Forsberg: Four Celtics (and one trade target) to watch out West originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics open a five-game road trip Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors. Here are five players in particular we’ll be focused on during Boston’s West Coast swing that also features stops in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Utah.
The Celtics are 1-5 in the six games that Walker has played since his return on January 17. That’s not all on Walker but the on/off splits are damning.
Boston has a minus-8.0 net rating in Walker’s 149 minutes, which includes an underwhelming offensive rating of 106.4 (and an eyesore of a defensive rating at 114.4). With Walker off the court, that net rating flips to plus-5.3 with Boston limiting opponents to 102.1 points per 100 possessions in a 187-minute span.
Walker admitted his frustrations got the best of him against the Lakers. He’s still figuring out his place alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics need him to be most aggressive when he’s a focal point with sub lineups.
Yes, he’s still on a bit of a minutes restriction and he’ll almost certainly sit out the second night of a back-to-back in Sacramento, but this trip is where Walker needs to settle in and find both his rhythm and continuity with his teammates.
Barnes is one of our favorite big-splash options with Boston’s $28.5 million traded player exception.
The problem is that the Kings are loitering just close enough to a Western Conference play-in spot and have enough intriguing young talent that they’re no slam dunk to be sellers at the deadline.
Barnes is having a heck of a year, too, averaging 16.9 points per game while shooting career bests at 50.4 percent from the floor and a sizzling 43.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He’s 28, has championship experience in Golden State, and would give the Celtics much-needed size and shooting on the wing. He’s making $22.2 million this season but is under contract for two more years after this at descending money.
The ultimate question might be the price tag, but Boston should be willing to send out young talent and draft capital to add the sort of impact talent who could aid its championship hopes this season and beyond.
The absence of Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard leaves the Celtics thin on guard options. Both Nesmith and Carsen Edwards have seen increased opportunities lately and one of them needs to really snatch this chance out west.
Nesmith put together his two best games as a pro against Cleveland and Chicago, then was an early sub in San Antonio before Boston had to go to a gimmicky zone defense. The rookie got eight minutes against the Lakers.
For all those clamoring for the Celtics to go get JJ Redick, we’d rather see the team just go all-in with Nesmith in hopes of accelerating his development and deal with the defensive miscues along the way. We’re not saying you could lean on Nesmith in the playoffs the way you could with a revitalized Redick, but the long-term development of Nesmith is a far better investment than the dice roll with 36-year-old Redick, and Boston could still spend its TPE money elsewhere to add shooting.
It’s been a really weird year for Williams.
Some of Boston’s best basketball inside the bubble came with him at small-ball center and, after the departure of Gordon Hayward during the offseason, it was fair to wonder if Williams might elevate to a bigger role.
Instead, Williams is ninth on the team in minutes through the first quarter of the season. He was a DNP against the Lakers on Saturday. He has played more than 16 minutes in only half of Boston’s games this year.
The Celtics have an obvious glut at the center spot and moving away from two-big starting groups naturally limits the amount of time that Williams might get when coach Brad Stevens is leaning heaviest on Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams.
But without Smart the Celtics have a need for defensive-minded presences and Grant Williams needs to seize whatever playing time comes his way and show he can give the team quality minutes whether he’s at the 4 or playing small-ball 5.
The on/off splits with Teague are quite rosy. Boston’s net rating with him on the court is plus-8.5 in his 288 minutes of floor time, second best among regulars behind only injured Pritchard (plus-8.6).
The eye test with Teague isn’t as cozy. He’s shooting 28.8 percent on all 2-point shots -- 18.3 percent below his career average. Teague can’t get any floaters to fall, is under 50 percent on layups, and is shooting less than 10 percent on all shots from 10 feet to the 3-point line. Teague sometimes gets painfully lost on defense, and yet the team’s defensive rating is a glossy 103.5 during his floor time.
We’re intrigued to see what the numbers suggest with him in an elevated role without Smart and Pritchard to start the trip. Is Teague just in a shooting funk? Is he someone who the team can truly lean on as part of a postseason rotation?
This stretch could help answer some of those questions.