2021-22 Roster Breakdown: The Wings
With the start of Celtics training camp just a few days away, it’s time that we break down the roster and provide an idea of what the team’s depth chart will look like heading into the 2021-22 Season.
Rather than classifying the players with the traditional 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 positional tags, we are taking a page out of President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens’ book by placing each athlete into one of the following three roles:
- Ball handlers – Typically played by the 1.
- Wings – A hybrid between the 2, 3 and 4.
- Bigs – A hybrid between the 4 and the 5.
Yesterday, we tipped off our roster breakdown series with Boston’s ball handlers. Today, we present their perimeter mates – the wings.
Wings are commonly the most versatile players on the floor and are relied upon to take on a heavy scoring load. Defensively, they’ll often be tasked with suppressing elite scorers on opposing teams. Depending on their skill set, they may also be tasked with taking on ball-handling duties, or they may slide into the frontcourt to take on a big man role.
The C’s are extremely deep at the wing this season, as they have seven players capable of filling the role including a couple of stars, some established veterans, and a few rising youngsters.
Jayson Tatum managed to take another jump in his fourth NBA season, becoming one of the most dominant scorers in the NBA. He averaged career-highs of 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game last season, while leading the league in 50-point games with four spanning across the regular season and postseason.
With that being said, the two-time All-Star may be entering his fifth campaign with a chip on his shoulder, considering how he was snubbed from making the All-NBA team last season after earning a Third-Team selection the previous year.
Tatum’s active offseason should help him take his game to an even higher level. In August, he won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA, for whom he was the second-leading scorer behind Kevin Durant. He also bulked up his frame, adding muscle that should help him become an even more lethal inside scorer and a more physical defender.
Tatum’s game was already at an ultra-elite level prior to this summer, but adding his medal-winning experience in Tokyo along with his improved physique to the equation could mean that we’re in store for yet another leap from the 23-year-old superstar.
The same could also be said about Tatum’s ever-improving wingmate, Jaylen Brown.
Last season, Brown earned his first All-Star selection while logging career-high averages of 24.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks to go along with career-high shooting clips of 48.4 percent from the field, 39.7 percent from 3-point range, and 76.4 percent from the free-throw line. It was by far the most aggressive version of JB that we’ve seen to date, and it showed, as his drives to the basket per game (10.5) increased by nearly 25 percent from the previous season and by more than 100 percent from the season before that.
Unfortunately, Brown’s stellar campaign ended on a sour note as he tore a ligament in his left wrist just prior to the playoffs, resulting in him needing to undergo season-ending surgery. The good news is that the 24-year-old has been out of his cast for three months now, so his return to the court could be just around the corner.
Together, Brown and Tatum shouldered a heavy burden on both sides of the ball last season; however, the arrival of Josh Richardson should help to alleviate their workload moving forward.
Entering his seventh NBA season, Richardson is a proven veteran who can score, facilitate, and defend the perimeter at a high level. He boasts career averages of 12.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.1 steals per game and has been a starter for the last four-and-a-half seasons while playing for a trio of playoff teams in Miami, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
Last season, Richardson started in the Mavericks backcourt alongside All-NBA point guard Luka Doncic. While Doncic dominated the scoring column, Richardson complemented him nicely, putting up 12.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He was also one of the league’s premier free-throw shooters, as his 91.7 percent clip ranked fifth among all players who attempted at least 100 such shots.
Richardson has built a solid reputation on the defensive end, as he has earned All-Defensive votes in two of the past four seasons. Pairing him alongside Brown, Tatum, and two-time First-Team All-Defensive guard Marcus Smart should make Boston one of the most feared perimeter defenses in the league after enduring somewhat of a down year on that end last season.
If there was a Most Improved Player from the first day of the 2020-21 season to the last, Aaron Nesmith would have easily earned that recognition for the Celtics.
The 21-year-old forward experienced typical rookie growing pains during the first few months of the season and registered 26 DNPs through Boston’s first 57 games. However, near the end of April, Nesmith began to carve out a consistent bench role as a high-energy defender and knockdown 3-point shooter.
In his first 32 appearances through 58 games, Nesmith averaged 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, while shooting 36.5 percent from the field, 31.9 percent from 3-point range, and 68.8 percent from the free-throw line. In his last 14 games of the regular season, he put up 8.2 PPG and 4.3 RPG, while shooting a remarkable 52.4 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from deep, and 91.7 percent from the foul line.
Such improvement allowed Nesmith to earn significant playoff minutes, as he proved his worth as the 14th overall pick from the 2020 Draft. All of his hard work should also open the door for a significant role this coming season, meaning his DNP days are likely long gone.
A string of unfortunate injuries led to a frustrating first two years of Romeo Langford’s career. But, as he reached full health down the final stretch of last season, he finally got to show how much potential he could bring to the table in Boston.
Langford’s defensive tenacity earned him a substantial role throughout the last two months of the 2020-21 campaign; he even earned a few spot-starts late in the season, including in the last two matchups of the playoffs. Though, he also showed promise on the offensive end, re-displaying his ability to drive the ball (he led the NCAA Division I in drives during his freshman season at Indiana), while also showing off an improved 3-point shot.
The best game of Langford’s career also happened to be his last one before the summer – a 17-point, two-assist, two-steal, two-block effort against the Brooklyn Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Putting icing on the cake, Langford was finally able to have his first completely healthy offseason this summer, which means he had four full months to prepare and improve heading into his third season.
Each of the aforementioned wings brings a high level of defensive intensity to the game. In Jabari Parker’s case, he’s capable of providing instant offense.
Signed as a late-season addition last spring, Parker produced a handful of impressive outings, including an 18-point, seven-rebound effort in the regular-season finale against the New York Knicks and a pair of double-digit playoff performances against Brooklyn.
The 6-foot-8 veteran forward averaged 16.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in 10 regular-season appearances, and 20.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 in four playoff games, making him one of the Celtics’ most efficient scorers and rebounders during his limited action.
The question heading into his first full season with the C’s is whether Parker can remain healthy. The 26-year-old has been cursed with injuries throughout his career, which derailed a once-promising start with the Milwaukee Bucks. If he can amend that trend and stay on the court this season, the former No. 2 overall draft pick could be a solid offensive option off the bench.
Undrafted rookie Sam Hauser is the only player, so far, who has earned a two-way contract with the Boston Celtics and Maine Celtics for this upcoming season.
Hauser joins the organization after four standout collegiate seasons at Marquette (2016-19) and Virginia (2020-21). He’s fresh off an All-ACC season with the Cavaliers during which he averaged 16.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.7 percent from deep on 151 such attempts.
Sharpshooting is Hauser’s specialty, as he showed at the 2021 Summer League. The 6-foot-8 forward shot 46.2 percent from long range during five appearances for the Summer C’s, which included a 21-point, 6-for-10 3-point effort against the Orlando Magic.
Per his contract, Hauser will be splitting time between Boston and Portland, Maine this season, as he tries to make his case for becoming a full-time NBA player.