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What Ime Udoka Ultimately Does With Robert Williams And Al Horford Is His First Big Challenge As Head Coach

Of all the interesting storylines we have heading into the 2021-22 Celtics season, one that I find most intriguing is what the hell happens with Al Horford and Rob. From what we hear coming out of camp, Horford looks great. I would imagine that would be the case since the Thunder shut him down for being too good, so he's had a bunch of time to rest. Even if he's not quite the 2016 version of Horford we got in his first run, his skillset is absolutely something that will help. At the same time, the Celts made their commitment to Rob this summer with a nice rookie extension, so it's clear they value him as an important piece of their future.

So the question becomes, what does Ime do? Who starts? Do they both start? Does it matter? Will it be fluid based on matchup? The list goes on and on. This is partially why I'm excited for the preseason to start on Monday because it'll give us our first look at what Ime is thinking. But we don't have to wait until tipoff to discuss this topic. In fact, we can dive in right now.

One thing I think deserves mentioning is this idea that the double big lineup can't work. This isn't entirely true. What's true is the double big lineup did not work last season. Whether it was Theis/Thompson or Rob/Theis or Rob/Thompson, that shit was mostly a disaster. Here's the thing, Theis and Thompson are no longer on the roster. We've seen double bigs involving Horford actually work. Remember, he started next to Amir Johnson and Aron Baynes those first two years before Mook arrived and eventually transitioned to the 4, moving Al to the 5. The Celts had one of the best offenses and defenses in the league during that run. The pushback I hear heading into this year is that Al can't guard 4s anymore, so this wouldn't work. Well to this I have a simple solution. If Ime does go with a Rob/Horford starting frontcourt, you can simply have Rob cover those quicker players. He's proven he can guard smaller players on the perimeter while still having the ability to recover to protect the rim when needed

On the other end of the floor, I can understand the appeal of playing both Rob and Horford at the same time. Both are tremendous passers, with Horford's improved outside shooting he can help space the floor, and you could essentially utilize both of their skillsets to help create good looks for the Jays. If you want to have Horford outside and then run P&R with Rob, what does the defense do? You can run pick & pops with Horford and have Rob crash the weakside. There is offensive versatility there. 

Here's what we also know. When Rob became the full time starter after last year's trade deadline, this team looked incredible. I am partial to the lineup that has Rob at the 5, Tatum at the 4, and then another wing player (in a perfect world Nesmith but it's probably going to be Richardson). In the 13 games we saw Rob start, the Celts were 10-3. When he played with the full time starting group including Kemba, they had a 118 Ortg. He proved to be a legit difference maker on both ends which is where the excitement around his potential comes from. He showed he could be the anchor in the middle that they need defensively, while also being a legit lob threat/post passer on the other end. That's why it wouldn't shock me if we eventually see that type of starting lineup if Rob continues to show he's capable of it.

But it's also on Ime to protect him. The question with Rob hasn't really been his ability, but his availability. We still can't say he can 100% handle a heavy workload without getting hurt. He hasn't done it yet in his career. So when it comes to who starts, it wouldn't shock me if we see Ime bring him off the bench and be cautious of his minutes early in the season. If his play reflects what we saw last year, it'll be nearly impossible to keep him off the floor. We just have to see it sustained for a long period of time before we can just assume it'll happen.

At the end of the day, I do think we'll see a lot of mixing and matching based on matchup. As far as I'm concerned there are only 3 locks to start, and that's Smart/Jaylen/Tatum. The last two spots are going to be a revolving door until they find a combination that truly works. That could be Richardson at the 3 and Tatum at the 4, and Rob at the 5. It could be that combo with Al at the 5. We could see no Richardson and both Horford and Rob. The point is the Celts enter this season with a much improved front court situation in terms of maximizing the Jays. Remember, that's what this is all about. Both Brad and Ime have made that clear since the beginning of the offseason. Everything they do will be to maximize their franchise players. 

Gun to my head, I think we see this lineup on Opening Night

Smart/Jaylen/Richardson/Tatum/Horford

How long it stays that way is anyone's guess.