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Now that the Boston Celtics have officially begun their preseason, it’s time that we break down the roster and provide an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like heading into the 2020-21 campaign.

Rather than classifying the players with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 positional tags, we are taking a page out of coach Brad Stevens’ book by placing each athlete into one of the following three roles:

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Ball handlers – Typically played by the 1.
Wings – A hybrid between the 2, 3 and 4.
Bigs – A hybrid between the 4 and the 5.
This week, we’ve analyzed the Celtics’ depth at the ball-handling and wing positions. Today, we wrap up our Roster Breakdown series by highlighting Boston’s bigs. As their title indicates, these are the largest players on the floor and they’re responsible for handling the post and protecting the rim.

Here are the players who will be sharing that job for the Celtics this season:

The Bigs
Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson
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The biggest acquisition that the Celtics made this offseason – both literally and figuratively – was the signing of veteran center Tristan Thompson. The 6-foot-9, 254-pound big man checks off a lot of boxes that the Celtics needed to cover heading into this season, from his interior scoring abilities to his rebounding and rim-protecting skills to his championship pedigree.

After spending his first nine seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sticking with them through the good and the bad, Thompson finally felt it was time to move on and join a young team on the rise that he believes has a chance to be a title contender. And being the only current member of the C’s with title experience, having been a member of Cleveland’s 2016 championship team, Thompson knows what it takes to get over the hump of the Eastern Conference Finals and hopes to share his wealth of knowledge with his new teammates.

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Thompson also brings a combination of skills that the Celtics were in need of, being a tough, physical frontcourt player who can rack up boards on either end of the court. He’s averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding during each of the last two campaigns, including a career-high 12.0 points and 10.1 rebounds per game last season when he also averaged a career-best in assists with 2.1 per game.

Unfortunately, Thompson is currently sidelined with a hamstring strain, so we won’t see any of him this preseason. However, he’s not expected to miss much time at all, and possibly could be ready to go by the regular-season opener.

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If there was an unsung hero award for last year’s team, Daniel Theis would have surely been the recipient. The third-year big man stepped into a starting role after the departure of Al Horford and flew under the radar among Boston’s All-Star caliber cast of wings and ball handlers, while averaging career highs of 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

Theis earned a great deal of appreciation from his teammates for doing so much of the dirty work on both ends of the court. The 6-foot-8 center held his own against larger opponents under the rim, while also being versatile enough to step out to the perimeter to defend guards. He also proved to be one of the best sealers in the league, as he constantly put his body on the line to help pave easy paths for his teammates to get to the rim.

Due to the acquisition of Thompson, Theis might not be starting in 98.5 percent of his appearances like he did last season, but his role shouldn’t change much. And he’ll still be the team-first guy who will leave everything on the floor, while helping his teammates to maximize their potential.

Grant Williams

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Grant Williams is somewhat of an anomaly among this group because he could be slotted as either a wing or a big depending on how Brad Stevens wants to use him. Offensively, he spends a lot time behind the 3-point line, while defensively, he tends to guard interior scorers. But he can also post-up on the offensive end, and on the defensive end, he’s capable of switching onto any player thanks to his agility.

Even though Williams doesn’t have a specified role on last year’s team, his jack-of-all-trades nature allowed him to earn a substantial amount of playing time during his rookie season. And it should enable him to see even more of the court this coming season.

Tacko Fall described himself as a “traditional big” in his Zoom media availability on Sunday, which isn’t quite right.

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Fall might be traditional in that he spends most of his time setting screens and defending the rim, but he’s far from traditional in that he is listed at 7-foot-5 (Fall contests this and claims he is 7-foot-6) with a historic 8-foot-2 wingspan. He was one of the most popular players on the Celtics last year even though he logged 33 total minutes in seven games.

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Now, Fall is working to shed other aspects of the “traditional” label as well.

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“Coming out of college pretty much all I would do is run rim to rim and just post up in the block,” Fall said. “But here we run a lot of actions through the bigs, especially in the free-throw line area. So being able to handle the ball in there, being able to hand it off to the guards coming off screens, and being able to move without the ball was something I had to learn last year. I’ve done a lot of different things, especially with Coach Jay [Larranaga] to be able to help with that. I think that’s one of the biggest parts I’ve improved on.

“Defensively we have a different system. For example, I was used to playing back, pretty much. But now I’m more up through the screen and being able to move and understanding different reads and things like that, I think I’ve improved tremendously on it. I mean, I’m still a work in progress. I’m not where I want to be yet. I’m not where I know I can be at.”

Brad Stevens recently spoke on just how much the Celtics will be relying on the second-year forward. “We need him to make shots when he’s spacing behind the 3, we need him to be a ball mover, be a facilitator, and be able to guard as many positions as possible,” the coach said.

That’s a lot of responsibility to handle for a guy who just turned 22, but Williams has already shown that he’s fully capable of doing so.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams
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Robert Williams was one of Boston’s biggest surprises during its time inside the NBA bubble, emerging as a slam-dunking, shot-blocking spark plug off the bench after missing a large portion of the regular season with a hip injury. The Celtics utilized him significantly during their second-round series with the Toronto Raptors, against whom he shot a near-perfect 18-of-20 from the field (mostly via dunks).

As a result of his recent blossoming, the C’s seem to be quite high on Williams as he enters his third NBA season in search of an expanded role. It won’t be easy earning consistent playing time while playing behind Thompson and Theis, but the 23-year-old’s freakish athleticism and unbelievable length (6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan) should allow him to see plenty of action this season.

Tacko Fall

Tacko Fall
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Last season, Tacko Fall became an instant fan favorite among Celtics Nation. This season, he’s looking to grow into more than just that.

The 7-foot-5 center, who spent most of the 2019-20 season playing for Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, is hoping to take a giant-sized step in his development over the next several months. Throughout the past year, Fall has been working tirelessly with assistant coach Jay Larranaga to improve his game across the board, especially in his ball-handling ability and ability to make the right reads on the defensive end.

Fall believes that his hard work will begin to pay off this season, noting that, “The opportunity will definitely come, and with that I will gain more real game experience playing in the NBA … I’ve just got to stay patient and keep working and make sure I stay in top shape.”

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What should the Celtics starting lineup be at the start of the year?

Andrew Doxy: I feel really good about Smart-Brown-Tatum-Grant-Thompson and I’m probably wrong. Theis’ body of work over the last year as Boston’s primary center was certainly impressive. It’s just the defensive potential of that group is astounding, and that’s what keeps drawing me into that lineup. If Tatum can continue his tear from the playoffs, the offense will be just fine. It may lead to a few more Smart heat checks than usual, but this lineup is just so versatile. Grant’s shooting saw a serious uptick in the bubble/playoffs, so his position as a spot up shooter on offense and multi-positional defender on defense makes him the perfect plug-in at that four spot. Tatum and Brown could both be 25PPG+ scorers this year, Smart could continue his 15-5-5 output from the playoffs, and Thompson will be there to switch, protect the rim, and crash the boards relentlessly. Talking my way through it, I’m actually higher on this lineup now than I was when I started typing my answer to this question.

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Jeff Clark: Brad Stevens is a big fan of continuity, even if it means inserting someone unorthodox in the starting lineup to maintain the roles and rotations. That doesn’t mean that Pritchard should get the start at PG because I think this injury/load-management situation is specifically what Jeff Teague was brought in for. Inserting him in the lineup keeps Marcus Smart at the 2 guard (or “2nd ball hander” if you prefer). Brown and Tatum are obvious locks and I think I prefer Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup as well. Once Kemba comes back, Teague can shift into the backup role and everything else remains constant.

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Keith Smith: I think we know that Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are all locks. I assume Daniel Theis will start off the year as the starting center, in part for continuity reasons and also in part because Theis was really good as Boston’s starting center last season. That means Boston either goes big or inserts another ballhandler. Assuming Brad Stevens isn’t mixing and matching for opponents, I’m guessing he might go big with Grant Williams. That way, Jeff Teague stays in the backup ballhandler role. It also allows everyone else to slot in to what their regular role will be. Now that I’ve written this, Javonte Green or Tacko Fall will start, because it’s completely out of left field.

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Daniel Poarch: I’m going with Jeff Teague, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis, with some spot starts possible for Tristan Thompson against the Joel Embiids and Bam Adebayos of the Eastern Conference. I just can’t see Brad Stevens moving away from the lineup that triumphed over Toronto in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and with Walker hurt, I think Teague provides the smoothest replacement into that group.

In a different year, a starting role for Grant Williams or one of the rookies might be intriguing, but considering the warp-speed pace of the offseason and the Celtics’ general reticence to lean too heavily on youth, it just doesn’t feel likely. This setup allows the Celtics to open games with their most experienced lineups, and the young guard group of Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters have a chance to earn themselves a role filling the void at reserve guard that exists while Walker is absent. Given the fairly extreme circumstances, that seems beneficial across the board.

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Jaylen Brown is one of the most politically outspoken athletes in the NBA, and now he’s turning his attention to his alma mater.

The Boston Celtics wing tweeted a public endorsement of the campaign to change the name of Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, where he won a state championship before continuing his career at Cal.

The Wheeler name comes from Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general who hailed from Georgia and led cavalry for the South in the Civil War, but later went on to serve in the U.S. Army and Congress.

Brown followed up the tweet by urging his followers to retweet the link for exposure.

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The involvement of a major NBA player is the latest twist in an extended saga around Wheeler High School, one of many campaigns to remove Confederate names and imagery in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) dribbles the ball during the second half of an NBA game against the Washington Wizards.
Jaylen Brown wants his old high school’s name changed. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
A committee had been previously formed by the Cobb County School Board to review the names of Wheeler High School and Walton High School, the latter named after a slave owner who signed the Declaration of Independence. However, the Board voted again in November to disband the committee before it had even held a meeting.

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The vote to disband the committee was reportedly split across party and racial lines, with every vote in favor coming from a white Republican and against from a Black Democrat. Board chair Brad Wheeler was reportedly responsible for the reversal, having previously voted to form the committee. Wheeler reportedly claimed the decision to change the name should come from the Board itself, though no meeting to address the issue is currently scheduled.

Wheeler High School, where the plurality of students are Black, opened in 1965, at a time when schools across the South were being named after Confederate figures as a backlash against the Civil Rights movement.

From the Equal Justice Initiative:

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Historically, the practice of naming schools to honor the architects and defenders of slavery has been part of a broader effort to maintain racial hierarchy in the U.S. In particular, many schools were given Confederate-themed names in the 1950s and 1960s as Southern states mounted what they termed “Massive Resistance,” a coordinated effort by governors, legislators, and other white leaders to resist the racial integration of public schools. As federal law increasingly required school desegregation, white communities built new schools — schools that were either explicitly or implicitly intended for white children only — and named those schools after white Southerners who were notorious racists.

This isn’t the only place where Wheeler’s legacy is seen in the modern United States. A statue of the man can still be found in Congress, Georgia’s Wheeler County is named after him and several locations in Alabama, which he represented in Congress, can also be found with his name.

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Bill Sy: Let’s get nuts. I know that in years past, the Celtics have featured a five-man unit of do-it-all players that maximizes versatility and switchability. With Kemba shelved and Hayward a Hornet, that creativity is gone. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown locks and taking on more playmaking responsibilities, I want a shooter out there and if his three-point accuracy translates to the pros, that means Aaron Nesmith. Marcus Smart seems like the logical choice to replace Kemba at the point, but I’ve always loved him more coming in as the sixth starter as a, well, gamechanger. I’ll go with the vet Jeff Teague. He won’t play nearly as much as Smart, but I like his steady hand to start games with Tatum and Brown. At center, Daniel Theis makes the most sense. He’s healthy and he’s earned it, but there’s something about the added nasty the Celtics would get out of Tristan Thompson that is so alluring to a fan of old school basketball.

Greg Brueck-Cassoli: I’ll take Teague/Smart/Tatum/Brown/Theis. Boston lost the ability to play super versatile lineups all the time with the departure of Gordon Hayward, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t lean into that strategy as much as possible. Slotting Teague into the starting lineup leaves a terrifying hole at the backup point guard spot, but I’d rather roll the dice on a bench ball handler than risk cramping things offensively with a double big starting unit. One crazy option would be to toss Aaron Nesmith into the fire as a starter right away, and leave Teague on the bench to run backup duties, but that’s probably a little too outside the box.

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Bobby Manning: Smart-Brown-Tatum-Grant-Thompson. Go all defense to start games and rotate in offensive sparks off the bench like Jeff Teague, Daniel Theis and Aaron Nesmith with other starters. Some matchups will call for three wings. Some will call for Daniel Theis. I don’t expect a constant starting lineup in December or January. This should be the group most nights though.

Adam Taylor: I think that Theis will be the starting center to begin the season. With how short training-camp is going to be, and the minimal time Thompson has been with the team, it makes more sense to roll out a veteran of the system to begin with.I would assume the starting lineup is going to be Smart – Brown – Tatum – G Williams – Theis. But, I do agree with Bill in the sense that Nesmith could be a valuable starter, with Tatum sliding up to the 4-spot. One thing I’m certain of, is that we’re going to see a lot of funky lineups in the coming weeks, and everyone will get their chance to stake their claim.