Ime Udoka is hurting the Boston Celtics more then he is helping them

Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Head coach Ime Udoka of the Boston Celtics (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Just when it seems like the Boston Celtics have figured things out, they deliver a clunker that serves as a reminder that this team still has a lot of work to do.

Fresh off two really solid offensive showings against the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, the Celtics offense was back to their lackadaisical ways against the Los Angeles Lakers last night, and they unsurprisingly made a return to the loss column.

Aside from Jayson Tatum and maybe Rob Williams, nobody showed any sort of engagement on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, the Lakers mauled the Celtics in the paint, with the trio of LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis getting to the rim seemingly at will. The Lakers are admittedly a very talented team, but this was another game that just leaves Celtics fans wondering whether or not this team is ever going to figure things out.

While the players have to go out an execute, a large part of the teams struggles ultimately come down to first year head coach Ime Udoka. Udoka was obviously going to endure some growing pains during his first season in charge, but he consistently makes mind-boggling decisions that leave you wondering how he got this job in the first place. Udoka has some good game plans that provide some glimmers of hope, but right now he’s hurting the team more than he’s helping them.

The Boston Celtics need Ime Udoka to figure things out, and soon

Udoka was brought in to replace Brad Stevens this past offseason largely because of his already established relationships with key pieces such as Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart during their time together with Team USA. Along with his time working with Team USA, Udoka turned himself into a desired head coaching candidate thanks to his time working with the San Antonio Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Brooklyn Nets.

The hiring of Udoka was generally seen in a good light, although Boston Celtics fans probably would have been content with anyone based on how Stevens’ tenure as head coach ended. Udoka made it known early on he wanted to help Tatum and Brown take their games to the next level, and he wanted to improve the Celtics defensive efficiency.

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To Udoka’s credit, Boston’s defense has generally been much improved compared to last season. They got ripped to shreds by a bigger Lakers team in the paint, but not many teams in the league boast the same amount of height on their team. But Udoka’s mismanagement of the game largely put Boston in that situation, and really paints a bigger picture of his overall struggles.

Udoka’s rotations this season have been confusing to say the least, and last night provided the perfect example of his struggles to figure things out. The Lakers were dominating in the paint and on the glass in the third quarter, so Udoka responded by subbing out Rob Williams midway through the frame. He would return for a brief 90 second shift late in the third before checking out for the remainder of the game.

Why Williams wasn’t on the court for more than 25 minutes in this game is beyond. He’s easily the Boston Celtics best paint defender and rebounder, and despite the fact that’s pretty much how Los Angeles won this game, Udoka basically refused to put him in the game down the stretch. This one example joins the list of ways Udoka has botched his rotation, and the bench has struggled as a result.

Guys like Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, and Payton Pritchard go from getting consecutive DNP – Coach’s Decision games to 20 minute outings off the bench without any warning, and they have no way to develop any sort of consistency. You could easily see Nesmith was forcing shots in the fourth quarter last night because he was trying to make the most of his minutes while he was on the floor.

Udoka also doesn’t seem to understand you aren’t going to be able to get away with resting multiple starters at the same time without paying a price. On multiple occasions, he has subbed out multiple key players at once, and watched big leads evaporate or minimal deficits turn into blowouts. He ran a Schroder/Richardson/Langford/G. Williams/Horford lineup for a long stretch of the third quarter, and unsurprisingly, a close game got out of hand quickly.

Things will obviously be easier to manage when Brown comes back from injury, but even when he’s been healthy, Udoka has mismanaged his bench. In an ideal world, the Celtics would make it through entire games while having either Tatum or Brown on the court at all times. Considering they are both ball dominant players, this gives them a chance to lead the offense on their own, and make their impact on the game.

Instead, we have seen Udoka willingly utilize lineups without either of these guys on the floor constantly, and it almost never works. Running lineups with Smart and Dennis Schroder leading the way together has rarely paid off, but it’s something this team has kept going back to, partially due to necessity admittedly.

In fairness, Udoka has rarely had the Celtics full arsenal of players available for his use, but he’s really making some simple decisions look overly complex for no apparent reason. We have seen a guy like Grant Williams blossom because he now has a consistent role with the team. Why not establish those roles for a guy like Langford or Nesmith?

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While it’s still way too early to make judgements on Udoka’s overall competency as a head coach, the early returns aren’t very encouraging. Udoka has regularly bucked conventional wisdom to try to find a solution to a problem, and it has almost never worked. Settling into a consistent rotation would help ease this teams struggles, but until Udoka realizes that, the Boston Celtics will continue to be plagued with inconsistencies.