Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens joined NBC Sports Boston's Brian Scalabrine and Mike Gorman on the broadcast during Friday night's In-Season Tournament game vs. the Brooklyn Nets, where they talked about the team's performance so far this season.
Standing at 5-2 going into their In-Season Tournament debut game, coming off of back-to-back losses, the Celtics have looked like one of the stronger teams across the league so far, led by the star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, point guard Derrick White and newcomers Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday.
One of the more noticeable struggles of the Celtics so far has been their scoring off the bench. With Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, and Sam Hauser leading the bench unit, the scoring has been inconsistent at best.
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Scalabrine asked Stevens about the lack of bench scoring during Friday night's broadcast.
"I think bench scoring is one thing, but I think also, just generally, we played two really good teams, and how we're attacking, I look at it more for the whole team," Stevens said. "I think everybody can play better."
Surprisingly, it's been Hauser leading the bench unit in scoring with 8.1 points per game, with Horford and Pritchard averaging 5.0 and 3.1, respectively. Outside of those three, Oshae Brissett is the only other bench player averaging more than 10 minutes per game, only scoring 2.8 points per game.
The efficiency of the bench has struggled, with Hauser being the sole player to find his shot, shooting 45.2 percent from the field. After agreeing to a four-year, $30 million contract extension, Pritchard has so far failed to knock down shots, shooting a lackluster 23.5 percent from the field and an even worse 15.0 percent from deep. Horford has regressed as well, shooting a career-low 35.0 percent from the field.
The starting five of Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, White and Holiday have been flying so far, all scoring well over double digits each game, shooting a combined 50.1 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from deep. While scoring certainly hasn't been an issue for the starters so far, Stevens still believes there can be improvement.
"Obviously we need points off the bench," Stevens added. "It's good to see Payton [Pritchard] get a couple, Sam [Hauser], that helps, but we just need everyone to continue to get better together, learn how to play together, and make sure we are taking the right strides, and certainly the bench is a part of that."
Following in coach Joe Mazzulla's team-first approach, Stevens is choosing to see the Celtics as a whole unit. He also brings up a good point that this group of players is still learning to play with each other. With seven of the team's 13 players new to the roster this season, the chemistry will take time. We have already seen flashes of how good this team can be when everyone is in sync with each other in the win over the Indiana Pacers, and it will only continue to develop for the better. As for Horford, he is also used to playing with the starting unit. He is still settling into his new role and learning how to play with the rest of the bench unit.
Scalabrine moved the conversation forward, then asking Stevens how long the team will keep "experimenting" with bench minutes outside of the top six players, specifically trying to figure out how long it will take to get a lock on the rotation.
"I'd go well into the season," Stevens responded. "Especially because you're talking about the six or seven guys on each team that are going to play the majority of the minutes, and then you're really just looking for best fits next to those guys. Here's one thing, we are not going to lose sleep over a game, or two-game stretch, when Sam Hauser doesn't make a shot, or Payton Pritchard doesn't make a shot. That's going to be fine, that's going to even itself out."
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What Stevens could have been talking about specifically is Pritchard's slump going into Friday night's game, with his last bucket coming in the Nov. 1 win over the Pacers. Even though he has since struggled, Stevens seems to believe that Pritchard, or anyone else who could potentially be in a situation like that, has the maturity to battle his way out of a slump.
"We just need to find [players] seven, eight, and nine [off the bench], just the guys that fit the best, and it may change on a given night," Stevens added. "I believe in all of these guys to be able to do it."
Outside of the nightly rotation, the Celtics have also mixed Luke Kornet, Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Lamar Stevens into the lineup, used situationally.
"We've got a lot of good players," Stevens said of the bench depth. "Svi [Mykhailiuk] is getting a little run here, so let's see how he holds up."
Mykhailiuk, who has yet to see meaningful minutes with Boston, was a crafty bench scorer for the Charlotte Hornets last season, averaging 10.6 points on 44.1 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from deep. If able to find a rotation spot alongside Hauser, defenses could have trouble stopping them both from beyond the arc.
Just because the depth hasn't excelled yet doesn't mean the second unit won't be able to figure it out as the year progresses. Stevens sees the potential and believes that they can all contribute to help the Celtics raise Banner 18 at the end of the season.