As if Avery Bradley’s injury wasn’t enough of an obstacle for the Celtics to overcome, news emerged yesterday that Kelly Olynyk re-aggravated the shoulder injury that sidelined him earlier this season. Olynyk hasn’t been ruled out of Game 2 just yet, but he didn’t participate in Monday’s practice and he is listed as day-to-day for now.
This team has relied on it’s depth and the fact that each rotation player has been integral to their success all season. Now with two players potentially out, the Celtics depth is running dry. Smart will likely take Bradley’s spot in the starting lineup and it’s probable that Turner will see close to 30 minutes a game until Bradley is healthy again. That leaves Jerebko as the last remaining player from their second unit that has been almost as good as their starters at times this season. I don’t think Stevens can give Jerebko any more minutes than he saw last game, so that leaves Tyler Zeller and the rookies as the next viable options, assuming James Young doesn’t see any time which I really hope is the case. No offense James, I just don’t think you’re ready yet.
Saturday, I questioned Brad Stevens’ choice to only play Olynyk 12 minutes, but with this news on Olynyk it’s clear why Stevens rested him. I went on to say in my last article that I’d like to see the Celtics use a more traditional lineup to try and slow down Atlanta’s bigs but if Kelly isn’t able to play, it’s likely that the Celts’ will have to rely on rookies Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter to help fill Avery’s void in the guard-heavy lineups.
Luckily, Stevens has utilized both rookies at times throughout the season so while they don’t have the most in-game experience, at least they’ve both seen some action. The real problem is the fact that neither Rozier or Hunter posses the full package. By that, I mean neither really excels on both end of the court.
Rozier is probably the better on ball defender out of the two, although Hunter’s length makes up for what he lacks in speed and can be useful in clogging up the passing lanes. On offense, Rozier has been hesitant, which is normal when discussing most rookies, but the Celtics will need him to show some confidence when shooting and attacking the rim if he’s really going to contribute. In addition to his defending abilities and speed, Rozier is actually a pretty good rebounder, even at 6-feet-2-inches. He saw more minutes down the stretch than fellow rookie Hunter, so its more likely that he’ll get a bulk of the extra minutes, but with the Celtics struggling to shoot, don’t be surprised if Hunter sees extended minutes as well.
While Rozier brings more to the table on defense, Hunter is clearly the better offensive player out of the two. He hasn’t been consistent this season, and saw his playing time cut when he was injured earlier this season, but playoffs may as well be a completely new season. The Celtics are in desperate need of shooting and that was evident in Game 1 when Hunter logged 2 minutes and 43 seconds. Hunter has great basketball IQ and he isn’t as good of a defender as Rozier but he’s no slouch either. He showed flashes of defense when given the opportunity and at 6-feett-5-inches he’s is wiry enough to disrupt passing lanes and cause deflections, which usually lead to fast break buckets for the C’s.
If I had to guess, the game-time scenario will play a big part in which rookie sees more minutes. If the C’s fall behind early again like they did in Game 1, it won’t shock me to see Hunter get in the game and get some shots up. Just about any other scenario will favor Rozier though.
I’m a huge fan of Jordan Mickey’s raw talent on defense and while it might be nice to put him in from time to time to try and contain Paul Millsap — who is also 6-foot-8-inches tall — he really lacks offense. That being said, it’ll be tough for Stevens to justify playing him, especially with the Celtics scoring woes as of late. But with Bradley out and Olynyk questionable, anything is possible at this point.