Brad Stevens: Celtics will alter frontcourt approach after Al Horford's departure

Brad Stevens: Celtics will alter frontcourt approach after Al Horford's departure

LAS VEGAS — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s intrigued by the unique skill sets each of the big men on this year's roster brings, but admitted the departure of Al Horford will force the Celtics to alter their typical approach this season.

In the aftermath of Horford’s departure to Philadelphia, the Celtics signed Enes Kanter, re-signed Daniel Theis, and imported French big man Daniel Poirier. Boston also drafted Grant Williams and is hoping that second-year big man Robert Williams is ready for an increased role. Summer league standout Tacko Fall desires to muscle his 7-foot-7 frame into the Celtics’ final available roster spot at camp.

“That center position for us is going to be — each of those guys brings a unique versatility to us. And we’re going to lean on all of them,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston at Team USA training camp this week. Listen to the full interview on this week’s Celtics Talk Podcast.

"So that will be a fun group because it’s not like maybe we’ve had in the past where you have a guy like Horford, who you play through at the 3-point line so much. And you’ve got to play through other guys in different ways.”

Kanter can be an offensive force with a focus on cleaning up the glass, but has to show he can be a consistent defensive presence. Theis is a floor-stretching big but has to get more stout when tasked with jousting with behemoths like Joel Embiid. Robert Williams is a rim runner with freakish athletic talents but he can’t just lean on his shot-blocking abilities on the defensive end. Grant Williams is undersized, but has a high basketball IQ and could give you a bit of what you lost in Horford’s departure, at least in terms of a facilitator in the high post.

Then there’s 7-foot Poirier. He’s an international man of mystery at this point but Stevens offered a hands-on scouting report.

"I worked out Vincent a few times when he was here in his travels, just upon signing the contract and, as we were recruiting him to come, spent some time with him,” said Stevens. "Good athlete, plays way above the rim on his rolls.”

A couple other highlights from Stevens’ chat:

* Where art thou Romeo?: Stevens offered an update on rookie Romeo Langford, Boston’s top pick in June’s draft who sat out summer league while rehabbing from thumb surgery. "He’s doing great. I don’t know if he’s 110 percent cleared to play. Obviously they’re just doing individuals and small groups, that’s all we’re allowed to do at this time of the year. As far as being cleared to play 5-on-5, I have no idea if he’s there yet or not. But he looks like he’s close if he’s not.”

* Chemistry lesson?: Much of the hype with four Celtics at Team USA at training camp has centered on Boston’s ability to generate a bit of chemistry before they even huddle for training camp. "I think there is a little bit of that. But we have 11 other guys on our team,” said Stevens. "We’ll see how that all shakes itself out once our team comes together but more so just for these guys to be playing. This is — all over the world, people are preparing for next year’s NBA season and I can’t imagine a better environment than having to compete and play with these guys here.”

* Catching his breath: Stevens sounds energized about the upcoming season but is relishing the quieter months. "I’ve been back in Boston, right after the summer league, came right back and I had a blast. The guys that are there, it’s not like the season where you’re working seven days a week and 80 hours a week. Now, you get a chance to take a deep breath, kinda get your vision for next year. This is fun. This is a fun way to kick off August. And [the Stevens family will] get away for a week but every day’s a vacation for our guys. And there’s nothing better for [Stevens’ son, Brady] than coming to these [Team USA practices].”


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Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Maybe fellow rookie Tremont Waters best summed up what it was like to watch Carsen Edwards erupt for eight third-quarter 3-pointers in the Celtics' exhibition finale Tuesday night in Cleveland.

“I didn’t want to get burnt, so I tried to stay away from him,” Waters (half-) joked to reporters.

Edwards scored 26 third-quarter points behind his 3-point barrage, all of which came in little more than a five-minute span. Maybe more staggering was the distance of his 3-point makes in the quarter, including four of 30-plus feet and an average distance of 29.1 feet on the eight makes.

Edwards nearly matched Klay Thompson’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a quarter. He did match Boston’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a game, a feat accomplished by both Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was present for Thomas’ outburst and Edwards’ offensive explosion still left him searching for the right words.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like that,” Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. "Those were deep, hard 3s. And how many? Eight? In like five minutes? I've never seen anything like that. I don't know that I have any reference points. He was pretty special.”

For his part, Edward shrugged off his part. He credited his teammates with finding him open shots. He suggested that he slipped into a similar shooting zone against top-seeded Virginia during the NCAA Tournament (that day, Edwards scored 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting with ten 3-pointers as Purdue nearly produced the upset).

What Stevens liked best was how Edwards, who took a hard shot to the nose in the opening minutes of the game, shook off an uneven first half to erupt in the second.

"I think the most encouraging part of the whole performance was I didn't think he was very good in the first half. And for him to be able to recenter and play and come out of the gates like that in the second, that's a great thing for a coach to learn about somebody,” Stevens told reporters. "Sometimes guys don't have it on a given night ... but you always know that he's probably one time from hitting the net away from getting hot.

"He lives on heat checks.”

The bigger picture here for the Celtics is that, in summer league and the preseason, Edwards has shown that his scoring skills should translate to the NBA. He might just be the microwave bench scoring option that the team has long coveted in the Stevens era.

It’s fair to want to see it in regular-season play. But it would also seem logical that Edwards might see even easier shots if he’s got talents such as Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward on the court and opposing teams can’t send their best defenders at him.

Not that it would deter him, anyhow. In the preseason, 31 of Edwards’ 43 field goal attempts came beyond the arc. He shot 45.2 percent from 3-point land and 51.2 percent overall. He scored 61 points in 73 minutes and the Celtics had an offensive rating of 112.6 when he was on the court.

Edwards’ usage percentage was 28.8 percent this preseason, a number driven slightly higher by his six turnovers. Still, he accounted for a staggering 34.1 percent of Boston’s points in his floor time.

This suggests that he won’t be particularly bashful when Stevens puts him into regular-season games. There’s backup guard minutes to be had with the departure of Terry Rozier and Edwards will get plenty of reps if he shoots like he has since arriving in Boston.

It’s a good sign for Boston if players like Waters need a bit of zinc oxide to combat any burns they get from being too close to Edwards moving forward.

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Injury bug (concussion-like symptoms) bites Celtics' Robert Williams at worst time again

Injury bug (concussion-like symptoms) bites Celtics' Robert Williams at worst time again

Boston Celtics second-year center Robert Williams displayed concussion-like symptoms after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in the first quarter of Tuesday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love smacked Williams with an elbow as the two chased a rebound and Williams hit the ground hard, where he remained while play continued back up the court.

The team announced Williams will be re-evaluated on Wednesday in Boston.

"Robert was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. "I don't know what that means. Obviously, we're concerned about his health. He’ll get with the doctors one more time before we take off here.”

Williams was getting his second start of the preseason but played only 3 scoreless minutes. In a new-look frontcourt, Williams had a chance this preseason to really state his case for available playing time, this after a summer in which coaches raved about his progress, but the injury derailed his best chance to assert himself.

It continues a trend from last season where minor ailments seemed to prevent Williams from having a chance to pounce on available minutes.

Williams registered 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in 33 preseason minutes. He looked overly amped in his first start against Charlotte and played in only small bursts while coming off the bench in the two games that followed.

It would seem Daniel Theis best positioned himself for starter minutes if the Celtics ultimately elect to utilize Enes Kanter off the bench. A healthy Williams can distinguish himself with not only his raw athleticism but his passing abilities. Rookie Vincent Poirer, a French import this summer, logged some quality defensive minutes this preseason that could help his case for immediate floor time.

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