The Boston Celtics Have a Frontcourt Conundrum — the Good Kind

Who will be Al Horford’s frontcourt partner?

Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics acquired Al Horford this offseason in the what might be the biggest free agent signing of the Danny Ainge era. With Horford practically penciled in Boston’s starting lineup, that leaves only one more spot in the frontcourt. In this edition of Celtics Summer Forecast, the panelists were provided five choices: Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder. Who will start alongside Horford in Boston’s frontcourt?

Head coach Brad Stevens faces a difficult decision with regards to choosing Horford’s frontcourt mate. Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk are the two leading candidates for that role, but they are completely different players that each offer something that Boston lacks. Note: this is based on the assumption that Jae Crowder is the team’s starting small forward. Crowder will definitely see plenty of time as the 4 in Boston’s small-ball lineup like he did last season, but I wouldn’t bank on him starting in that spot.

Johnson, a fixture of last year’s frontcourt, provides the Celtics with tremendous hustle, rim-protection, and rebounding. Olynyk is the more offensively gifted player; he shot 40.5% from 3-point range, both a career-high and team-high last season. Though he is coming off of shoulder surgery, if Olynyk enters the season healthy and recovered from his surgery, I believe he’ll start next to Al Horford.

One of the biggest things the Celtics would sacrifice with Olynyk in the starting lineup is rebounding — an area of concern for the team that hasn’t received the attention it rightfully deserves. Kelly is not a particularly gifted rebounder, yet he has made strides in his defense — a part of his game that has been scrutinized in the past — and looked like a competent rotational defender last season. It sounds silly that starting a 7-footer would hurt Boston’s rebounding. Fortunately, the team has other players who can pick up the slack (Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are actually above rebounders for guards).

Also, the kind of floor-spacing that the Celtics would get with a Horford-Olynyk frontcourt is simply too good to pass up. Adding Olynyk to the starting lineup would give the Celtics five legitimate perimeter threats in a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas-Avery Bradley-Jae Crowder-Jae Horford-Kelly Olynyk. Having two elite 3-point shooting big men makes Boston’s starting five very potent because it also frees up Thomas. Defenders will be drawn to the perimeter to guard Horford and Olynyk, giving Thomas more space to get to the rim and create his own shot.

For the past three seasons Olynyk has been a mainstay of Boston’s bench mob and perhaps it’s time to toss him the keys. In my opinion, he’s the perfect fit next to Horford, however Johnson is not a bad alternative. For what it’s worth, last season’s opening night frontcourt was not the same as the one that ended the season, so nothing is fixed. Stevens’ decision will reveal more about his philosophy and approach to begin the season. Either way, let the games begin.