As the Celtics enter the All-Star Break with the best record in the NBA, it becomes abundantly clear that this is by far the deepest roster in the league.
How many teams can get players of the caliber of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams off the bench? How many can barely find room for a dynamic player like Payton Pritchard? How many can still fight the Bucks on the road with four starters? It is quite impressive and should not be taken for granted.
In recent weeks, as several Celtics have been injured or ill, others have stepped in to fill the void again and again. In the playoffs, doing so will inevitably be more difficult, and they’ll need to be at least close to full strength to win it all.
So which player besides Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is most critical to everything they hope to achieve? Who is the third most important player of his and the least they can afford to play without him at the end of the season?
NBC Sports Boston casually ran A poll on this topic Friday morning (I swear, this Celtics blog story was already in the works before the poll came out).
There is no correct answer here, and this is opinion based, so feel free to comment below. Here’s a case for each player and why they deserve consideration as the third most important player, then my two cents at the end.
The case of Marcus Smart
The Celtics immediately lost three in a row after Smart injured his ankle and went 6-5 in the 11 games he missed. Coincidence? You are welcome.
Of course, many other factors were at play, but the Celtics certainly missed Defensive Player of the Year. Smart may not have the flashiest scoring numbers or shooting divisions, but his effect on the game is tremendous.
When you’re playing a big game and you need someone to make quick plays at key moments, there’s no one better in the NBA.
The Robert Williams case
All the Celts love to play with Williams.
He makes their lives so much easier just by being out there, and when he’s locked up and playing to his potential, it’s scary what he can do.
“I want to be on the court with him, at the same time, as much as possible,” Tatum said.
When Williams is healthy, looking like himself and affecting the game in every way imaginable, he takes the Celtics from great to near unbeatable. You may be able to get by without it, but it’s just not the same.
The Al Horford case
Ahh yes: the smart veteran leader. However, he doesn’t fall asleep on his contributions to basketball.
Horford is an elite floor spacer, and his ability to guard big men and rebound on one end and hit timely shots on the other is critical to the Celtics’ success. Without him, a lot would fall on the shoulders of Luke Kornet and Mike Muscala on defense.
Grant Williams and Robert Williams are key players, of course, but Horford is the glue between the big men, and really the entire team. It’s not like everything would fall apart without him, but the foundation wouldn’t be as solid.
The Derrick White case
Let’s be clear: if White continues to play as he has of late, this isn’t really a debate at all.
But, he can be scratched, and that’s a factor. So, with the ups and downs, does White affect the win more than any other Celtic besides those two? Well, he has the best real plus minus (3.06) besides Tatum and Brown.
He’s probably their second-best passer after Smart, the second-best scorer on this list after Brogdon, and one of the best defenders on the team. He can play point guard or shooting guard, blocks shots like a big man and is a threat in transition (when he finishes off bunnies).
This is a guy who is in his prime, has found his home and is playing like a champ.
The case of Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon is the missing piece. It felt that way when they signed him, it felt that way for the first half and it feels that way now.
It was exactly what this team lacked last year. Let’s say they face the Warriors again in the Finals. Who will rescue them when Tatum and Brown double up? brogdon. Who’s going to hit crucial shots when the Celtics really need a basket? brogdon. Who do you want to take the last shot on this list if Brown and Tatum are covered? You know the answer.
Don’t be fooled by his methodical style and even-tempered demeanor. It’s relentless. Oh, and he leads the league in 3-point percentage (45.5). It’s not bad at all.
Honorable Mention: Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, Blake Griffin
Williams can protect just about anyone, including Joel Embiid, and he’s also a reliable shooter. Pritchard has an engine like no other. Hauser is an absolute sharpshooter. Griffin is a great guy in the locker room who is maximizing the role of him. But they are not number 3. Sorry, Kornet and Muscala. Both are great, but not quite number 3.
So, now you have seen the case of each player. Who is the third most important player on the Celtics? Well, that’s for you to decide, but in my opinion, it’s Brogdon. Let me explain why.
The way I see it: He’s the most offensively consistent guard on this list. Any disagreement there? He’s the best 3-point shooter, right? From a statistical standpoint, that’s a given. He’s also the best overall scorer, don’t you think?
After Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who do you see as the third most important player for the Celtics in their quest to win the Banner 18?
— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) February 17, 2023
Smart is a better defender, but Brogdon is consistent in that regard as well. How about the big ones? Horford and Williams are crucial, but they don’t create much offense on their own. They rely on others to receive shots, while Brogdon can create for others and himself.
For numbers of people, let’s make this quantitative. Stats among players not named Brown or Tatum:
Player 1: Points: 1st; Rebounds: 4th; Assists: 3rd; 3 point percentage: 1st; Field Goal Percentage: 6th.
Player 2: Points: 2nd; Rebounds: 7th; Assists: 2nd; 3 point percentage: 7th; Field goal percentage: 11th.
Player 3: Points: 3rd; Rebounds: 5th; Assists: 1st; 3 point percentage: 10th; Field goal percentage: 12th.
Player 4: Points: 4th; Rebounds: 2nd; Assists: 4th; 3 point percentage: 2nd; Field goal 7th.
Player 5: Points: 6th; Rebounds: 1st; Assists: 6th; 3 point percentage: N/A; Field Goal Percentage: 1st.
Player 1 is Brogdon, 2 is White, 3 is Smart, 4 is Horford, and 5 is Williams. Add all that up, and Brogdon’s average is 3. White’s is 5.8, Smart’s 6.2, Horford’s 3.8, Williams’s 3.5. Brogdon has the highest usage rate (22.5) and highest player impact estimate outside of Williams.
I’m not afraid to go against the majority here, and here’s the main reason: Who is the biggest threat to beat the Celtics in the playoffs? I still say the Warriors. Which player on this list would help the most against them? brogdon.
The sum of the parts is the most important thing in this team. Every piece is critical, and that’s what makes it work so well, but as the Celtics hunt for a championship, no player outside of Tatum and Brown is more important than Brogdon.
Just wait until the playoffs. He will be ready.