While shooting is a more pressing need for the Boston Celtics, they also can’t claim that facilitating is one of the strengths of their offense.
As outlined in the first of this two-part installment, exploring trade options to help the Celtics improve these two glaring deficiencies, their lack of reliable three-point shooters is a more challenging problem for them to solve internally.
However, trading Dennis Schroder, a good player, but one who doesn’t address either of those needs and will garner more lucrative offers on the open market than Boston can make him this summer, is a sensible move. Depending on the return, doing so would create more minutes for Payton Pritchard, which would help this team from beyond the arc.
Aaron Nesmith, who the Celtics selected with the 14th overall pick in the same draft they took Pritchard, is another player worth finding minutes. A wrinkle that could benefit Nesmith and the offense is to play to his strengths by utilizing him more like Rip Hamilton. When Nesmith does get into a game, reducing him to a corner shooter who’s asked to be efficient on an average of 2.3 threes per game is a disservice to him and the team.
While the expectation isn’t that he becomes the caliber of player Hamilton was, running him off screens to free him up for shots from beyond the arc is a more accurate way for the Celtics to measure what it has in the former lottery pick. Doing so would also add a new element to Boston’s offense and could help them improve from long range.
When it comes to finding solutions to make this team better at creating quality scoring chances for each other, there’s actually a lot to work with internally. Marcus Smart is an effective pick-and-roll ballhandler, who consistently keeps his defender on his back hip, engages the big, and sets up the roller, usually Robert Williams, for an easy two points at the rim.
Speaking of Williams, he’s got terrific instincts as a passer, sees the court well, and is quite capable of getting passes through traffic to connect with cutters or someone sealing off their defender down low.
Williams’ passing is often an underutilized resource on this team. But in their win over the Phoenix Suns on New Year’s Eve, which this author believes is their best victory of the season, the Celtics leaned into it more heavily. Whether the Dimelord had the ball in the low or the high post, putting it in his hands encouraged his teammates to be more active off the ball than usually is the case. Williams consistently found cutters coming open off split actions, and he dished out ten assists in total.
Speaking about the Celtics’ struggles in crunch time after their recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Jaylen Brown said: “I like playing through the bigs. I like playing through Al (Horford) and Rob (Williams); those guys are great playmakers. And depending on how teams guard us, that’s a way to get some better looks and some easier baskets, rather than everything having to be isolation or everything having to be a tough drive and kick. We’ve got to stick with that at times. Sometimes, we like having the ball in our hands, etcetera, but playing through some of those guys are good for us and good for our team.”
Doing so would diversify Boston’s late-game attack and help them generate points at the end of games, which is when it’s the most difficult to do so.
Along with what Smart brings to the table as a pick-and-roll ballhandler and playing through Williams and Horford, Jayson Tatum continues to make strides as a distributor. This season, he’s averaging 8.5 potential assists per game, the third-most on the Celtics, per NBA.com. Brown’s progression in that area is not as pronounced, but he’s gotten better in that area as well.
Josh Richardson can also create for teammates off the dribble, and Grant Williams can do more as a facilitator than he’s asked to do. In sum, Boston’s capable of moving the ball far more effectively than usually is the case.
But if the Celtics want to add on the margins to spur development in that department, they could swing a deal for Josh Hart of the New Orleans Pelicans. The former Villanova Wildcat is averaging 4.5 assists per game and 8.7 potential assists per contest, according to NBA.com. Hart’s also chipping in 12.9 points per game on 9.1 shots (a 51.6 percent conversion rate) and grabbing an average of 7.4 rebounds. He’s not much of a three-point shooter — he’s hoisting 2.9 long-range attempts this season and making 34.1 percent of them — but along with what the fifth-year veteran provides as a facilitator and on the glass, he’s a quality defender, too.
Another option that might intrigue the Celtics is Tyus Jones. The former Duke Blue Devil backs up Ja Morant on the Memphis Grizzlies, but he still dishes out 4.1 assists and creates 8.3 potential assists, per NBA.com. Jones would provide veteran savvy, and he also averages eight points per game and shoots 38.9 percent from beyond the arc on 2.4 attempts per contest.
Lastly, Cory Joseph of the Detroit Pistons could be a player that appeals to Boston. However, one would argue it’s more beneficial to keep whatever modest assets it would take to acquire him and put any minutes he would get towards Pritchard’s development.