The Boston Celtics are back, and they’re trying to leave the 2020-21 season in the rearview.
Injuries, COVID-19 outbreaks and consistently inconsistent play led the Celtics to a 36-36 regular season record. Jayson Tatum erupted for 50 points in the Play-In Tournament against the Washington Wizards, giving the C’s the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. Their playoff stint was short-lived as they were bounced by the Brooklyn Nets in a gentleman’s sweep.
The team underwent a significant overhaul this offseason. Brad Stevens made the move from head coach to president of basketball operations, taking the spot of Danny Ainge. The team then brought in Ime Udoka to be the next head coach.
The roster saw just as much overhaul. Stevens traded Kemba Walker and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford, Evan Fournier joined the New York Knicks in free agency and Tristan Thompson was shipped in a trade. The Celtics filled those spots by acquiring Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder and old friend Enes Kanter.
Not everything is new with the Celtics, though. Tatum, fresh off a gold medal performance in Tokyo, and Jaylen Brown, back from a season-ending wrist injury, are the centerpieces with even more on their plate. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams signed extensions to stay in Boston for a while. On top of the more experienced pieces, Boston still has a group of young guys who could assume greater roles this season.
The Celtics open their season on Wednesday, Oct. 20, against Walker, Fournier and the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Who will Udoka put on the court to begin the game? Here’s a look at the Celtics’ lineup entering the new campaign:
Who are the Celtics starters?
Udoka is afforded something the Celtics rarely had last season: flexibility.
The starting lineup the Celtics use on opening night against the Knicks doesn’t need to be the lineup they use a month from now or even a game from now.
Four of the starting spots are likely locked up by the top returning players: Tatum, Brown, Smart and Williams. The fifth spot is up for discussion, though. If Udoka wants to go big, Horford could be out there. If the other team starts small, Richardson could be used as a counter.
The Celtics don’t have a concrete, ideal starting lineup like they did last season when Walker was surrounded by the four aforementioned starters. With a blend of veterans and second-year talent on the bench, it’s not a bad problem for Udoka to have in his first season.
Who is the starting center for the Celtics?
Robert Williams will be jumping for the opening tip when he’s available, but his role on offense and defense could alter depending on whether Horford is on the floor with him.
Horford is a better option to stretch the floor with his outside shooting, but he’s also a proven post player. Williams will be the starting “center,” but his position could evolve into just a “big.”
Who is the Celtics starting point guard?
It’s Marcus Smart’s time at starting point guard.
The Celtics showed their confidence in the two-time NBA All-Defensive player with a $77 million extension this offseason. While Pritchard and Schroder can step in off the bench, or even in a starting role in the case of Schroder, Smart will be running point for Boston this season.
Who is the Celtics starting shooting guard?
It will either be Brown or Richardson at the “two” in the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Brown is capable of playing shooting guard or small forward on offense and equally equipped to guard against either position. The only difference is based on how Udoka sets up the rest of his lineup. If it’s Smart-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Williams, Brown is the two. If it’s Smart-Richardson-Brown-Tatum-Williams, Brown is the three.
Who is the Celtics starting small forward?
The same scenario applies to Tatum.
If it’s Smart-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Williams, Tatum is the three. If it’s Smart-Richardson-Brown-Tatum-Williams, Tatum is the four.
Regardless of position, Tatum will be handed the keys on offense. He was one of the best players on Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics and single-handedly won games for the Celtics last season. With a deeper roster around him and more international and playoff experience under his belt, Tatum is primed to continue his ascent.