Celtics Roster Battles to Watch During 2021 NBA Preseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2021

Celtics Roster Battles to Watch During 2021 NBA Preseason

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    New Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka has plenty to sort out during his first training camp with the team.

    All-Star forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are locked in place, and all signs point to Marcus Smart taking over as the primary playmaker. Just about everything else feels like it's either in flux or could be if players over- or underperform at training camp.

    The following three battles stand out as being particularly significant.

Starting Center

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    The Celtics didn't wait to see Robert Williams III before rewarding him with a four-year, $48 million extension. That says plenty about the way they value his paint protection, athleticism and versatility.

    However, this is not a colossal contract by NBA standards, which speaks to the issues the 23-year-old has encountered through his first three NBA seasons. This past campaign, he crushed his previous career highs while playing just 52 games and 18.9 minutes per night.

    Williams needs to round out his game and unlock the keys to consistency. If it's a bumpier road than expected, Boston doesn't have to live with the growing pains. The Celtics brought back Al Horford this summer, and he has always played with precision and smarts.

    The Texas A&M product feels like he should have the inside track given his potential and commitment from the club, but if he wobbles at all during camp, Horford can close the gap in a hurry.

Non-Star Wings

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    With Smart, Brown and Tatum locked into their starting spots, that leaves one perimeter position to fill with the first unit.

    If the Celtics can count on a bounce-back year from Josh Richardson, he might make the most sense.

    The 28-year-old plays both ends of the floor, historically hits his open shots (at least he did during his days with the Miami Heat) and he offers some secondary playmaking. That should be an easier skill set to fit in than Dennis Schroder's ball-dominant, score-first style, which looks tailor-made to lead the second unit.

    With Richardson starting, that leaves Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford and Grant Williams fighting for wing minutes. And if Schroder is coming off the bench, he'll factor into that mix too, since Payton Pritchard needs minutes at the 1.

    That doesn't leave a ton of floor time to go around—even less if players like Juancho Hernangomez, Sam Hauser or Garrison Mathews chew into it. Losing this battle might effectively equal being booted from the rotation.

Backup Power Forward

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Boston has options just about everywhere.

    The Shamrocks have at least three players who can initiate the offense as lead guard. They might have more 2s and 3s than they can use. Their center spot is crowded enough that Enes Kanter, who scored the first free-agent contract of Stevens' front-office tenure, may not have a direct path to playing time.

    The only thing the Celtics don't have in abundance are power forwards. Tatum will see a lot of his time there, and Horford could if Boston wants to go really big, but it gets a little scarce after that.

    Grant Williams, Juancho Hernangomez, Jabari Parker and Sam Hauser all have the chance to change that. The 6'6" Williams plays bigger than his size, but that doesn't make him any bigger. Hernangomez is a shaky shooter and limited defender. Parker is a smooth inside-the-arc scorer, but he doesn't offer range or consistent defense. Hauser is a good shooter, but he's unproven at this level and might always be a liability on defense.

    There isn't a great option in the mix, but that gives each a chance to carve out a sizable role during camp.

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