In an ultra-competitive Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics are simply not up to snuff.
The 23-22 Celtics are barely clinging onto the 10th seed, placing them in the final play-in-round spot. It’s not much of a difference from last season’s 36-36 team that finished with the seventh seed and an early first-round exit.
While stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are shouldering the load, Boston isn’t getting much assistance from many of its younger players. The lack of production recently drew the ire of longtime sportswriter and Celtics fan Bill Simmons, who questioned how Boston is using and developing its youth compared to more-successful teams around the league.
The Celtics aren’t giving young players much playing time
In general, the Celtics are a young team. Tatum is 23, Brown is 25, and Marcus Smart is 27, so it’s not as if the majority of the team’s minutes go toward AARP members.
But Boston has a little-used plethora of young talent wasting away on the bench.
Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith are two such examples. Taken with the 14th overall pick in back-to-back years, the 22-year-old guards are each averaging less than five points a game off the bench. Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard are two other first-round picks from 2019 and 2020 averaging single-digit points with limited minutes.
Out of the eight players drawing more than 20 minutes a night, Williams is the only one with three or fewer years of experience. But the fourth-year power forward is still getting fewer minutes (22.6) than journeyman Josh Richardson (25.8) in coach Ime Udoka’s rotation.
The minutes Udoka could be giving to his younger players are instead going to a group of six veterans. Tatum, Brown, Smart, Dennis Schroder, Robert Williams, and Al Horford each see 29 minutes or more of action per game. In addition, all but Schroder have started every contest they’ve appeared in.
Bills Simmons is questioning how the Celtics use and develop their recent draft picks
Few will claim Langford and Nesmith should be every-day starters. But it is concerning how Boston’s recent lottery picks have produced so little during their brief time in the league.
Monday afternoon, a frustrated Simmons took to Twitter to express his displeasure with how Boston is deploying its recent draft picks.
“It’s hard to believe that after multiple years of standing uselessly in the corner on every possession, getting repeatedly buried from a minutes standpoint, and never being empowered to do a single thing offensively, that Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford haven’t gotten better. … And if you look at the way Memphis and Golden State have developed their young players versus what’s happened in Boston, it’s pretty clear that something is broken on the Celtics side. They’re doing this wrong, period, end of story.”Bill Simmons
The examples of Golden State and Memphis further enhance Simmons’ point. For instance, the Warriors have an MVP candidate in Stephen Curry, but they wouldn’t be 32-12 without receiving steady contributors from Jordan Poole (a 2019 first-round pick), Damion Lee, Gary Payton II and more.
Meanwhile, Ja Morant has helped turned the 31-15 Grizzlies into a contender. But they wouldn’t be a serious threat without 2020 first-round pick Desmond Bane and 25-and-under homegrown players Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, and De’Anthony Melton taking major steps in their development.
The Boston Celtics could use the trade deadline to make room for their younger players
Over the next few weeks, we could see a changing of the guard that many Celtics fans — Simmons included — might be happy to see.
Boston made a deal on Tuesday to acquire P.J. Dozier and Bol Bol in a three-team deal with the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs. But the trades might not stop there. According to The Athletic, Boston is open to moving Horford, Richardson, and Schroder before the February 10 trade deadline.
Moving those veterans works two-fold. First, the C’s would be able to get under the luxury tax line. Considering the three veterans combined are making around $44 million this season, with Horford and Richardson on the books next year for at least $27 million, the Celtics have significant financial reasons for wanting to be active trade partners.
Second, clearing out those vets could open up opportunities for Langford, Nesmith, Pritchard, and more of Boston’s under-utilized players. The Celtics have spent the better part of the last decade stockpiling draft picks, placing themselves in the enviable position of competiting for a title while also maintaining draft capital. But those picks are useless if the Celtics aren’t giving the players taken with them opportunities to grow and flourish.
Of course, playing time won’t be the only solution. Tatum and Brown will have to change their playing style and sacrifice their production to a degree. Udoka will also have to incorporate his new players in a way that best serves them.
But as Simmons accurately points out, whatever Boston is doing now simply isn’t working.