X-Men: potential playoff game changers for the Celtics

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Once the season resumes inside the Disney World bubble, the Celtics will begin their eight-game mini-season before embarking on their playoff journey. You should expect to see Brad Stevens experiment with some funky rotations and combinations before having to game plan in the post-season.

Barring any injuries during training camp, the Celtics will have a full roster, something seldom afforded to the Celtics throughout the majority of the season. Kemba Walker’s knees should be well-rested, Gordon Hayward’s ankle has received ample time to adjust to the rigors of an NBA season, and Robert Williams will be itching to get back on the floor following a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

With everyone back healthy and ready to compete, there will be multiple players who have been at the back of people’s minds waiting to show what they can do. Players can raise their stock in the playoffs, and for many, it’s their chance to prove they deserve a more significant role in the rotation the following season. With lots to prove and the world watching, some of these players could ignite the Celtics bench while operating as the seventh or eighth man in the rotation.

Here, we will look at the four most likely players to realistically operate as the team’s bench x-factor.

Cleveland Cavaliers Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden

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Falling to the 27th pick in the 2018 Draft due to injury and personality concerns, Robert Williams was considered a coup for the Celtics. However, the 6’8 big man has struggled to stay on the floor, missing multiple stretches of games due to injury throughout his first two seasons in the league.

However, when healthy and on the floor, the Louisiana native has provided the Celtics with everything Danny Ainge saw in him. A fierce rim protector who adores blocking shots with venom, Williams finished the season ranked in the 100th percentile for blocks among bigs according to Cleaning The Glass. The affectionately named Timelord also offered the team vertical spacing when running the floor due to his insane athleticism.

After an off-season of development, the Texas A&M alum entered the season as part of Brad Stevens hockey-style rotation of bigs. With more minutes on the floor, Williams began to show flashes of starting center caliber, buoyed by his newly found ability as a distributor on the short-roll or from the elbow. The improvement as a facilitator is apparent when looking at his performances statistically. According to Cleaning the Glass, the 238-pound big increased his assist to usage ratio from 0.44 his rookie year to 0.79 this season, placing him in the 85th percentile among bigs.

The style of play in the playoffs slows down to become more half-court orientated, Williams can become a force for Boston off the bench. Defensively, having a 6’8’ big with a 7’5’ wingspan who can jump out of the gym will deter guards from driving into the paint. Sure, Williams needs to learn not to bite on every pump fake and to navigate defensive rotations better, but his raw potential improves the Celtics front court considerably.

Offensively, Williams’ passing can carve open defenses to allow his more talented teammates to shine. While having a vertical spacer cut towards the hoop following a pick-and-roll or fast break provides the Celtics guards with an additional outlet option for an easy bucket down low.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics

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Like Robert Williams, Romeo Langford is a player with lottery-level talent who fell into the Boston Celtics’ laps in the draft. Coming into the season nursing an injury to his right thumb which required surgery, the Indiana native was unfortunate to miss out on the Celtics pre-season and summer league.

Splitting his time between Maine and Boston, the former Indiana guard had to work his way back into game shape while fighting for minutes on the floor. Passing each test thrown at him, Langford began to carve out a role for the Celtics off the bench, particularly impressing with his activity levels on defense. When the breaks were pressed on the season, the 6’4’ combo guard was becoming an ever-increasing presence in the Celtics rotation, even earning the chance to defend LeBron James for stretches of a game at Staples.

On the offensive end, Langford has been uninspiring, ranking in the 84th percentile for turnovers and 5th percentile for points-per-shot attempt. Understandably, the poor offensive performances can be traced to his re-worked shooting form and inability to get much individual work in after leaving college. However, the 20-year-old guard could become a vital cog in the Celtics bench rotation in the playoffs. His skill as a slasher will be something Brad Stevens may lean on to unlock stern second units.

Slashing is where Langford is currently at his best, using his 6’6, 216-pound frame to bully smaller guards on the way to the hoop. Without the ball in his hands, Langford can use his change of pace to create driving lanes for the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum while he relocates to the corners to offer an outlet pass should the defense collapse. The skill set Romeo provides on offense will be of increased value during the playoffs, when penetration is of premium importance to create the space necessary to get off quality shots.

Langford will bring a hunger to the Celtics bench, competing on every play across both ends of the floor. Sure, his game may still be raw and flawed with oceans of room to improve, but his current skill set compliments playoff basketball. The only question now is if he can perform underneath the bright lights.

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics

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The recently anointed G-League Rookie of the Year, Tremont Waters is the Celtics’ latest undersized PG. The 5’10’ guard averaged respectable numbers of 18 points, 7.3 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game on shooting percentages of 43 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from three and 78 percent from the charity stripe during his time with the Red Claws this season.

Operating as a floor general both in Maine and in Boston, Waters has continually impressed in his ability to distribute the rock and create space to get his shot off. Possessing a quick change of pace and low center of gravity, the guard out of Connecticut has continually shown his ability to get wherever he wants on the floor, allowing him to manipulate defenses to find the open man.

Waters’ most glaring limitation is his size, which makes him a target for opposing teams when he’s on defense. Having masterminded the rise of Isaiah Thomas, there’s no reason not to believe Brad Stevens would not be capable of hiding Waters on the defensive end of the floor and putting him in a position to maximize his talent offensively.

While Brad Wanamaker has been a capable deputy off the bench, the Celtics have looked short in the playmaking and scoring department. Maybe this is where the 5’10’ magician comes into play. Waters has shown he’s capable of the unthinkable, carving defenses open with creative passing and breathtaking dribble moves, while also earning respect as a reliable scorer.

If the NBA goes ahead with its idea to extend team rosters to 17 players inside the bubble, then Waters could very well be the player to benefit the most, which in turn raises the Celtics chances of success once the playoffs roll around.

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics

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The last name on this list is Carsen Edwards. You remember him, right? The guy with incredibly jacked thighs, who lit up March Madness and then summer league to put the league on notice? Unfortunately, Edwards never found his rhythm on an NBA floor through the first two-thirds of the season, eventually finding himself turning out for Maine to rebuild his confidence.

The Purdue product has shown flashes of being a knockdown scorer, predominantly in his two best games against the Knicks and Cavaliers. However, Edwards has been unable to string together any consistency, operating at 100 percent speed on every possession instead of letting the game come to him.

There is still hope for the young guard out of Texas. He projects to be a “big game” player, as proven by his historic run during last season’s March Madness. Edwards’ role on the Celtics is vastly different to his role at Purdue; however, scorers can always find a way of knocking down the crucial shots. And that’s what Edwards is: a scorer.

Statistically, the 6’0 point guard has been struggling to score this season, especially as a spot-up scorer. Synergy has him shooting just 28 percent from the field, which ranks him in the 14th percentile league-wide. It didn’t get much better for him once he was applying his trade in the G-League either, as Edwards proceeded to hit on just 27.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Edwards does redeem himself on the defensive end, operating as a fierce competitor who fights through screens and does everything in his power to stay in front of his man. By now, we all know that the quickest way to seeing minutes on the floor for Brad Stevens is through defensive intensity. Should Edwards continue contesting every possession, there may still be time for him to earn minutes in the Celtics rotation.

With his contract guaranteed for another two years and a team option for the last year on his deal, Edwards still has time to earn his minutes. If the Celtics need an additional scoring threat during the playoffs and they may have no choice other than to turn to Edwards. If last season’s NCAA tournament is anything to go by, we may see the scoring extraordinaire we all longed for when he inked his contract after summer league.

Three other players could be considered potential x-factors heading into the playoffs. Grant Williams has shown growth on the offensive end while being a reliable option on defense. However, his play style doesn’t lend itself to being classified as an x-factor. He’s a solid role player right now, but not someone that’s going to score 13 points in three minutes.

Others would have been hoping to see Tacko Fall’s name on this list, but in reality, the 7’5 big is not ready to make an impact at the highest level of basketball. Sure, there’s the topic that being 7’5’ makes him a perfect impact player off the bench to deter shots at the rim, but what happens when opposing teams wise up and begin to pull him further away from the paint? Is Tacko ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol?

Finally, Vincent Poirier could indeed be an x-factor only due to the minuscule amount of time he’s spent on the floor. The big Frenchman came into the league following several successful seasons in Europe, but if he were ready to impact games on either end of the floor, surely we would have seen him do that by now?

Too many times this season, the Celtics lack of bench scoring and depth was caught out. Now, with a healthy roster and the ability to stagger some of their stars, we might be able to see what some end-of-rotation guys are truly capable of doing within the Celtics system.





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