BOSTON – Maybe the hype and hoopla surrounding the Boston Celtics players this summer has gone to their head.
Could it be that rekindling the magic they had a year ago is proving harder than expected?
No matter how you want to look at it, the Celtics have looked nothing like the prohibitive favorite in the East so many pegged them for being this year.
While they recognize these struggles are coming in the preseason, there is very much a sense of concern on the part of all involved.
Because the issues we have seen in the preseason that factored into them losing three of four games aren’t isolated.
The problems defensively are connected to the struggles and inconsistent play on offense. And the 3-point shot, one of Boston’s favorite weapons of mass destruction to opposing defenses, has been a dud in the preseason.
Fortunately for the Celtics, they still have a decent amount of time to get their act together before these issues factor into wins and losses.
And with that, here are the five biggest takeaways from Boston’s preseason play this year.
Where's the Defense?
For all that has gone wrong for Boston in the preseason, the team’s struggles defensively are at the top of the list of unexpected problems.
A year ago the Celtics had the top-ranked defense and return all of the key contributors from that unit. But you wouldn’t know it by the way they played in the preseason, finishing with a defensive rating of 101.8 which ranked 22nd in the preseason.
Their growth and development over the next week or so will be the single-most important area in which the Celtics have to improve upon heading into the regular season.
The concerns heading into training camp aren’t all that different now when it comes to Kyrie Irving. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best players in the game. Most of the concern centers around his left knee, which was surgically repaired in 2015 and had infected hardware stemming from that surgery removed last spring, resulting in him missing all of the playoffs. The bigger concern is just general soreness amid the bumps and bruises that come with playing major minutes at a high level. Irving didn’t play in the preseason finale due to sore ribs. While it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will keep him out for an extended period of time, it does serve as a reminder that Irving’s health maybe more than any other Celtic except maybe Gordon Hayward, will be monitored closely.
Patience with Gordon Hayward
When Gordon Hayward had to have a second procedure performed, it wasn’t going to keep him out at the start of training camp but it did throw his schedule slightly off. Because of that, it’s going to likely take Hayward more time than he would like to get back to form prior to his left ankle injury. In the preseason games, Hayward’s movement without the ball and involvement offensively improved with time. But he still has to work through improving defensively, whether it be staying with his man or recognizing switches and responding appropriately. Fortunately for Boston, the Celtics have the kind of depth that allows them to ease Hayward back into the flow of things without being forced to play him major minutes right away.
Marcus Morris Factor
One of the few bright spots for the Celtics in training camp has been the play of Marcus Morris. The veteran forward has arguably been Boston’s most consistent scorer in the preseason, appearing in all four games while averaging 13.8 points while shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range, which was tops among all Boston players to appear in all four games.
With a healthy Gordon Hayward back in the mix, Morris’ role was indeed unclear heading into training camp. But as we saw, Morris provides some much-needed offensive punch to the team’s second unit in addition to being a versatile defender who can hold his own against players at both forward positions.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Al Horford told reporters following Saturday’s loss to Cleveland in the Celtics’ preseason finale.
It’s never a good idea to get too high or too low with the play of anyone in the preseason. But there’s no question that Tatum has to be better at both ends of the floor once the games really count. He averaged 9.5 points while appearing in all four preseason games. However, he shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. His defensive rating of 108.7 has to be better going forward as well. That’s why this next week is so vital, not only for Tatum but the rest of the Celtics as well. With the preseason games out of the way, the Celtics coaching staff have plenty of film to work with in regards to players and the team overall, getting better. Among those looking to play better when the games count, is Tatum.