The Boston Celtics are finally getting the impact they need from their bench
Having a good bench in the NBA is an important aspect for any team trying to compete for championships. The starters cannot play the entire game. In today’s NBA, a game can get away from you in the blink of an eye, as we saw when the Boston Celtics played the Warriors a few weeks ago. A good bench is very important to say the least, and it is something the Celtics have had since the arrival of Isaiah Thomas.
The best example of what a strong bench can do for a team is the San Antonio Spurs. Ever since Gregg Popovich took over in San Antonio, they have almost always had the most productive bench unit in the league. What is a better team to model yourself after than the Spurs? They’ve won five championships in the last 20 years.
Once Danny Ainge fleeced Thomas from the Suns, Stevens thought that his best fit would be to come off the bench and torture other team’s second unit with his incredible scoring ability. That ended up working very well for the Celtics as they made an unexpected run to the playoffs.
The following season started with Thomas on the bench. However, an injury to Marcus Smart, the starter at the time, gave Thomas an opportunity to lock down the starting job for good. Once Thomas was the full time point guard, Evan Turner took over the role as the leader of the bench unit. Boston’s bench was once again a force to be reckoned with as the team went to playoffs for a second straight season.
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Now that Turner is gone and Thomas is still a starter, the Celtics needed new players to step up and lead the bench. Mostly everyone looked to Smart. He was an extremely important player and had the right traits to be able to lead a group of young players. Other key reserves included Terry Rozier, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Jaylen Brown. At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of excitement surrounding this young group of players.
The start of the year was a bumpy one for the reserves. There seemed to be a massive drop off in play once the starters left the floor. This showed the most when the bench almost gave up a 20 point lead to the Nets on opening night. The bench continued to struggle with younger players. Smart dealt with early injuries, and Rozier had trouble staying aggressive. Jerebko and Olynyk also had difficulty finding consistency with their shots. On top of it all, Brown went through his rookie growing pains, which hurt the team since the only other small forward on the roster is Crowder.
Recently, we have started to see this group of players turn the corner. Smart has showed off an improved jump shot and offensive game. I have been very impressed by Smart’s confidence when running the pick and roll. He seems to be controlling the play, which is important for any guard in the NBA. Also, Rozier has been really good lately. You can see that his confidence is growing every game, and his play has benefited from that. I love when Rozier pushes the tempo and drives to the basket. There are some plays he makes where I can’t help but say “wow.” He is very shifty and crafty around the basket, which makes him a dangerous player when he has the ball.
Brown has shown growth after hitting the proverbial rookie wall. He is back to playing smart defense and driving to the basket with force. I’m sure you all saw him throw down all over Vucevic. That type of aggressive play is what will make the rookie a force for years to come. Along with the improved shooting and overall play from Olynyk and Jerebko, the Celtics bench has been a major asset for Brad Stevens during recent games.
The Celtics have a really good starting lineup. The balance of scoring and defensive versatility gives them the ability to beat anyone they play. If the bench players continue to play at the high level we have seen lately, the Celtics will start to really beat up on teams. The full potential of the reserves was on display in Orlando with Thomas sidelined with a groin injury. A 30 point win over a strong defensive team like Orlando is an encouraging sign.
As the season continues, I hope Rozier and Smart continue to lead this potentially dangerous group of players in the right direction. The early season concerns most fans had about the Celtics will turn to instant joy once the bench shows consistent production. Boston will also find itself with some impressive young players under team friendly contracts.