Sorting Out Minutes and Roles in Boston Celtics Crowded Backcourt

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Sorting Out Minutes and Roles in Boston Celtics Crowded Backcourt
John Minchillo/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics will head into training camp with five guards under contract: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart and Marcus Thornton.

Their backcourt is bursting with lead ball-handlers, talented playmakers, scorers, defensive savants, freakish athletes and unbelievable competitors.

Not all can play at once, and in any given 48-minute game, one or two won't play at all. These five have overlapping skill sets, so head coach Brad Stevens will have to figure out the optimal rotations and combinations.

Let's take a closer look how Boston's guards will see the floor, who they'll likely play with and what their responsibilities will entail.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

First up is Rondo. Not only is he by far the best guard in this group, he's one of the best point guards in the world.

Despite coming off an injury-plagued year cut in half by his recovery from surgery that repaired a torn ACL suffered midway through the 2012-13 season, Rondo's workload should eventually get back to normal sooner rather than later.

He sat out the second half of back-to-backs last season and could continue to at points in November and December. For the most part, we should expect the 28-year-old to log between 35 and 38 minutes per game.

As the team's captain, he will spend plenty of time with both starting and bench-heavy units next to just about every guard listed above.

He's best beside players who can shoot (i.e. Bradley and Thornton), but Stevens isn't likely to hesitate in experimenting with three-guard lineups slotting Rondo with a non-shooter as well (i.e. Pressey and Smart).

John Raoux/Associated Press

For Smart, playing with Rondo will accelerate his learning process and cut down on any pressure he might experience as a high draft pick.

It will allow the rookie to focus on the defensive end, crash the glass and attack the rim, as opposed to being responsible for running an entire offense.

He'll do a bit of that as well—playing point guard on secondary units—but for the most part, thanks to his "combo guard" ability, Boston's spots in the backcourt will be interchangeable when he's on the floor.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Having signed a new four-year, $32 million contract July 15, Bradley will start off the ball beside Rondo.

Running the show isn't Bradley's strong suit, but he can shoot off the dribble and will hopefully further develop his skills as a dependable secondary ball-handler as defenses focus their attention on Rondo.

Bradley will get even more open shots, and the Celtics will run plenty of action for him coming off screens and racing along the baseline. He's low-maintenance but can be extremely effective.

Few in the league are more feared at the other end, and Stevens is probably drooling over the thought of pairing him with Smart to hound opposing ball-handlers.

The duo is a nightmare in the weeds.

Fernando Medina/Getty Images

There will be some three-guard units to take advantage of Boston's uncanny speed, but after subtracting Rondo's 36 (or so) from the 96 minutes usually split between the two traditional backcourt spots, that leaves 60 minutes for four players.

When healthy, Bradley figures to cut that number at least in half, leaving 30 minutes for Smart, Pressey and Thornton.

If Pressey's able to carve out any time for himself, it'll be as Rondo's direct backup, or about 12 minutes per game.

The second-year guard recently had his deal guaranteed, according to The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:

The Celtics had until [July 15] to decide whether or not to guarantee Pressey's contract. Pressey averaged 2.8 points and 3.2 assists in 75 games for the Celtics last season. He was very productive in the team's recent five-game summer league stretch in Orlando, leading the Celtics in assists. He figures to spell Rajon Rondo as the primary backup ball handler in Boston.

Pressey could start the season in this role, but that duty could also go to Smart. It's too early to say, but there are roughly 18 minutes left to split between 2014's No. 6 overall pick and Thornton—if Pressey's the guy—and a bulk of them will be used on the rookie.

Not only does he figure to be a better two-way player, but Boston needs to have him on the floor as much as possible for developmental purposes.

Thornton may be the best scorer of the bunch, but he only shot 39.4 percent in 72 games between the Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets last season—he was brought in because his contract is expiring and tradable.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The Celtics have a loaded backcourt, and Stevens has his work cut out for him to make everything blossom. Shooting is scarce, and two of the contributors have only one season's worth of NBA experience combined.

There is talent on both sides of the ball, however, and Rondo is an anchor as the starting point guard. Boston's backcourt is one of its most obvious strengths, and the various combinations Stevens can tinker with have the potential to make the Celtics an extremely entertaining team to watch.

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com, unless otherwise noted. 

Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. His writing are located on Tumblr. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

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