It’s clear that whatever the Boston Celtics are currently doing isn’t working. The team now sits 10th in the Eastern Conference and is amidst a three-game losing streak.
Sure, we can point to Jaylen Brown’s lack of health to start the season and the fact the team is still coming to grips with Ime Udoka’s offensive and defensive system. But we’re currently a quarter of the way through the 2021-22 NBA season, and things don’t project to get much better for the Celtics any time soon.
One of the more consistent contention points among the fan base has been the lack of playing time afforded to the Celtics younger contingent. Aaron Nesmith is a movement shooter who has shown flashes of potential when given a consistent opportunity, while Payton Pritchard was one of the surprise packages of the 2020-21 season. Yet, neither sophomore has had their fair crack at the rotation thus far.
Romeo Langford is the one player from the team’s young unit that has been provided with some opportunity this year, primarily due to his defensive ability on the perimeter. However, Langford’s minutes are inconsistent, and his usage rate is next to nothing – so how much is just being on the floor really aiding his development?
Speaking on NBC Sports Boston’s post-game show on December 10, Celtics Insider Chris Mannix unleashed a fiery speech regarding Boston’s current plight and the lack of playing time afforded to their energetic sophomore and third-year guys.
“They have a 116.3 defensive rating in the month of December. They can’t get any worse at this point. We heard Ime Udoka talk about the lack of energy. Let’s put one of those young guys in the starting lineup. Put Romeo Langford in the starting lineup right now. Show me where the opportunity is besides three-minute spurts,” Mannix said.
Kendrick Perkins Believes Team Struggles Down to Youth
During the summer, Brad Stevens made a conscious effort to increase the number of veterans in the Celtics rotation. Al Horford, Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom, and Josh Richardson all joined the team during the off-season, but the team is still comprised of young players trying to find their way in the NBA.
Jayson Tatum is only 23-years-old, Jaylen Brown has just turned 25, the team’s two best players are still to enter their prime years. Add in Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Pritchard, and you quickly drag down the team’s average age.
Former NBA Champion Kendrick Perkins, who won a ring with the Celtics in 2008, believes that the team’s youth could be part of their current problems.
“When you’re on the road, you have to play desperate from the start. And desperate means doing all the little things. I think sometimes, the Celtics get caught up in…and this is the problem with having a young team…they get caught up with scoring the basketball and forget about just going out there and competing,” Perkins said during NBC Sports Boston’s post-game show.
Nesmith & Pritchard Have Seen Minutes Drop
During their rookie seasons, Nesmith and Pritchard averaged 14.5 minutes and 19.2 minutes, respectively, per Basketball-Reference. This year, the sophomore duo are averaging 9.5 minutes (Pritchard) and 9.8 minutes (Nesmith) in what is a considerable drop-off in court time.
It’s not that either of these young players regressed during the summer, far from it if Summer League and pre-season were any indications. Instead, Udoka has entrusted his veteran players with the lion’s share of the team’s available playing time. However, that veteran rotation is coming up short more often than not, with a critical issue being a lack of energy or spark.
Perhaps giving some of the team’s younger, more energetic players some additional opportunities to impress and improve isn’t a bad idea. It’s clear that the Celtics can’t continue on their current path much longer. Otherwise, the team’s in danger of falling outside of the playoff window altogether – of course, that’s highly unlikely, but still a possibility.
Udoka and the Celtics will face the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, December 13, before facing off against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, December 17. Their schedule continues to be grueling, heading into the holiday period. Hopefully, Udoka and the Celtics can find the spark they need. Otherwise, they could be looking at a five-game losing streak which will only make the spotlight shine brighter.