After spending some time in the warm weather of California, the Boston Celtics began making their way home Saturday night. They made a pit stop in Denver to face the Nuggets and beat them in close fashion with a 111-110 win Monday night.
The Celtics were able to even their road trip series to a 2-2 record. With them now back in the wintery weather of Boston, it is time to reflect on what we learned about the team during their time away.
There is no doubt that when Kyrie Irving is on the floor for Boston, you can expect the team to score points at ease. But what worries me the most is how the offense operates when Irving is on the bench getting rest.
Jaylen Brown has not proven yet that he can be an offensive force day-in and day-out. Jayson Tatum, though his offensive production has been better than Brown’s up until this point in his career, still can’t be leaned on every night to take 10-15 shots and be the secondary option offensively.
Aron Baynes is non-existent most nights when it comes to producing points and Al Horford has more of an impact distributing and making the little plays rather than scoring, so where does that leave the Celtics in terms of scoring options?
Baynes has shown that though he can be a physical presence in the paint for the Celtics, he has become to much of a liability on offense that Brad Stevens may have to go back to the drawing board and figure out if a switch needs to be made to give Boston more consistency on the offense.
This brings me to the next thing we learned on the road trip:
Look to the Bench for Help
If there is one thing we learned from the Celtics road trip, it’s that Boston’s bench can be the uprising or the demise of the team when it comes to winning or losing a game.
There were plenty of times during their travels when Marcus Morris isolation plays weren’t producing points. Marcus Smart’s aggressive 3-pointers weren’t sinking (we see this a lot, not just on the road trip). On the flip side, there are games when Morris grabs points in bunches, and Smart can’t miss from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, this inconsistency leaves Stevens looking for other options, which in the second unit’s case would be Terry Rozier. Even though Rozier shows his flashes of excellence on the court, he has not shown enough this season to prove he can be relied upon every single night.
Without Smart in the lineup for the last three games (Clippers, Warriors and Nuggets games), it really makes one wonder how badly the Celtics really need him in the lineup. It helps that we are seeing the good side of Morris, who is making his shots, and Rozier is on a bit of a hot streak; but the emergence of Daniel Theis has really turned heads and shown everyone that maybe Smart really isn’t as valuable as some think.
Shane Larkin has proven to be a serviceable guard for the Celtics off the bench – though I would rather not see him running isolation plays in key minutes during the fourth quarter like he did against Golden State – this gives the Celtics just one more reason to believe that Smarts’ time on the team could be coming to a close.
Give Theis More Minutes; Package Baynes and Smart
Yes, you read that headline right. The trade deadline is coming up and I think the Celtics should consider packaging Baynes and Smart.
With the emergence of Theis in the month of January, who is averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes over that span, while also improving his 3-point shot over the course of the season, it gives me reason to believe that he may be in line for a role in the starting-5 down the stretch for the Celtics.
That being said, Baynes is proving to be a liability more than anything else. Smart still has value because of his efforts on the defensive side of the ball, so it’s not crazy to think that Boston should come up with a package before the trade deadline that potentially sends Baynes and Smart, along with other accessories needed, to get a player that has a bit more offensive consistency off the bench for a team that needs it badly.
Along with finding offensive capabilities, it wouldn’t hurt to grab someone in a trade who can rebound as well; moving Theis into a starter role will help the first unit, so Boston will need to look for rebounding answers from a second unit who would otherwise have to rely on Rozier and Morris for a bulk of their boards.
Making the money work in a trade definitely won’t be easy, but a change needs to be made, so the Celtics need to figure something out so they can produce a consistent spark off the bench.
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