally more capable with a tightened rotation. That’s how it usually works, right? Jeff Teague and Grant Williams are mostly out, Aaron Nesmith is in, and Javonte Green makes guest appearances.
Herein lies a longstanding conflict I have: nobody knows who’s playing from game-to-game.
The rotation shakeup is pretty well justified. Grant Williams, who I appreciate and will always believe in, needs to hit the reset button. Individual player production is what it is, but Grant looked visibly frustrated at almost all points in the game, which is a losing formula. He doesn’t deserve any blame, just a break. A vacation, if you will.
Boston’s 26 fouls committed per game ranks them 26th, and Grant fouls at a breakneck pace. He’s averaged exactly 7.5 fouls per 100 possession in both this season and the last, which I feel is skewed by the short leash that comes with fouling too much. In other words, that number could be even higher if Brad Stevens let him play through his foul trouble like the starters are often allowed to.
As for Teague, how long is the grace period for a player to fit in on a new team? I don’t put a ton of stock in offensive rating as I believe it reflects more on the team than the individual, but I’ll note that Teague is the only Celtic besides Tremont Waters with a sub-100 offensive rating. What drives me insane about the Celtics’ offense in general – which is exacerbated by Teague – is the incredibly slow pace that the offense takes to do anything.
Remember when Gordon Hayward would bring the ball back out when the offense broke down so he could make the most of a dwindling shot clock? That’s kind of what Teague does, except he backs the ball out with 17 seconds left. Whether it’s by Brad’s design or Teague’s twisted desires, I can’t say. But the Celtics are 23rd in pace, and while it’s easy to blame the players, this particular issue seems structural rather than personal. The team has plenty of players capable of passing. The style of offense they play doesn’t accommodate it at all. Teague doesn’t do much in isolation, nor does he move the ball, which presumably cost him his minutes.
Not that it’s a fair comparison, but Teague has a lower assist percentage than Boston’s top four players and a higher turnover rate than all of them. You can also see that his true shooting numbers are absolutely dwarfed by Payton Pritchard’s, as well as the rest of the team.
Enter Aaron Nesmith. You know what he’s really good at? Rebounding. Is that what they need him to do? Well, not necessarily, but I’m not complaining. The Tayshaun Prince-style chase down blocks in transition are nice as well, given that the Celtics have to play transition defense even after they score.
Nesmith has played in 15 out of 30 games. He’s logged over 20 minutes four times in Feburary alone after having never crossed that mark in team’s first 25 games. (He played 19:30 on December 30th against Memphis and 19:36 on February 19th against Atlanta, if you want to include those.)
Even without any big breakout moments, having a wing play 20-ish minutes per game and not get crushed on defense or turning the ball over on offense is sorely needed. The bar is extremely low given how poorly the team has played when Jayson Tatum sits, but it’s something.
Finally, Javonte Green started a game the other day, which means he’s started more games than Robert Williams. As an energy guy, Javonte absolutely deserves the minutes he gets. As I’ve said many times I only care about two things when I watch basketball: playing hard and making smart decisions. Javonte is on the short list of players who I believe have consistently done both in his time on the floor this season.
The harsh reality is that Green, Nesmith, Williams, Teague, among others, have offered virtually nothing on the offensive end and you can only have so many players like that, no matter how good they are at other things. The lack of consistent playing time is an issue that falls mostly on coaching, and based on the past eight seasons, I don’t expect that issue to be fixed.
The Celtics are usually exceptional at optimizing players with odd or unique skillsets, but they don’t have anyone like that right now outside of maybe Marcus Smart. Now, they have to win games in, like, the normal way? I don’t know how to put it. The NBA is now a league of specialists, but the Celtics are a team of well-rounded basketball players. I’m not sure how they patch the holes without players who excel in specific areas like rebounding and passing. I mean, Rob Williams is the perfect example of a unique skillset that the Celtics turn into a killing machine, but he’s evidently on a minutes restriction because of his pesky hip.
More to the point, the Celtics rotation is deep in the same way that a cave is deep. Sure, there’s plenty of room to explore, but are you prepared to live in a cave? Doesn’t a house have all the best qualities of a cave without being an actual cave? The Celtics need to build a house.
I’m running out of analogies.