This should be a simple question but it is not. When looking at the Celtics roster they really only have two solid candidates to start: the slimmed-down Marcus Smart and second-year man Jaylen Brown.
Now, it wouldn’t be beyond Brad Stevens to surprise us all and start a total wild card like Terry Rozier or Jayson Tatum. However, for the purpose of this story I am just going to focus on Smart and Brown as I see them as the most legitimate contenders.
Most in Celtics Nation would really like to see Jaylen Brown as the starter and there is a legitimate case for him to start. He showed a lot of improvement post all star break and was a much better player when he was with the starting units.
If you check out his splits on NBA.com there was an uptick in nearly all of his raw numbers after the all star break. He increased his points, rebounds, and assists. However, most impressive was the fact that both his field goal and three point percentage increased by nearly 7 points.
Brown was also much better as a starter last season. The same stats from NBA.com show the production increase. He pulled his points into double digits (10.0 ppg), shot over 40% from three (40.4%), and had a positive plus minus, albeit barely at 0.2.
The numbers show that Brown is better when he is surrounded by talent. However, what’s more important than raw statistics is the eye test. Just watching a game last year it was easy to see how much better Brown was when he ran with the starters.
Al Horford makes the game easier for everybody and Jaylen benefited a lot from the attention that Isaiah Thomas drew. Now, Isaiah is gone but in comes Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward who will command plenty of attention each.
At this point in his career Brown is at his best when he is spotting up for corner threes, cutting hard for a layup, or running in transition for alley oops.
Check out his play last year in a start against the Phoenix Suns here. That type of game is where Brown needs to thrive this year for Boston. Quick cuts, spot ups, and being an absolute killer in transition.
Being with the starters should only help to open up Brown’s world and allow him to do these things better and at his most efficient level.
Now, enter Marcus Smart. Smart should not be the starter for Boston this year, but Brad Stevens might just roll with him.
Smart is somehow the longest tenured member of this team. Brad Stevens is known for two things: loyalty to his players and putting them into the best position to succeed.
The starting issue pits Brad’s principles against each other. Smart’s tenure and pedigree would suggest he’s earned a starting spot, but his best chance of succeeding is likely by coming off the bench. So it’s the loyalty versus what helps Marcus play his best.
Smart’s greatest asset is his penchant for game winning types of plays. He always seems to come up with the big loose ball, steal, put back, or hustle type of play especially in the fourth quarter of games.
My hope is that Stevens does not start Marcus out of some type of loyalty and that instead he does what would be best for the team. It really does not matter if Smart starts games as long as he finishes them.
Heck, we might even see a scenario where Brown starts a game and then he and Smart finish it together. A lineup of Irving, Smart, Brown, Hayward, and Horford has some really good potential to it.
My final verdict and hope is that Brown gets the starting nod. Sure, he’s going to be 20 years old and he is still going to make his fair share of mistakes, but he needs to be with that starting unit.
Smart knows how to successfully help a bench unit and he will still have his crack at making the crucial fourth quarter impact he’s known for. See what he did against Toronto last year. In that one game he played great defense on a hot Kyle Lowry, ripped down a rebound in a crowd of big men, and won a crucial jump ball to save the game.
Smart will be the finisher but it is best for the team that Jaylen Brown starts. Time will tell what Coach Stevens decides but I am confident he will do what is best for the team going forward and that is starting Jaylen Brown.