What Brad Stevens needs to figure out during Celtics' rough stretch

Nick Friar
March 07, 2020 - 6:15 am
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Two Celtics scored exactly nine points in the Celtics’ loss to the Jazz on Friday. However, those same two players had drastically different plus-minuses.

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Now, single-game plus-minus isn’t a be-all-end-all stat by any means. However, when a player posts a -25 plus-minus in one game over 26:26, that can’t be ignored. That abysmal mark belongs to Brad Wanamaker. The other nine-point scorer in the Celtics 99-94 loss to the Jazz was Semi Ojeleye. He finished with a plus-minus of 4, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning normally. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' loss, click here.)

But their performances highlight the bigger issue with this Celtics team: the bench.

Going 4-for-10 from the floor (1-for-4 from deep) against the Jazz was a solid follow-up performance for Ojeleye after his surprising 22-point outburst against the Cavs. While he’s trending upward, Wanamaker has been going in the other direction.

Still, Wanamaker has played a bit more than normal lately. That’s partially the product of injuries. No Gordon Hayward and no Jaylen Brown means the Celtics have to make up for a lot of minutes. And when Kemba Walker was out, the C’s needed Wanamaker’s ball-handling.

While these injuries are having a negative impact on the Celtics’ record, their absence presents Brad Stevens with an opportunity to evaluate the bench — even though he doesn’t “want to make any generalizations necessarily about our bench until we see our whole team in full.”

“I think those guys are trying and doing everything they can,” the Celtics head coach added.

Of course, Marcus Smart is normally the first reserve to enter the game. It looks like Stevens is leaning more toward Robert Williams as the big off the bench as Enes Kanter’s defense continues to deteriorate.

But there’s still the third spot that he hasn’t been able to solidify all season. Again, the team’s consistent flow of injuries has made this difficult to do. At the same time, Stevens has tried to mix things up throughout the year between Grant Williams, Wanamaker and Ojeleye.

Grant Williams should be part of the rotation as the ninth player, but Stevens has to give Ojeleye a run of consistent minutes now and see how he handles the opportunity.

Ojeleye has always left a lot to be desired when it comes to his offense, yet he’s shooting 37.6% from deep this season. That’s above league average — he’s also shooting better than Smart from deep.

Of course, Smart has taken far more threes than Ojeleye, but the forward shouldn’t take as many shots as Boston’s sixth man. It’s important that he’s efficient with his limited opportunities.

So this isn’t about getting Ojeleye to jack up shots left and right, it’s more about giving him time to get into the flow of the game on a nightly basis. Not: sit him one night, play him nine minutes the next, sit him again and play him 20 the following.

Because Ojeleye also helps on the glass (seven rebounds vs. Utah) and, most notably, on the defensive end.

As long as Brown is out, Ojeleye needs to get regular time. If he continues to prove himself, Stevens needs to make him a regular part of the rotation and consider deviating slightly from his matchup-heavy approach.

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