So help me God, Celtics Center Watch will become a movement by the end of the season. Hopefully, by that time, the Celtics will have figured out their big man rotation.
This year, Boston has had some mixed results at their center spot. Enes Kanter (more on him in a second) has been injured and has played in just one game. Vincent Poirier has been used sparingly. Daniel Theis has been serviceable despite being undersized and Robert Williams has proven to be a surprisingly better passer and rim protector.
There are issues, however. The Celtics are 18th in the league in rebounding. They are often forced to play small to close out games and resort to gang rebounding. While being a middling rebounding team is perfectly acceptable, the tea leaves portend something worse. A quick eye tests reveals that the Cs are often either too small, too slow, too predictable or too young at the five spot.
Don't get me wrong. What Stevens and company are doing is passable (basketball pun intended.) Still, an upgrade at center would be welcomed. Theis is simply not big enough and too injury prone to bang with 7-footers all year. I have talked myself out of Kanter (okay, this is it!) just as quickly as I talked myself into him. A big who cannot stretch the floor, protect the rim or provide roll gravity? No thanks. While the development of Williams is fun to watch, help must be on the way. So, without further ado, here are some trade candidates to check out.
Firstly, we must know that the math on making this trade work is nearly impossible. The Celtics are hard-capped and will have a difficult time matching Thompson's 18.5 million dollar salary. Frankly, Danny Ainge does not have the right combination of talent and middling salaries to acquire Thompson.
Regardless, he has to be mentioned. At 28-years-old and on an expiring contract, Thompson has been playing some of his best ball to date. He seems to be healthy after some injury plagued seasons and is making the Cavaliers somewhat competitive. So, how would he be an upgrade?
Thompson is known for being highly developed at a handful of skills. He's 6-foot-9 with a basketball butt that would make Charles Barkley faint and consequently, defenders struggle getting over his screens. His 7-foot-1 wingspan gobbles boards and when coupled with his basketball IQ helps deter would be scorers from the paint. Thompson is most known for his offensive rebounding, however.
I took some time (please, hold your applause) to watch some recent game film of Thompson. His foot speed is better than what he gets credit for. While he will not keep pace with Westbrooks and Foxs, he can match strides with the Malcolm Brogdons of the world. Below, he does just that and simultaneously displays his hoops IQ by barking at Cedi Osman for not trusting him to stay alongside Brogdon during the drive.
His overall strength would be most welcomed, however. The Cs need someone to bang with those Embiid characters. Thompson was deployed against Giannis this season and did a fine job handing his brute strength. Check out Thompson stymie Damontas Sabonis; a traditional big man who loves to bully people in the post. Thompson forces Sabonis to pass out from one his favorite spots.
While Thompson could be on the block this season for the Cavs, his trade math doesn't add up. Sure, his jump shot has slightly improved and Thompson is not a complete ball stopper on offense. This next candidate, however, is a much better passer and has an easier path to wearing green and white.
Sure, we could talk about how this young big from Malden, Massachusetts is destined to play for the Celtics at some point. I would rather spend time discussing his skill set, which has been underrated for the past couple of seasons.
Will Noel fill the void Boston has had since Al Horford departed? No. But if Stevens wants to continue his center-by-committee approach then he must upgrade the part that Kanter plays in that group. Noel has what the Celtics may be looking for.
His recent play speaks for itself. Noel has filled in for Steven Adams and done a solid job. It appears as though the former lottery pick has finally come into his own and learned how to succeed in this league. Now, he dives on screens and gathers steals and blocks at a remarkable rate. Over six games this year Noel is averaging 2.5 total blocks and steals in just over 16 minutes per game. Check out his 2019-2020 game log and then picture him wearing green.
Yes, that is six blocks in his most recent game. Noel is efficient as a scorer, too. He has missed only eight of the 27 shots he has attempted this year. What's more, his passing has really impressed me. I played back his film (now you can applaud) and found these two dimes on back-to-back possessions. Want to see a center slinging non-dominant hand, cross court passes from the post to an open guard for a triple? Look below.
How could a trade happen? The Celtics could ship Semi Ojeleye for Noel straight up. According to TradeNBA.com, Noel has a no-trade clause and it would have to waived. Yet, this trade could happen, especially if Ainge throws in some type of pick sweetener.
Bringing Thompson to the Celtics is not likely. Although his skill set and championship experience could take the Cs to a higher level, the logistics of this trade are difficult. Noel is a much more feasible option. His salary is tradeable and despite Oklahoma City playing well, they could quickly morph into a team that wants to sell itself for even more assets.
Coach Stevens could mold Noel into the center he desires for his brand of basketball. Stevens requires two distinct skills from his bigs. They must know how to move the ball on offense and know where to be on defense. Noel has worked hard to improve in these areas. Replacing Kanter in the rotation would not transform Boston into a true title contender but, it could manifest itself into two or three more wins, which is fine by me.