G League Pipeline Gives Celtics Potential Advantage During NBA’s Return

As the NBA inches closer to its return, teams are preparing for the potential need of replacing players lost due to injury or quarantine. Possible replacement options reportedly will be G Leaguers, any player who was on an NBA roster this season or 2019 training camp invitees. The Celtics are fortunate to have some additional depth with the Maine Red Claws, a luxury not many teams have.

Boston’s G League affiliate finished the shortened season with a 28-14 record, the league’s fourth-best record. That success was headlined by two-way players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall, who both exceeded expectations in their first professional season with Maine. It’s been widely reported that teams are pushing for their two-way players to be activated in Orlando when the season restarts, meaning Waters and Fall would join the Celtics in the bubble environment. The organization was impressed with the development of both rookies, and they’ll add depth to Boston’s roster when the season restarts later this summer.

Waters showed off his high-level playmaking ability with the Red Claws this season, oftentimes dominating with the ball in his hands. At 5-foot-10, there were some questions about how his game would translate to the pro level, but Waters proved any doubters wrong early and often on both sides of the ball. He’ll provide some nice backcourt depth as a reliable ball-handler and on-ball defender for the Celtics, especially if they run into injuries down the stretch. During the league’s hiatus, the LSU product had access to a private gym in New Canaan, Conn., which allowed him to easily stay in basketball shape.

Fall likely won’t have as many opportunities as Waters thanks to a frontcourt logjam, but its reassuring for Boston that the 7-foot-7 center will be at the bottom of its depth chart. He showed major improvements defending the pick-and-roll this year, something that would help Fall immensely if he were to end up receiving some minutes. At minimum, Fall provides a unique skillset off the bench that can throw a wrench at how opponents plan to attack the basket. But if the Celtics get hit with injuries on the wing, they may need to look toward their G Leaguers. Lucky for them, it’s a better crop than most.

Bryce Brown was Maine’s best shooter this season, firing the ball at a 42.4 percent clip from deep while averaging 16.1 points per game. He was a legitimate 10-day candidate before the season was suspended, so it would be nice to see the Auburn product get a shot in Orlando.

He moves well off the ball, but the majority of his production comes in spot-up or catch-and-shoot situations thanks to his quick release. Brown did work hard this season to improve his defensive game, which is where the value comes in as a replacement player.

Brown’s a high-volume shooter, but if he were added to the Celtics’ roster, he wouldn’t find himself in a high-volume role. With lower minutes and less usage, it’s clear he wouldn’t get the shot attempts he had in Maine. The 22-year-old’s work ethic and athleticism make him a versatile defender. He has good footwork along the perimeter and improved his team defense throughout the season, something he told me he was working on back in late February. If Boston needs to go beyond their two-way players and bring in someone from the replacement pool, Brown is a solid option who would be able to adjust to fill the necessary role.

Kaiser Gates is a versatile scorer with good size who could help Boston on the wing or as a big man in small-ball lineups. He’s a strong finisher who can stretch the floor at 6-foot-7 while also showcasing some smart off-ball movement. Gates’ G League numbers won’t blow you away, but his basketball IQ and offensive versatility surely are intriguing. His shooting isn’t all that reliable, but the Celtics likely wouldn’t ask him to steadily contribute on the perimeter if they look his way.

Yante Maten was extremely consistent for the Red Claws this season after doing much of the same as one of the Miami Heat’s two-way players last year. Boston would have to run into some serious frontcourt issues for Maten to get the call, but if that were the case, he’d be a decent option. He’s as composed and disciplined as they come in the G League in addition to a nice scoring touch around the rim. Maten’s strong frame would help the Celtics inside, especially defensively. At 6-foot-7, his size isn’t overwhelming, but he makes up for it with his strength and positioning.

Let’s not forget players already on Boston’s roster like Javonte Green and Carsen Edwards. Green’s energy alone can be of value for the Celtics on both ends, especially in a fan-less environment. Edwards has had a tough time finding his groove during his rookie season, but the Purdue product has been working out alongside several NBA players in Houston, Texas over the last few weeks with trainer Aaron Miller. Ideally, Edwards can use that added jump as an advantage when things kick back up again in July. If backcourt depth becomes a problem, he could be thrust into a higher-volume role which suits his game more than quick stints off the bench.

If the Celtics are fortunate enough to go through these next couple of months without any injury issues, none of this will matter. But coming off a long layoff, it’d be surprising if there isn’t a need for someone to step up, albeit for a short period of time.

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