Blakley: Celtics preseason report card
Celtics preseason report card
The Boston Celtics return home to the TD Garden for the final two games of their preseason portion of their schedule.
With five preseason games under their belts, we have ample evidence to know what should work during the regular season for the Celtics and what their weaknesses are that need to be strengthened.
Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley have the potential to be one of the better backcourt tandems in the NBA, but a lot will depend on Bradley’s continued growth as a player. In the preseason, Bradley’s ball-handling is much improved to the point where he’s getting past defenders in one-on-one situations and either scoring or setting up teammates for a shot – two things he has done little of in past seasons. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are still working out the kinks as far as playing with one another and to that extent, off of one another. But each has made noticeable strides in their game as well, which has indeed been on display in the preseason.
This is where the Celtics’ lack of depth came back to haunt them in the playoffs last season when Jae Crowder was limited due to a high ankle sprain injury. Crowder’s back, healthy as ever, and it shows at both ends of the floor. Rookie Jaylen Brown has been better than most thought, showcasing an all-around game that may result in him being a dark horse candidate for the league’s Rookie of the Year award. And then there’s the prodigal son Gerald Green, back with the team that drafted him nearly a decade ago. His role seems pretty clear: make shots. Once he got past a hip flexor injury, Green has done a decent job of filling that role without necessarily coming across as a shot-chucker.
Al Horford and Amir Johnson are just a few weeks into playing together, but you would think they’ve done this for years based on how quickly they have gotten on the same page communication-wise. Tyler Zeller has come on to spell them at times, but that’s likely to change once Kelly Olynyk (shoulder surgery) is back in the mix. Also, Boston has gotten really good production out of Jonas Jerebko who is once again a wild card of sorts for the Celtics heading into this season. And while Jordan Mickey looks to once again be on the outside of the regular playing rotation, he continues to make the most of his minutes and prove that, when given an opportunity, he can be a productive player.
The Celtics have taken tremendous pride in cultivating second units that do more than just spell the starters. Boston’s backups have been an integral part of the team’s steady improvement under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. But this season’s group is different than the rest, primarily because it has greater versatility and athleticism which are two areas in which Boston has been hurt by in the postseason. Marcus Smart is seen by head coach Brad Stevens as a sixth starter, and seems poised to have a breakout season because of his improved ball-handling and shot-making. Terry Rozier made strides this summer that seem to have carried over into the regular season. And then there’s Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green, two players whose above-the-rim skills give Boston a dimension of athleticism that was sorely lacking. Boston has a slew of players led by Tyler Zeller who will provide support and on any given night, step in and be major contributors. Figuring out how to keep them all happy is a good problem for Stevens to have.
While the rotation for this season was pretty much set even before training camp, the Celtics have a much clearer view of what this roster is potentially capable of accomplishing this season. We know that Jaylen Brown’s role will be far greater than billed due to his versatility and the fact that he has shown himself capable of picking things up quickly. Boston’s starting five will give the bench a lead to work with more nights than not. And the second unit, while talented and deep as usual, still has to establish an identity that appears as though it will be fluid, always-evolving process. Regardless, this team has shown enough in the preseason to warrant the lofty expectations many have for them and to a greater extent, they have for themselves.