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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:
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”