Should Celtics seek guard help at deadline? Five names to consider

Should Celtics seek guard help at deadline? Five names to consider originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

It’s NBA trade deadline week and the rumor mill is about to kick into overdrive. A friendly reminder that most trades throughout the Danny Ainge/Brad Stevens era have come out of left field — as Marcus Smart emphasized on Sunday — so take every rumor with a grain of salt in advance of Thursday’s deadline.

Last week, we pondered options who might help the Celtics at the big wing spot. To start deadline week, we’re thinking smaller and examining guard options.

The criteria here will be pretty obvious as you scroll along. The Celtics guard trio of Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, and Payton Pritchard have been excellent this year. White could still be an All-Star replacement, Holiday has been exactly as advertised on the defensive end, and Pritchard remains third in the NBA in net rating. Still, there will be questions about whether Pritchard can hold up defensively in the postseason because of his size.

Should the Celtics add a bit of defense at the guard spot before the deadline? Here are some options to ponder:

Kris Dunn, Utah Jazz

Dunn was technically a member of the Celtics for a month in 2021. He arrived as part of a three-team offseason trade that shipped out Tristan Thompson, but quickly got re-routed to Memphis (along with Carsen Edwards) in a swap that brought back Juancho Hernangomez. Dunn was waived by Memphis a month later before a series of 10-days helped him find a home in Utah.

The Jazz are in the play-in picture in the West but the Rockets and Warriors are lurking nearby. Dunn’s $2.6 million contract fits into the Grant Williams $6.2 million traded player exception, or is easily matchable with other contracts. Would Danny Ainge prioritize acquiring draft assets in exchange for an expiring contract?

The soon-to-be 30-year-old Dunn has New England ties (New London, Conn. native) and was the desire of many Celtics fans on draft night in 2016 when Ainge correctly picked Jaylen Brown instead. Dunn has been a consistent starter in Utah this year, though plays only a limited role overall (17.5 minutes per game).

What could Dunn bring to Boston’s roster? He’d add a bit of size and defensive versatility. Opponents are shooting just 38.2 percent against him while defending 7.7 shots per game. Among players under 6-foot-4 defending at least 7.5 shots per game, Dunn is No. 1 in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage. He’s holding opponents to 9.1 percent below expected output, per NBA tracking, which is also the best among the 267 players defending that many possessions per game.

The Jazz confidently dispatched Dunn for big minutes against players like Tyrese Maxey and Jalen Brunson. His numbers are not as glossy against top competition but it shows his value.

Dunn is quietly shooting 41 percent on 3-point attempts, albeit on just 1.4 per game. He’s embraced being a low-usage rate player this year while still being an excellent playmaker with a sizzling assist percentage (28.5).

John Konchar, Memphis Grizzlies

We shoehorned him into the list of big wings last week because of how he plays, but at 6-foot-5, he more accurately slots as a small wing/shooting guard. Konchar’s name has floated as a Boston option for much of the season and, with Memphis facing long odds to make the play-in, the Grizzlies should seemingly be willing to move pieces.

Konchar’s shooting splits are down this year (29.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc, 40.7 percent overall) but he’s an excellent rebounder (something the Celtics need) and willing ball-mover. He would add defensive versatility and is one of the best shot blockers from the wing spot (he ranks in the 100th percentile among wings, per Cleaning the Glass).

Konchar would give Boston a depth option capable of impacting the game in ways that current roster options haven’t, but with some of the same scoring limitations.

Konchar sat out Memphis’ visit to the Garden Sunday due to injury.

Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Smith Jr., Brooklyn Nets

The Celtics have had good luck with former Spurs guards. With Nets on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, though Ben Simmons is back on the court, would Brooklyn be willing to move a bench piece who has been a solid two-way addition on a minimum deal?

Walker is shooting a career-best 43.5 percent on 5.1 3-pointers per game this season, which has helped him average 12.3 points in 30 appearances off the Brooklyn bench. He’s got decent size (6-foot-5) and his defensive numbers are solid this year (opponents shooting just 42.6 percent while defending 6 attempts per game).

The downside: Walker is playing for his next contract and might be better in an elevated role for a bad team than playing a part-time role on a really good one. Like many of the players who Boston can cram into the Williams TPE, some complications might make it unsavory to splurge draft assets of value.

Smith Jr., while lacking in size, has proven to be an excellent guard defender, or someone who could allow Holiday to take on challenges of bigger opponents. He’s also in the final year of a minimum contract.

Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls

If the Celtics are looking for something more than just an upgrade on the fringes, then Caruso is maybe the most intriguing name that might be moved before the deadline.

Caruso is an All-Defense first-teamer making less-than-midlevel money this season and next. His $9.5 million salary this year is not easy for the Celtics to match (though including Payton Pritchard gets the ball rolling) and Boston would have to overwhelm the Bulls with draft assets.

More daunting, Chicago is reportedly seeking a monster haul to move Caruso, knowing that there’s a whole bunch of contenders that should be willing to splurge.

If you believe the Celtics have an honest-to-goodness chance to win a title this year and someone like Caruso is potentially the final piece, would it be worth splurging the picks that Stevens has been willing to move to build title-caliber rosters anyhow?

Hovering over all of this is a potential Holiday extension — and White’s not too far down the road — on a roster that begins to explode in cost when Jaylen Brown’s extension kicks in next year.