Celtics

Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

The Boston Celtics will huddle two weeks from today for Media Day and the unofficial start of the 2019-20 season. The next day, they’ll launch into two-a-day sessions and the start of training camp at the Auerbach Center. Basketball is just about back.

Not that it ever left. The NBA experienced maybe its wildest summer in league history as stars relocated all over the map. The late summer/early fall doldrums were filled by the FIBA World Cup and Team USA’s roster featured four of Boston’s primary rotation players, including newly signed All-Star Kemba Walker.

Still, when camp opens for the Celtics, it’ll have been nearly five months since their head-slapping 2018-19 campaign ended unceremoniously with the Milwaukee Bucks rattling off four straight wins in the conference semifinals. A lot has changed with the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris. The Celtics are hoping that the “Plan A” additions of Walker and Enes Kanter can help them remain competitive in a wide-open East.

But there’s no shortage of questions to be answered about this team.

So today we’re unveiling our Countdown to Camp series, a two-week march to Media Day in which some of NBC Sports Boston’s top hoops voices will join me in trying to set the table for the new season.

Today’s topic: What will be the most intriguing storyline at training camp?

This writer’s choice: How does Gordon Hayward look after a summer of working out in Boston, and what sort of expectations will emerge as he prepares for a season now two years removed from that gruesome ankle injury in Cleveland.

Maybe it’s because much of Boston’s other key players have been on an international stage for the past month while Hayward has been grinding away back home that makes Hayward’s progress so intriguing. Every time a Celtics teammate, coach, or front-office figure has talked to reporters this offseason, the conversation has always included some form of gushing about Hayward and the upcoming season.

Heck, that hype train left the station back in early June when, just a few weeks removed from Boston’s playoff exit, Danny Ainge detailed Hayward’s initial workout schedule and how he was “anticipating great things from Gordon this season.” 

Along the way, we learned Hayward was selling his San Diego residence an had spent nearly his entire summer in Boston working out with the coaches and trainers at the team’s facility. Just last week, Celtics coach Brad Stevens further elevated the Hayward intrigue level by saying that Hayward has put himself in position for a “great” season with his offseason workouts while discussing Hayward’s summer on Jeff Goodman’s podcast.

Later in this series, we’ll get into what exactly type of season Hayward might have and how his role might change now after the departure of the two All-Stars he used to share the locker room with. Boston’s roster got incredibly young this offseason and it’s clear that 29-year-olds Walker and Hayward will be in the leadership spotlight.

But the start of camp will allow us to set our expectations gauge for Hayward. He had some very encouraging moments at the end of the 2018-19 season, particularly in Boston’s first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Alas, his struggles against Milwaukee confirmed that he was still searching for his pre-injury consistency and it tempered expectations entering the offseason.

In a way, it feels like some have forgotten just how good Hayward was before the injury and how his all-around talents made him a top-25-caliber player in the league. Hayward might never quite get back to that level but those glimpses at the end of last season suggest he can really impact winning. 

A new-look roster, and restored confidence, might give him a chance to accentuate his talents again this season. The Celtics are loaded with wing depth and must figure out how all those versatile pieces fit together but if Hayward gets back to the player he was, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make leaps, that would be Boston’s most direct path to being a true contender.

So if we get a glimpse of 5-on-5 work to close out one of the team’s early sessions of camp, these eyes will be directly on Hayward.

Here’s what others in our panel will be keeping an eye on:

Abby Chin: The adjustment of — and to — Kemba Walker

This covers multiple angles, not the least of which, I assume, will be an improved vibe in the locker room. There’s a big adjustment for Walker with a new team, new environment, and leaving the only NBA home he’s ever known. That can’t be understated. 

Al Horford said it took him the better part of a year to really get comfortable after he made the move from Atlanta, and that surprised him. It’s all-encompassing for every area of your life: new house, new facility, new coaching staff and trainers. Even just figuring out the best way to get to TD Garden to avoid traffic. Everything is different. 

And, of course, the adjustment on the court for Walker, and for his new teammates in playing with Walker. This is the most talented group of guys Walker has ever played alongside during an NBA season. How does he balance his 1-on-1, pick-and-roll heavy style with getting others involved? Irving never really figured that out. How effectively is Walker able to pick his spots? His teammates have to adjust to a new floor general as well. A few got a head start with Team USA but it’s still going to take time to gel.

Sherrod Blakely: The wing position

Jaylen Brown is in a contract year. Jayson Tatum will look to take a significant leap forward.  Gordon Hayward's looking to get back to the player he was prior to coming to Boston. Keeping all three happy this year? Good luck with that Brad Stevens.

 

Max Lederman: How will Robert Williams look?

TimeLord's per-36 stats were historic last season. Can he come close to that production with extended run? Can he be a playable rotation big for the Celtics to start the season, or will he need more time to develop? Basically I want to know if he can play — and not be a net negative — on opening night versus the Joel Embiid/Al Horford frontline of the 76ers.

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Celtics' bench power surge just in time with trip out West on the horizon

Celtics' bench power surge just in time with trip out West on the horizon

BOSTON — There has been little to be overly critical about when it comes to the Boston Celtics this season. 

Wednesday’s high-scoring affair with Washington ended with Boston prevailing 140-133, giving them a ninth straight win to improve upon their league-best record of 9-1. 

But the win over the Wizards was different than most this season because of the significant contributions made by the bench, a group that hasn’t been that impactful this season. 

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench averages just 27.7 points per game, which ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA. 

But against Washington, the second unit outscored their Washington counterparts 40-29, with all six of the Celtics off the bench scoring at least two points.

That was a bit surprising, not only because of Boston’s lack of scoring punch off the bench, but also because bench scoring has been one of the few strengths of the Wizards this season. Washington’s bench averages 43.4 points per game, which ranks sixth in the NBA.  

For Boston to have such a collectively strong game could not have come at a better time with the Celtics heading out for their longest road trip of the season beginning Friday at Golden State. 

Among the backups to step up against Washington was Brad Wanamaker, who had 10 points and five assists in the Celtics' victory. 

He is well aware that the team’s second unit is viewed by some as the team’s weak link. But such talk doesn’t faze him. 

“Ignore the outside noise,” Wanamaker told NBC Sports Boston. “We know what we’re capable of doing in this locker room.”

Part of the challenge for Boston’s bench has been injuries that have forced the Celtics to elevate players on the second unit to starter status. 

Marcus Smart has been called up from the bench and inserted into the starting lineup to replace Gordon Hayward, who will be out for another five or so weeks following surgery to repair a bone fracture in his left hand. 

And Daniel Theis — who has been the team’s primary starter at center — did not play against Washington due to a dislocated finger injury. His primary backup this season, Robert Williams III, was a late scratch Wednesday with a sore ankle. 

That meant Enes Kanter (13 points, nine rebounds) was back in the starting lineup while rookie center Vincent Poirier was eleveated from the end of the bench to be a prominent part of the rotation. 

“It is great to help the team,” Poirier told NBC Sports Boston. “I knew I would play because we had two guys out (Theis and Williams III). I was ready. Ready to help the team and do my best.”

Poirier tallied three points, four rebounds and three assists in addition to setting screens that frequently freed up teammates for great looks at the basket. 

Boston also got a career game from Carsen “Boogie” Edwards, who led all of Boston’s backups with a career-high 18 points. 

“It’s important for nights like this,” Edwards said. “It’s good for games like this when we do get minutes, to try and make the best of them and help the team.”

And that aid will be needed in the coming days as Boston (9-1) puts their league-best record to the test beginning on Friday at Golden State, followed by road games at Sacramento (Nov. 17), Phoenix (Nov. 18), the Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 20) and finally Denver (Nov. 22).

“We gotta have everybody; it’s gonna be team wins so we’re going to need everybody,” said Jaylen Brown. “So for everybody to stay ready, that’ll be great for us.”

Kemba Walker had similar thoughts on the bench’s impact going forward. 

“It’s about staying ready,” Walker said. “We need our bench, we need those guys to step up and just come in and just do what they can to help us. Of course a lot of attention will be on myself and the rest of the starters, but those guys coming off the bench and come in, they’re gonna be huge for us.”

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Are the Celtics better than we thought? Or will the West be a reality check?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Are the Celtics better than we thought? Or will the West be a reality check?

With the Celtics riding a league-best nine-game win streak, Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss the key ingredients to Boston's surprising start, the biggest differences between this season and last year, and what lies ahead on the C's road trip against the Western Conference.

1:00 — How surprising is it that the Celtics have the best record in the NBA?

3:15 — How much will this West Coast trip tell us about the Celtics potential?

4:50 — Forsberg explains how Kemba Walker’s ‘got a little I.T. in him in the fourth’

8:00 — What has been the most surprising thing about the Celtics hot start?

10:00 — What is the biggest difference between this season and last season?

13:30 — Draper explains why blaming Kyrie for all the struggles last year isn’t fair

16:30 — Why is the play of Marcus Smart flying under the radar?

19:00 — What record would make this a ‘good’ West Coast trip for the Celtics?

20:30 — Breaking down A. Sherrod Blakely’s NBA Power Rankings

23:00 — Impressions of Isaiah Thomas’ return to Boston, will he ever be close to the same player again?

25:30 — Do the Celtics still NEED a big man?

29:00 — Our crew gives out their ‘My guy!’ of the week awards.

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