At various times during this offseason, whether it’s been training camp or summer league or all the way back to the draft, it’s been easy to find ways to convince yourself that all would be well with the Celtics bench once the season got rolling.
The trade of Marcus Smart was tough, but hey, Payton Pritchard would finally get meaningful rotation minutes. The downsizing of the Celtics’ first-round pick on draft night was somewhat puzzling, but in the end, Jordan Walsh would show himself to be a draft steal. Oshae Brissett would prove to be a more cost-effective Grant Williams. Sam Hauser would channel Matt Bonner. Al Horford would have a crack at Sixth Man of the Year.
Even the most sunny-side of Celtics fans could not have believed all of those would come to pass. But no one could have imagined that the scorecard on those outlooks would go: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.
Yet, here we are. The Celtics are 3-0 thanks to a loaded starting five that has not had injury issues yet, and as long as the wins keep piling up, it will be easy to sweep aside the stark reality that has presented itself during the first week of the year. That reality: This Celtics bench is not very good, probably is not going to get very good in the foreseeable future and will be a problem once we hit the stretch run and beyond.
No One Holding Up Their End For Celtics’ Bench
Consider what we’ve seen so far. The returning veteran bench contributors from last year should be led by Pritchard, who could not find minutes in last year’s crowded backcourt. He is getting them now, but is not doing much with them. Pritchard played 24 minutes in the first two games, and shot 2-for-5 from the field. He got more run in the third game, a blowout over Washington, and responded by going 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-6 from the 3-point line.
Pritchard’s line: 2.3 points, 15.4% shooting, 10.0% 3-point shooting.
Horford has not been much better, and is obviously uncomfortable as a sixth man. Neither he nor anyone with the team wants to admit it, but Horford has always been a starter, and the move he is being asked to make to the bench has taken some getting used to. Or a lot of getting used to, as Horford is averaging a career-low 5.3 points on 36.8% shooting.
Those two should be a premium 1-2 punch off the bench for the Celtics. Instead, both are struggling. They can take comfort, though, in checking out some of their benchmates’ numbers. Holdovers Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet are with the team again this season but have combined to score just 11 total points, on 4-for-17 shooting (3-for-15 from the 3-point line).
Forward Oshae Brissett was the team’s most significant outside free-agent signing and he has played two games thus far. He has scored two points, all season. If the early season is a reflection of how things will go for the rest of the year, consider Brissett’s situation a warning sign that is going to need to be addressed—this bench as it stands, has not made an impact and has yet to show signs of doing so.
The Celtics’ overall bench numbers are hideous. They’re scoring 15.3 points in reserve, worst in the NBA, making 29.0% of their shots among bench players, also the worst in the league. There is hope that long-timers like Horford and Pritchard can shake off their adjustments to their new roles and start being the bench anchors the Celtics need.
It won’t cost the Celtics much if the bench continues to struggle and needs fixing—they’re off to a good start, after all, without much production from any non-starter. But even if Boston continues to pile up wins, the bench will continue to be a potential drag on the team.
That will have to change. The Celtics have a fearsome starting five, arguably as good as anyone’s starting five in the league this year. But they’re going to need help.