If you are a Red Sox fan and a basketball fan, chances are you are at least following what is going on with the Celtics, if not actively rooting for their playoff run to continue. For those who are neither of those things, I’ll quickly catch you up. The Celtics came into the season with middling expectations, looking for a playoff bid to be sure but not quite in the championship discussion. Then, over the first half or so of the regular season, it seemed everything that could go wrong did, and they were not even a shoo-in to make the postseason, instead looking slotted for the NBA’s new play-in tournament. (Expanded playoffs, it’s not just for baseball!)
But then, they tightened up their entire roster and everything started to move more smoothly. Behind the league’s best defense, they became the best team in the NBA at some point in January and haven’t really slowed down since, most recently beating the defending champion Bucks on the road to even up their second round series at two games apiece.
Why am I bringing this up on a Red Sox blog? Well, you may have noticed some similarities already with the first part of that story and where Boston’s baseball club currently sits. The Red Sox were expected to be a borderline playoff team, not a great one but also not terrible, but have gotten off to an atrocious start where everyone looks terrible and nothing is cohesive. We can even extend the comparison further to the stars. For the Celtics, there was talk of trading one of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. The reasoning is different, but similarly there is talk that, if this slide continues, one or both of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers could be shipped out.
Now, I will be the first to admit that cross-sports comparisons rarely work, and looking at a basketball team’s miraculous turnaround for hope for one from a baseball team is tenuous at best. But hey, we all need to dream, right? So below, I’m going to cast the current Celtics rotation of nine players as the Red Sox players, and what their role in a theoretical turnaround would look like.
- Jayson Tatum = Rafael Devers. This was an easy one. They’re the two young stars, the future faces of the franchise, and guys who had flaws that needed to be cleaned up to take the next step. For Tatum, it was getting away from settling for midrange jumpers, among other things (I’ll point you to CelticsBlog for better analysis than I can give on these topics), whereas Devers needs to refine his approach and his defense. In the second half, Tatum turned himself into a down-ballot MVP candidate. Devers needs to do the same if the Red Sox are going to go on a run.
- Jaylen Brown = Xander Bogaerts. This comparison is a little bit weaker in that there’s never been any doubt about Bogaerts and Devers’ ability to coexist, but the former is a bit older and the team’s second star. Like Brown, he’s actually been performing extremely well during this cold stretch, and just needs to continue that as we continue through this season and the rest of the roster hopefully catches up.
- Marcus Smart = Garrett Whitlock. This was one of the more difficult ones to come up with, but I think it fits. Smart was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. Whitlock is perhaps the best run preventer on the roster. He doesn’t quite have the heart and soul aspect that Smart does, but the versatility is there. Whereas Smart can handle a defensive assignment against any position on the floor, Whitlock can prevent runs and perform in whatever role, be it closer, long relief, or starter, that the team asks him to fill.
- Rob Williams = Enrique Hernández. I said Smart was one of the more difficult comparisons, but this was the one I had the hardest time with. I almost went with Chris Sale due largely to the injury label — Williams is actually currently out with a knee injury — but landed on Hernández. While Smart is the Defensive Player of the Year, in a lot of ways Williams is the anchor of the defense and allows it to be so great, playing a somewhat underrated role. Hernández can do that too, both at the plate if he sticks as the leadoff man and in center field as we saw last season.
- Al Horford = Rich Hill. This was among the easiest comparisons. The aging player past his prime, but still with some big-time moments left in him, coming back to Boston after some time away towards the end of his career. Horford carried the team last night, so we’ll have to wait for October when Hill throws six shutout innings in the Division Series.
- Grant Williams = Bobby Dalbec. Grant has been in the league for a couple of years now, and in the first part of the year he looked like he should maybe be out of the rotation. Now, he’s one of the most important players on the bench. Dalbec is in his second full season, and he’s started off atrociously. Now we just need to see the recovery.
- Derrick White = Triston Casas. This was another tough one as White was a trade acquisition at the deadline, and we haven’t gotten to that point. So instead, I’ll go with a call-up in Casas. It’s not perfectly analogous, but White plays a key role for the Celtics off the bench in the same way the Red Sox wouldn’t need Casas to immediately come up and be a star. (How both he and Dalbec can coexist I’ll let the baseball gods sort out.)
- Daniel Theis = Jackie Bradley Jr. Here we have a player in Theis who was a fan favorite and fun to watch, but not necessarily the best on the team. That sounds a lot like Bradley in his first stint with the Red Sox. Theis left briefly, but is now back and playing a smaller role than he did before, but still filling it. Bradley is also now back after his brief time away, and has moved off of center field and isn’t quite playing every day. Now he just needs to get to filling it more consistently.
- Payton Pritchard = Jarren Duran. Pritchard is a young player with some real flaws and a limited ceiling due to his size, but the things he can do are important off the bench, like his ability to hit open shots. Duran has some real flaws too, as we saw last year, but at the very least his speed can be key in a smaller role, and with more playing time he can just be a general sparkplug in the way an NBA bench player can be at times.
I’m convinced. The Red Sox are going to be the best team in baseball the rest of the way.