Since the streak ended the night before Thanksgiving the Celtics have fallen back down to earth. Going 13-8 since November 22nd, their defense morphing into last year’s inconsistent, and sometimes horrendous, iteration. The wear and tear of a long, demanding season is beginning to manifest itself in players like Al Horford, his legs look tired, the lift to his jump shot is heavier than before. But Horford is still an All-Star caliber player, him and Kyrie have worked together like peanut butter and jelly. There isn’t a lot of reasons for optimism outside of Boston’s starters. The delusional lens fans have been wearing since the sixteen-game win streak gave us the impression the backups were better than they actually are. Marcus Smart offense is akin to eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. Terry Rozier is an average three-point shooter, however has a very below-average field goal percentage that makes him a borderline liability on offense as well. Marcus Morris cannot stay on the floor, a nagging knee injury is likely to sideline him for the ninth time in ten games.
Until Lou Williams, Tyreke Evans or Greg Monroe are bought out, this is the core of the Celtics bench that’ll make or break games like Wednesday night in Charlotte. Terry Rozier kept the offense afloat, scoring 15 points off the bench, Shane Larkin chipped in 11.
Marcus Smart won’t rank high on this list due to his everlasting woes on offense. His shenanigans win us more games than loses, an injury to Smart drastically changes the outlook of the Celtics identity as a fight you tooth and nail team. His time in green could be up this summer, as he will demander starter quality money he is not worth.
The best player on the Celtics bench this season so far has been none other than German center Daniel Theis. Yeah, the skinny white guy. I can’t decide whether he was signed to be a Kelly Olynyk or Amir Johnson replacement. Theis played for the Brose Bamberg of the EuroLeague, averaging 9.6 points in thirty-games. The stopgap center carved a role for himself on the Celtics while he did not have the body to go against the strong builds of Dwight Howard or Steven Adams. Theis proves himself useful against thinner, second unit quality centers, the Bulls is his ideal matchup. Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, tall, but not athletic enough to protect the rim, Theis put out his first professional double-double, fifteen rebounds, ten points, eight of them coming from the charity stripe.
Brad Stevens tries to stretch Theis’ range, averaging nearly a three-point attempt in every game since November 25; though he’s converted on only 11.8% of them. In that span he’s also averaged nearly a block and an assist a game, an above-average defensive rating of 101. A positive net rating of 0.7 (Amir Johnson’s dead tired legs still chugged a way better net rating, 8.0, than the younger Theis). Theis is high on this list because of one key factor: consistency. You know what you’re getting with Daniel. In November he scores 16 second change points, in December… yup, 16. When the Celtics were kicking ass all of November, Theis’ net rating when playing at home, 13.4; in the up and down month of December… 11.2. Good, ole’ dependable Daniel Theis. That all being said he’s not coming back to the Celtics next summer. Either he’ll play himself out of the rotation somehow, or he’ll exceed expectations and get a contract offer too rich for Ainge’s taste.
The fact Theis is our best player on the bench, the only one not named Marcus Smart, that can consistently give a good effort on defense and score somewhat shows how flawed this team really is. The sixteen-game win streak wasn’t just a testament to the coaching brilliance of Brad Stevens, it potential gave Boston home court in at least two playoff rounds for what’s otherwise a 48-win team.
Coming in second is the Louisville Weirdo Terry “I Still Call Him ‘Tito’” Rozier. Possibly the next Avery Bradley, only a better ball-handler, and not the on-ball defender AB was in Boston. Rozier is a league average three-point shooter, as stated before. Bradley spent the summer of 2012 rehabbing a separated shoulder, converted on only 31.7% of his three-point attempts. But his game was right around the same place Rozier’s was in at the time. Bradley’s offensive rating in 2012-13 was 101.6; Rozier an even 101.
Sometimes you can trust Rozier to create on offense, unlike Smart, the spurts of promise that look genuine, an actual identity for what Rozier’s ceiling can be appears. For Smart he’ll stumble to he basket and side-rim a desperate finger-roll, and one every twenty-games he’ll zing the ball across court like a bulkier John Stockton. Rozier proves he can be competent… more often than Smart at least, and shoots 39.8% on catch and shoot threes. Over the years Rozier shown the ability to go coast-to-coast, immense ball-control whereas before his handling was similar to rookie year Jaylen Brown.
The ceiling for Rozier is higher than Marcus Smart, he’ll never be able to lockdown James Harden. It’s games like the one on Thursday night that make you forget just how maddeningly flawed Smart is. The poor shot selection, inability to finish at the rim, to jump higher, the incessant flopping that can cause the Celtics games. The relatively small cap hold makes Smart’s return for 2018-19 inevitable. Somehow the fourth-year guard managed to take steps backwards from last season. Field-goal percentage (33.8%) is worse than any other year in his short career, keep in mind he is two-years removed from season he shot 34.8 fg% and 25.3 3p%. Fewer free-throw attempts (2.4) since his rookie season. The only shot made consistently last season was from the corners, 41.9% in 2016-17. This year he’s shooting 26.3%. 30.3% on catch and shoot threes.
So why is Smart ranked number 3? Because his on-ball defense is better than Avery Bradley and his daily shenanigans inexplicably help Boston than hurt them. The same stuff I rally against, I have to admit has its uses. If you’re able to convince a referee a slender body one Harden is able to knock your tank sized frame down is a valuable trait. AND! Despite all of this, all of this noise, Smart’s net rating is +7.1.
But let’s not fool ourselves. Marcus Smart against playoff caliber teams almost always flounders because of better coaching, personal, and the magic of number 36 isn’t a factor. What’s Smart’s role for the playoffs? Is he going to take 5 three-point attempts like he nearly averages this season? Can he run an offense, or is he a better off-ball shooting guard than on-ball guard?
Coming in forth is Marcus Morris. He should be one on this list, but nagging health issues knocks him a couple spots.
During Boston’s game against the Warriors Stevens began the contest with Jayson Tatum guarding Kevin Durant, and the rook got cooked on simple zipper action. Stevens put Morris on KD and suddenly a game where he seemed destined to go for forty, instead scores only 24.
He’s a better reserve player that plays starter minutes than an actual starter. Morris’ net rating as a starter, -2.7, and off the bench, 4.4. Nights like when against the Rockets is what Boston want from their stretch forward on a daily basis, a ten point, four rebound and a block, in the second half he acted as the spark that ignited the powder keg to the comeback. Marcus Smart is the “King of the Lost Cause,” quipped cleverly by Ryan Bernardoni, but so is Morris. Except Morris can nail outside shots, can score in isolation and MAYBE guard LeBron (don’t hold me to that claim).
Move over Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, there’s a new set of M&M Boys taking over the sports landscape.
The Rest: Shane Larkin, Abdul Nader, Guerschon Yabusele…
Larkin: a energy scorer
Abdul Nader: Ceiling is an empty scorer
Yabusele: built like a tank, that’s all I know about him.