Udoka said from the start that he wanted this team to be defined by a physical, relentless defense; then he built the most dominant unit in the NBA. He bolstered star forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and developed comfortable rotations after a series of trades in February.
But there were times during the playoffs when he may have leaned too heavily on his top players, leading to some degree of fatigue and regression. Most of the time, however, he pushed all the right buttons.
Most rookie coaches would be thrilled to lead a team to the Finals, but when that run ended, Udoka was mostly disappointed that he didn’t finish the job. He wants more. Udoka and his players will know each other early next season and that should make for a better start in his second round.
Derrick White: B
The Celtics’ resurgence began just before White’s acquisition by Spurs in February, but his arrival and a few simultaneous departures really kicked it into high gear.
During the regular season, the Celtics outperformed their opponents at 12.6 points per 100 possessions with white on the floor, the best net rating among the team’s regular rotation players. But that number isn’t quite as lustrous as it seems, with almost every lineup having been dominant over the past two months. Despite White’s lustrous net rating, the Celtics were actually 1.8 points per 100 possession better without him on the field.
Most of the time, White’s best playoff moments didn’t show up in the stats. He helped slow Nets star Kyrie Irving in the opening round and at times was the best option to face Warriors superstar Stephen Curry in the finals. He was selfless on offense, helping the Celtics play with great tempo, an important aspect for an offense that faltered when there was too much isolation.
But his outside gunfights were glaring. In addition to missing shots, teams played so far away that it overloaded things for others. During the postseason, the Celtics were 5.5 points per 100 possession better when White was off the field than on it. There were times when his confidence seemed shaken, but maybe that playoff experience followed by a full offseason with the team will help.
Grant Williams: B+
In the 2020-21 season, Williams’ tenure was inconsistent and his role blurred. Over the past year he’s created chances simply by proving he has two key skills: drilling open 3-pointers and being a physical defender capable of defending any position.
The third-year forward, who famously began his career by missing 25 straight 3-point attempts, has improved his total and 3-point field goal percentages every year, and he’s achieved this past season a whopping 41.1 percent from beyond the arc. For most of the year, the defenses pretended Williams didn’t exist. And once they were forced to acknowledge him, he learned to attack closeouts effectively and create opportunities for teammates.
He tends to spend too much time being a nagging critic of officers. He’ll never get superstar calls, and whining becomes a distraction. But Williams is also a good teammate and he helped make it clear the Celtics weren’t going to resign from Draymond Green when the Warriors star tried to bully them in the Finals.
Payton Pritchard: B
Pritchard was possibly the biggest beneficiary of February’s trades, which saw the Celtics send off seven players and only add White and center Daniel Theis. After operating on the fringes of rotation, he was pushed into an important role which he mostly exploited.
Pritchard is known for fearlessly and successfully firing deep 3-pointers. In his first two seasons, he shot 41 percent from the arc. But he has also become reliable in other areas. His 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked him ninth in the NBA, and his plus-9.3 net rating in the playoffs led Boston’s rotations.
During the postseason, opponents placed an emphasis on looking for mismatches with larger players against the 6-1 Pritchard. But he’s deceptively effective on the defensive end of the floor. Among rotation players, his 103.2 defensive rating during the playoffs trailed only Robert Williams.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Pritchard left the tournament on a whimper after a strong start to the postseason. After going 3-4 off the field and 2-3 from the 3-point line in the Game 1 win over Golden State, he was only 3-16 overall and 1-11 from three for the rest of the series.
Daniel Theis: C
The Celtics acquired Theis from the Rockets in February to offer defensive versatility and ground clearance that former center Enes Kanter Freedom simply didn’t have. And his familiarity with the franchise, which he spent his first 3½ seasons with, was a nice bonus.
Al Horford is 36 and Robert Williams has struggled with injuries for the first four years of his career so a suitable replacement was needed. And Theis made an admirable stand-in for Williams during the opening round of the Nets.
But Theis is 30 and just finished the first season of a four-year, $35.6 million deal. That’s a lot for a player who only played on-site during the Conference Finals and Finals.
Aaron Nesmith: C-
The Celtics had high hopes for Nesmith after he ended his 2020-21 rookie year strong and carried that momentum into the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas.
But he took a step back this year and never made a spot on the rotation for all the injuries and trades that created opportunities. Nesmith’s efforts were never questioned, but at times he seemed to be moving too quickly for his own good, blurring the line between frantic and out of control. He had more turnovers (31) than assists (22) and only scored 27 percent of his 3-pointers.
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.