By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics have a Jaylen Brown-sized hole to fill in their starting lineup for the next few weeks, with the guard sidelined with a hamstring injury. Ime Udoka is aiming to plug that hole with Dennis Schroder.
While going with Schroder is more of a square peg in a round hole type solution for Boston's Brown-sized gap, Udoka is banking on the guard adding a lot more to the Celtics in other areas. Mainly, he's counting on Schroder bringing his usual up-tempo and frantic style to Boston's starting five.
Filling in for someone like Brown, who is already on track to best his career bests of last season, is no easy task. But Udoka likes what Schroder can bring to the floor as both another ball handler and a guy who puts his nose down and goes to the rim.
"He just kind of plugs the gap and does a lot of things. Another guy who can initiate and score as well," Udoka said of Schroder on Tuesday. "He adds some pop to the start of the game and pushes the tempo, which we don't always have to start the game."
Schroder got the start Saturday night in Dallas and turned in one his best game of the season, scoring 20 points off 9-for-22 shooting to go with six assists and four rebounds in a 107-104 loss. It was his fourth start of the season, with Schroder averaging 16.8 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in those games.
The 28-year-old has a lot to prove this season after he settled for a one-year, $5.9 million contract from Boston this offseason. But now is his time to really shine, and it's not an opportunity that Schroder is going to pass up.
It's a bit unconventional to send him out there, as the Celtics already have Marcus Smart in the starting five. But Udoka and president of basketball ops. Brad Stevens envisioned Schroder playing important minutes at the end of games when they stole him in free agency, and the C's head coach isn't concerned about being a bit undersized when Wednesday night's tilt against the Toronto Raptors tips off.
"Although we had him slotted as a backup, the plan was to have [Schroder] finishing games. We knew that unit would be out there a lot when it really counted, so in the starting lineup really isn't much different from that," said Udoka. "They're two different players but both have toughness, so we don't feel like it's a hindrance at all with them being smaller guards. They're both physical and competitive defensively.
"Offensively, it gives us another guy in Dennis who can break down defenses, score for himself or get guys involved," Udoka added. "It gives us more multiple handlers, takes some pressure off Jayson [Tatum]. ... Dennis has done a great job in every role in his career, whether starting or coming off the bench."
Udoka also said that Schroder being in the starting lineup locks in Boston's bench, with Payton Pritchard, Romeo Langford and Grant Williams solidified in roles alongside veteran Josh Richardson. It will make life a bit easier for the first-year head coach in terms of his rotation.
Make no mistake, life without Brown will not be an easy one for the Celtics. But they're lucky to have a firecracker of a player like Schroder to temporarily fill the void. He certainly doesn't have the skillset of Brown, who does everything on both ends of the floor with such grace and ease. Neither of those would describe Schroder's game, but the guard is certainly effective.
He can open things up for Boston's three-point shooters with his ability to drive and dish, and those attacks of the rim keep the defense honest in the paint. His silky passing also keeps the ball moving. And though he's no Brown on defense, Schroder packs an energetic punch on that end, and he's always willing to rush out to the line to try and throw off three-point shooters.
Losing Brown will make life tough for the Celtics. But over the last few years, an absence of that magnitude has energized the team. With Schroder in the starting five, there will no longer be any shortage of vigor in the Celtics when games tip off.
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