We asked our friends over at Liberty Ballers and their fans to send us some questions to close out our Crossover Week. In addition to our readers and their readers throwing some playful Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl LII shade and debating a Jayson Tatum-Joel Embiid blockbuster trade, here are some more comments we pulled and answered:
PhilaPhanatic asks, “Brad Stevens is a great coach, but how do you think he handles the whole “many mouths to feed, but only one ball” scenario this year? Add guys like a Hayward & a healthy Kyrie to an up and coming Tatum/Brown/Rozier, not to mention the vet Horford. Do you think any of these young guys start getting frustrated about lack of scoring opportunities?”
wjsy: Squeaky wheels have never got the grease with Brad Stevens. There have been moments. Isaiah Thomas was once critical about his head coach’s “experimenting” with lineups late in the season, but that flare up was cleaned up internally and fairly quickly. Early in his tenure, there were grumblings from disgruntled vets like Keith Bogans and David Lee and they just never saw playing time again. These are different circumstances, but let’s remember that these are all hand picked players by Danny Ainge. During this rebuild, he’s targeted high character players–particularly in the draft and free agency–and Stevens has been very diplomatic with his approach: if you can contribute on any given night, you’ll play. If the Celtics are playing the Sixers, Aron Baynes is going to get a ton of run against Embiid. If they’re facing Milwaukee, he might opt for Semi Ojeleye over Marcus Morris for defensive purposes against Giannis. Offensively, the Celtics run an equal opportunity, everybody eats system. Here’s a telling stat: in the 4th quarter, Kyrie averaged 4.7 FGA’s, but after him, eight Celtics averaged between 2-3 shots.
Tastytakes asks: “The way I see it, the East goes BOS, PHI, TOR (until I see Kawhi be Kawhi). But preseason storylines rarely tell the whole truth (except for the Warriors /eyeroll). Give me a few darkhorse teams with reasoning, other than the Pacers.”
Daniel Poarch: I have pushed and shoved my way into the front seats of the Milwaukee Bucks bandwagon this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo is perilously close to making that “perennial MVP candidate” leap, and Khris Middleton has been raining jumpers in my nightmares ever since the first round of last season’s playoffs. The Bucks’ biggest hole last year was their coaching, as Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty did very little to impress, and Mike Budenholzer is a substantial upgrade in that regard. With some nifty depth signings like Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, who will better space the floor around the stars, and some younger players with upside like Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson, I think the groundwork is in place for a very, very good Bucks team in the near future.
temendinsky10 asks, “Give me a funky lineup you think will be legitimately good.”
wjsy: I’ll propose one that’s Sixers specific: Smart-Rozier-Tatum-Hayward-Horford. In last year’s second round series, a five-man unit that had Morris instead of Hayward had a NetRtg of 44.9 (128.8 OffRtg, 84.0 DefRtg) over 26 playoff minutes. It’s no secret why it worked. Defensively, they could switch everything on the perimeter and had defenders that could neutralize shooters like Belinelli and Redick. With Smart at the point, he’s surrounded by shooters than can also make plays off the dribble.
Scalper 3 asks, “How do you think next offseason will play out with Kyrie and Horford becoming UFA’s and (Morris too, but he’s not on the same level obviously) and Rozier becoming a RFA? I just don’t see how they can keep Kyrie, Horford and Rozier so how will this play out?”
wjsy: I don’t see Horford going anywhere. He’s the perfect prototypical big for Stevens’ system and he knows that he can finish his career in Boston and if they hang a banner or two in the Garden, he’s looking at getting his #42 raised to the rafters. I expect him to sign a 3-year, $65-70M extension next summer.
The Irving-Rozier dynamic could get interesting, but the Celtics are protected either way. If Kyrie does leave for Brooklyn or New York, that frees up cap space to re-sign Rozier and/or chase another free agent. If Irving stays (Kevin Arnovitz seemed pretty confident with his intel on The Jump on Wednesday), there’s still a possibility that Ainge could find the right number to retain Rozier if Horford gives the Celtics a hometown discount.
Son of Whale asks: “Al Horford is a terrific player but is arguably better suited to playing the 4 rather than the 5. Do you agree, and if so, do you think the C’s should be actively looking for a 5 — preferably a rebounder/rim protector type — and if so, who (realistically, I mean)?”
Daniel Poarch: I can’t say I agree that Horford is better suited at the 4, which is a bit of a myth that has persisted since his time with the Florida Gators. It’s true that Horford isn’t a particularly physical rebounder or presence in the paint, but his defensive acumen, passing ability, and shooting range make him an ideal fit for the position in the current landscape of the NBA. I think the Celtics have approached the center position pretty ideally, retaining Aron Baynes to match up against more physical centers like Joel Embiid or Andre Drummond while stocking up on interesting younger bigs like Robert Williams and Daniel Theis to help keep Horford fresh. Horford will need to be protected a little more as he ages, but for the time being, he’s still a very, very good NBA center.
dauphan8399 asks, “Al Horford will be 33 by the time next season ends – do you feel this will be Al’s last year in his prime or do you believe he can get another year at or near his peak performance levels or do you feel that Ainge needs to start looking for his replacement?”
wjsy: I expect more of the same from Big Al: an underwhelming regular season from an outsider’s perspective, but the ultimate glue guy’s contributions from people that know the Celtics. Over the last two seasons, he’s averaged around 13-7-5. I could see Horford doing that well into his mid-30’s. In Kevin Garnett’s final two seasons with the Celtics when he was 35 and 36, he was averaging more points and rebounds than Horford did over his last two years. I’d expect Al to be as steady as KG in his twilight.
However, what’s made Horford special has been his elevated game in the post-season. There might be just a slight uptick statistically in points and rebounds (which can be attributed to a bump in minutes), but he’s just much more efficient. All those minutes at center that Amir Johnson two years ago and Aron Baynes last year saved Horford from during the 82-game grind pay off in the playoffs. He stretched Embiid to beyond the arc and punished smaller players in the post. Defensively, he contained Giannis and Simmons. This is and will be Horford in his prime for a long time.
Strafford Joe asks, “In 3 seasons, what will be the Celtics Opening Night lineup? Top 2 bench pieces?”
wjsy: Kyrie Irving – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Zion Williamson – Anthony Davis. Yes, Kyrie re-signs. Yes, the Celtics keep the Kings’ pick next summer. And yes, Danny Ainge finally gets AD, not by trade but in free agency. By 2021-2022, the NBA will have integrated gambling and the salary cap will skyrocket to $200M. Hayward and Horford will be on team friendly extensions, Smart will be a bargain, and Robert Williams and Semi Ojeleye will have blossomed into effective role players.
Gilbert Bowles asks: “Who is the most interesting young player outside the Celtics’ top nine? (Hayward-Horford-Irving-Tatum-Brown-Smart-Baynes-Morris)”
Daniel Poarch: The quick and easy answer here would be Robert Williams, who is an interesting prospect with lottery-level talent that could have the ceiling of someone like Clint Capela. However, instead, I’d like to mention a player I’m not sure many are familiar with outside of Boston: Daniel Theis. Theis is a very interesting player who can plug in at either frontcourt spot. He’s a tenacious rebounder and a versatile, switchy defender who can’t really be exploited by modern offenses because he can hold his own against quicker wings, at least for a time. He’s also a high-energy hustle guy, an effective rim runner, and may even develop into an acceptable three-point shooter based on some of the flashes we saw during his rookie season. Theis is a little old for a second-year player at 26, so his ceiling isn’t really one of an uber-prospect, but he could potentially be the third-best big on a playoff team at some point in his career (whether that’s with Boston or elsewhere).