The Celtics' surprisingly outgunned loss to the Heat in their third game in the Disney World bubble showed real flaws in their current roster configuration, and perhaps larger issues on the horizon .
In the 112-106 loss, the Celtics struggled to find capable role players next to their stars and once Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum got into foul trouble — and with Kemba Walker still on a minutes restriction — the ugly side of the Boston bench flared badly. The four main bench players for the Celtics this year have been the aforementioned Smart, Enes Kanter, Semi Ojeleye, and Brad Wanamaker. Smart continues to be a beast, providing elite defense while serving as a capable ball handler. Smart is definitely a part of the Celtics rotation and it's easy to see him closing out games for Boston as well. The other three, however, are much more complicated.
Kanter has provided nice offensive rebounding and post play, but continues to be an absolutely atrocious defender. Additionally, his lack of offensive awareness mitigates much of his offensive rebounding prowess. Any team that has time to game plan for Boston and can present capable ball handlers should eat Kanter alive and create plenty of open shots on the perimeter. Unfortunately for the Celtics, their other options for interior defense are not much better. Second-year post Robert Williams is too raw and is far too inconsistent to be an answer at backup center, French import Vincent Porier also needs more development and Tacko Fall is not a legitimate NBA player (at least yet), let alone one who could contribute in the playoffs. The option that could be very appealing to coach Brad Stevens is increasing minutes for rookie Grant Williams and giving him more of a shot as a small ball center. While he definitely could use some work and makes rookie mistakes, his intelligence, perimeter defense, and passing stands as an extremely appealing option, and one that could fare significantly better than Kanter in many matchups.
The case of Semi Ojeleye is a little more complicated. The SMU product provides nice defense for bigger forwards like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons, but against almost every other team he isn't really a viable option. Ojeleye continues to struggle offensively, and he is too slow defensively for most guards and not long enough for most bigs. Combined with sub-par off-ball defending, Ojeleye leaves plenty to be desired defensively for Boston's rotation. The Celtics do not have a lot of other options on the wing, but the most obvious one is their first pick last year, Romeo Langford. Langford’s rookie year got off to a rough start due to injuries and he struggled to cement a place in the rotation. However, when he has played he has flashed strong perimeter defense and impressive slashing ability. Ultimately it might be hard for him to receive a real run in the playoffs due to his lack of experience, but he has enough promise to warrant optimism about the future, and maybe a fringe role that could contribute in a real way in the right playoff series.
Meanwhile, while being labeled a point guard, Wannamaker struggles as a passer and remains a below-average ball handler. His main value comes as a shooter and defender, but when he is asked to do more the team's fortunes typically dip significantly. In situations like Tuesday night, where the Celtics needed shot creation, rookie second-rounder Carsen Edwards would still be a much stronger option. Perhaps even more attractive would be G League Rookie of the Year Tremont Waters, the player most likely to take Wannamaker's role in 2020-21 and who looked particularly strong in the exhibition and has been inactive for the first few restart games since.
The lack of suitable bench players on the Celtics falls on both Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge. The Celtics have too many firsts for their own good in the forthcoming 2020 NBA Draft, and could have used their own or the Bucks' pick in exchange for bench help and the lack of minutes that Langford, Waters, and both Williamses got could hurt the Celtics both now and in the future. Ultimately the Celtics have to find some answers on the bench, and the inability to do so with consistency and quality could be the difference between an early exit and a deep playoff run.