Small-Ball Pairing Proposed to Solve Celtics’ Frontcourt Woes

Marcus Smart, Al Horford

Getty Marcus Smart, Al Horford

With Daniel Theis gone, the Boston Celtics will need to find a way to conserve Al Horford and Robert Williams III during the regular season. Horford will come into the 2022-23 season being 36 years old, and Williams has proven himself to be injury-prone, as the 61 games he played in last season were the most he’s played in one season throughout his four-year career.

Jay King proposed a frontcourt pairing that he believes could help the Celtics keep those two rested during the regular season: Grant Williams and the newly signed Danilo Gallinari. Though King acknowledges that the pair as flawed, he believes it could work as long the Celtics surround Gallinari with defensive personnel.

“I can’t be the only one intrigued by the idea of a Gallinari-Grant Williams frontcourt off the bench. It would have defensive limitations. It would leave the Celtics smaller than they liked to play last season. Still, it could work.

That duo would give plenty of space to Boston’s ballhandlers. It would put all sorts of pressure on the opposing frontcourt to defend the arc. With other good defenders on the bench, like Brogdon and Derrick White, the Celtics probably wouldn’t get diced up just because Gallinari would be manning the middle. By playing either Tatum or Brown with the second unit, Udoka could surround Gallinari with plenty of defensive talent.”

Gallinari and Williams have some experience playing center. According to Basketball-Reference, Gallinari played 36 percent of his minutes at center with Atlanta Hawks during the 2020-21 season, then 24 percent the next season.

In that same timespan, Williams played seven percent of his minutes at center during the 2020-21 season and three percent of his minutes during the 2021-22 season, according to Basketball-Reference. That could change now that he won’t be competing for minutes with Theis or Enes Kanter Freedom.

King also believes it’s worth looking into because he’s not too sure Boston’s other frontcourt options are that reliable.


King’s Thoughts on Boston’s Other Bigs

Part of the reason why King wants to see this Gallinari-Williams pairing on the court is that he’s not sure if the rest of Boston’s bigs are dependable.

“The Celtics sound confident that Luke Kornet can handle the backup center spot, but he hasn’t had a regular role for years. Maybe he can be a solid backup for Horford and Robert Williams. If he can’t — and if other candidates like Noah Vonleh, Bruno Caboclo, and Mfiondu Kabengele all fail to emerge — playing small off the bench could be the Celtics’ best option when they’re not just staggering Horford and Robert Williams.”

Kornet was featured more in his first go-round in Boston when he was acquired by the Celtics at the trade deadline in 2021. In the 18 games he played, Kornet averaged 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 14.1 minutes a game.

The Celtics have made it clear that they will roll with Kornet as their primary backup center behind Al Horford and Robert Williams III. No one knows what that entails minutes-wise until the Celtics take the court.

Kornet might play a bigger role than he previously did knowing how the Celtics will manage Horford for the 2022-23 season.


Horford Will Be Featured Less

Al Horford went from playing 28 games and being shelved mid-season by the Oklahoma City Thunder to playing all the way until the last game of the season against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at 36 years old.

With Horford in his mid-30s, the Celtics will feature him less during the 2022-23 season, according to Jared Weiss.

“(Boston) will certainly need center depth, as Al Horford is expected to sit out most back-to-backs and have his minutes limited even further next season, according to team sources.”

With Horford expected to play fewer minutes, the Celtics will look to Kornet, Gallinari, or Grant Williams to spell him when he sits out.

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