Celtics Players Who Will Determine Boston's Ceiling During 2021-22 Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 21, 2021

Celtics Players Who Will Determine Boston's Ceiling During 2021-22 Season

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    The realigned Boston Celtics still follow the lead of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but nearly everything around them has changed.

    Brad Stevens runs the front office, and Ime Udoka handles the coaching. Marcus Smart is the primary point guard, Robert Williams III leads the frontcourt, and if opening night is to be trusted, Dennis Schroder is the quick-strike sixth man.

    On the one hand, it's a lot of alterations to a team that has played in three of the past five Eastern Conference Finals. On the other, things were bound to change after Boston finished last season with only a .500 record and without a postseason series win for the first time since 2016.

    These Celtics have some obvious familiarity about them, but there's enough freshness to not really know how good this group can be. The following three players will set that bar.

Aaron Nesmith

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    Because younger players are less established and therefore have a wider range of outcomes, they can inherently have a big say in which direction their squad swings.

    That's sort of the case with Aaron Nesmith, but it goes deeper than that. His specific skill set could prove perfect for this roster if he hits.

    His three-point shot is fiery, and if he conjures up enough infernos with it, then defenses won't be able to overcrowd Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Nesmith has also flashed just enough off the dribble that opponents can't simply run him off the line. He might one day be a great shooter, but he could be a really good scorer, too.

    Also, his defensive energy is typically tremendous, and unless you've spent the last decade under a rock, you probably know how important three-and-D wings are in the modern NBA. Of all of Boston's wings not named Tatum or Brown, Nesmith's ceiling sits the highest. That alone won't grant him the biggest role of the others, but it will mean the most to Boston if he wins that job.

Marcus Smart

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    Marcus Smart is the longest-tenured Celtic, and the Shamrock faithful are acutely aware of his strengths and weaknesses. Under that light, he might seem like a curious choice here.

    But Smart has been repurposed for his eighth NBA season. Formerly a shooting guard with a shaky jumper, he's now the lead guard of an offense that needs him to move the basketball.

    This could be a great thing for Boston. Smart might be the most natural distributor on the roster, and the spacing limitations of his shooting inconsistencies are lessened by putting the ball in his hands. If his quarterbacking skills are up to par, teams can't simply leave him alone or he'll pick them apart with his passing.

    Having said that, the Celtics don't have a great contingency plan if this goes awry. They could promote Dennis Schroder to the first five, but his scoring mentality works best in an instant-offense role. Boston needs Smart to deliver, and if he emerges as a top-10 table-setter, this offense could really get humming.

Robert Williams III

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    Now in his fourth NBA season, Robert Williams III is right in the sweet spot.

    He has played enough games to snag a significant role in this rotation—not to mention a four-year, $54 million deal. But with his floor time previously held down by injuries and a smaller role, there is just enough unknown with him to let the imagination run wild.

    "He's one of the best bigs in the league, and he's going to prove that this year," Grant Williams told reporters.

    For Robert Williams to live up to the hype, he first needs to stay healthy. His next time playing even 55 games in a season will be his first.

    Beyond that, the versatile center needs to show his high-level flashes really were signs of great things to come. He can defend from the paint to the perimeter, has the feel to perk up the offense with his passing and even shows the occasional jumper. If these encouraging moments become more consistent, Williams will rocket up the NBA's hierarchy, and he could take the Celtics with him.