More ball handling for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston’s best subs and more: Celtics mailbag

NBA news has pretty much ground to a halt. The Celtics still have some business to take care of, but things have been quiet enough it seemed like a good time to answer mailbag questions from readers.

Part one of the post bag, published Friday, dealt with Joe Mazzulla’s learning curve, Yam Madar’s outlook and the Celtics’ toughness without Marcus Smart. Here is part two:

Given how often Jayson Tatum brought the ball up and initiated offense last year, does the move away from Marcus Smart suggest more of this? Will we see a more heliocentric offense? Who else do you see as prone to getting loads of possessions that start things off? – Mike T.

The Kristaps Porziņģis acquisition suggests that the Celtics will play bigger this coming season. Assuming they do, as expected, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will often play with just one guard next to them instead of two. So I expect the two All-Stars to have more ball-handling responsibilities, especially Tatum, who is more advanced in that role. However, I don’t expect the Celtics to become “Mavericks East” with Tatum dominating the ball like Luka Dončić.

The switch from Smart to Porziņģis will still be significant. How will Tatum and Brown adjust to life next to another high-usage scorer? Will they find the right balance between looking for their own offense and getting Porziņģis involved? Will they miss Smart, who could run the offense and find guys where they need to be? He might have been the Celtics’ best playmaker last season, but Tatum has often controlled much of the offense, especially late in games. The threat of Porziņģis could help open up opportunities for Tatum and Brown, but the formula with the big man will just be different than it was with Smart.

As much as the All-Stars will be affected by the trade, Derrick White’s role should be affected the most. The Celtics believe he can handle multiple point guard duties. He hasn’t manned that position too often in Boston, but the team has absolutely dominated in his short time at the spot. According to Cleaning the Glass’ positional estimates, the Celtics outscored opponents by 25.8 points per possession. 100 possessions with White as point guard in the 2021-22 season and with 15.7 points per 100 possessions last season. He’ll probably run some more pick-and-rolls. He will probably play a few more minutes than the 28.3 per game he averaged last season. He will probably be in the closing lineup every night. If he plays like he did last season, that should be a good thing.

Dalano Banton. (Jason Getz/USA Today)

What do you see as Dalano Banton’s role this season? Will he essentially be in Payton Pritchard’s role/minutes from last year? Does his ability to touch the paint and make good reads/kick-outs buy him a consistent role? – Charlie L.

Banton’s contract is only partially guaranteed for this season. My guess is that he will land near the bottom of the list with a minimal role at best. However, he is an exciting prospect. Not many guys at 6-foot-9 can handle the ball like he does. If he adds an outside shot or becomes a good finisher at the rim, he could end up being quite the player. I wouldn’t put him in the Pritchard category just yet though. Banton hasn’t done much during his first two seasons in the league and may not be able to impact games the way Pritchard has in the early stages of his career.

What is your favorite sandwich in downtown Boston rn? —Bennett W.

I have two go-to places. Bennett’s, which may or may not be named after you, has my favorite steak and cheese in town. Monica’s, which has been in the news lately for unfortunate reasons, has the best Italian in Boston. However, Tuukka Special is my favorite sub from there. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better sandwich than that. And I even started eating it before Fluto Shinzawa wrote a funny story about it.

I would argue that the Celtics are not that deep without Smart and now have Porziņģis and Malcolm Brogdan who is always injured. Do you agree or disagree? – Simon A.

I will defer judgment until I see the actual rotation. If Oshae Brissett can handle some of Grant Williams’ minutes, the Celtics could be functionally deeper than they were last season. What do I mean by “functionally deeper”, an extremely disgusting term? Although Pritchard was able to play minutes last season, he almost never did. The Celtics had three starting-caliber guards, but only two of them (tops) could close games on any given night. Derrick White was their best guard, but sat sometimes during the crisis. Stevens traded for Porziņģis to move some of the talent into the front court. The Celtics still have a deep bench. It just has a different texture than it did last season.

As you mentioned, health is a big concern. The Celtics have three guys in their rotation (the two you mentioned plus Robert Williams) with long injury histories. They don’t have a ton of defensive versatility on the bench like the lineup currently is. But Brogdon won the Sixth Man of the Year award. Whichever big man comes off the bench should be among the league’s top backup centers. Brissett is tough and athletic. And Pritchard and Sam Hauser are both knockdown shooters. Mazzulla should still have plenty of opportunities if his team stays reasonably healthy.

Does implementing a zone defense allow for the huge lineup of Tatum, Brown, Porzi, Dimelord, Al?Defensively it will be tough to shoot over Tatum/Brown, Al covers the big and then Rob/KP on the weak side roams/helps cancel changing guards by getting to the second level. Offensively, running a 4-1, that’s a fun amount of height and a serious amount of shooting. Also, can you ask Joe what his favorite pickup game was growing up? RI needs to know which playground is now sacred ground. – Dylan C.

Although some teams use zone defense as a tool, Boston hasn’t joined the craze yet. Only the Knicks played less zone defense last season, according to Synergy Sports. That said, the Celtics played a lot of zone defense in summer league, suggesting that Mazzulla might want to install some junk coverages now that he has more time to prepare for the season. That would make sense given how certain zone defenses, like the one in Miami, have been difficult for playoff opponents to solve. The Celtics won’t be quite as versatile defensively without Smart, so it might be smart to try a zone.

Even if Mazzulla does, don’t expect Porziņģis to play much, if any, small forward. I know Stevens brought up that possibility during an interview with this summer, but it’s still necessary to have dribbling and playmaking and perimeter speed. It might be fun to think of an impossibly long frontcourt launching 3-pointers on one end of the court while playing zone defense on the other, but I suspect such a look would end up with the Celtics growing stagnant on offense while being blown up in transition on the other end of the court. But maybe I’m wrong and Mazzulla will be a mad genius with 7-footers at every position.

As for Joe’s favorite pickup game, I just know you’re probably lucky you never played him in it. He said he’s aiming for pickup and I believe him. He is a maniacal competitor.

Do we just need to be patient with JB and JT as they are just starting to hit their prime? Two finals and four conference finals isn’t really bad if you step back and look big. I say pay them and win them up and let them go (with enough puzzle pieces around them to win). – Glenn D.

Tatum and Brown have accomplished a lot early in their careers. They are winners. They work hard to improve. They will probably be better in three years than they are right now. The last part of your post is why the discussion around them can ultimately still get complicated.

The Celtics supporting cast has been fantastic over the last season and a half. Rare depth has been one of their keys to going on deep playoff runs. But that depth probably won’t last forever. Horford turned 37 in June. How long can he be a crucial component? Brown is likely to sign a supermax extension soon. As his contract and Tatum’s get bigger and bigger, the new agreement will make it harder for Boston to pay the supporting cast.

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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