One lesson each Celtics player can take away from World Cup
Team Shamrock’s FIBA adventures ended with a whimper Saturday as — under the cloak of East Coast darkness — three of the four Celtics on Team USA logged DNPs (eight points for Jaylen Brown) while the Americans claimed seventh place with an 87-74 win over Poland. Combine that with the fact that Daniel Theis got limited reps with Germany’s early exit and Daniel Poirier hasn’t played big minutes while backing up Rudy Gobert for France and the World Cup experience wasn’t quite as robust as it could have been for the six Celtics players involved.
Still, there were positives to pluck and experiences gained by everyone involved, not the least of which is that a third of Boston’s roster will show up to camp on Oct. 1 in game-ready shape. Still, regardless of Team USA’s medal-less finish and the limited reps for Theis and Poirier, there’s at least one item or lesson that every player can bring with them into the new season.
7 games, 14.4 PTS, 48.6 FG%, 38.5 3PT%, 5.4 AST, +79, 25.4 MPG
If not for his dud against France, you could make a case for Walker as Team USA’s MVP. He led the Americans in both points and assists per game. He shot 48.6 percent overall — well north of his career average of 41.8 percent. But he just didn’t have it in the knockout game against France, which only confirmed the notion that Walker isn’t the sort of player that can carry a team on his own. Which is OK because, in Boston, he’s going to have more talent around him than any point in his NBA career. Walker averaged 14.8 shots per 36 minutes in FIBA play but took 21.2 shots per 36 minutes last year in Charlotte. If Walker can embrace getting everyone involved and is OK with his own shot output dipping, it could maximize all of Boston’s offensive weapons and keep everyone content.
2 games, 10.5 PTS, 31.8 FG%, 25 3PT%, 7.5 REB, 2.5 AST, +22, 24.3 MPG
The loss of Tatum really hurt Team USA’s chances, taking away one of its most dynamic offensive players and eliminating the ability to go small with Tatum as a lone big. Before his injury in the final seconds of overtime against Turkey, Tatum had his best outing (11 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals) and made some clutch free throws just to lift the game to the extra session. Maybe the most intriguing part of what we saw in FIBA play was Tatum as a ball-handler, especially running occasional pick-and-rolls. His ability to draw defenders going at the basket led to some nifty inside feeds to Myles Turner and got Tatum himself to the free-throw line. Getting Tatum to attack instead of settling for mid-range jumpers would make the Celtics much more dangerous offensively.
8 games, 7.9 PTS, 44.8 FG%, 35.3 3PT%, 4.3 REB, 1.4 AST, +46, 20 MPG
By far the most positive thing from Brown overseas was his playmaking ability. But we already spent an entire column on Jaylen the Creator https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/celtics/gregg-popovich-lauds-jaylen-browns-unselfishness-after-win-vs-brazil?b so we’ll put the spotlight here on Brown’s ability to joust with 4s and 5s. The Celtics, after losing both Al Horford and Aron Baynes this offseason, are going to lean heavy on small-ball lineups next season. That’s going to require all of their wings to be able to guard opposing 4s and Brown routinely got tasked with that by Gregg Popovich. If Brad Stevens can confidently lean on Gordon Hayward, Tatum, and Brown to defend that 4 position, it makes the decision to go small that much easier and allows Boston to lean heavier on its most talented players.
5 games, 6.4 PTS, 47.6 FG%, 30 3PT%, 1.4 REB, 1.2 AST, +16, 17.8 MPG
Smart’s collection of minor ailments didn’t help his cause overseas. A calf/quad issue held him back at Team USA training camp and flared again in group play. Smart didn’t really show us any new tricks — we’ve long know he can joust with bigs, though his efforts against Giannis Antetokounmpo were particularly inspiring considering the Celtics need to find a new game plan for the MVP with Horford’s departure. Smart’s big takeaway: Make your free throws. He had four misses as the stripe against France as the Americans desperately tried to let that game slip away. Smart shot 80.6 percent at the stripe last year (albeit on limited reps) so it’s not a major concern. Team USA didn’t allow Smart to showcase his playmaking, which will be important, especially whenever Walker and/or Hayward isn’t on the court this season.
5 games, 7.6 PTS, 43.6 FG%, 11.1 3PT%, 6 REB, +6, 17.8 MPG
Theis shot 38.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc last season, a really encouraging spike, particularly given the departures of Horford and Baynes. That shot defied him in FIBA play (1 of 9 overall), though Germany had him rolling to the rim often (and he showed an ability to throw down some nifty alley-oop lobs). Theis being a willing screener is no surprise and something the Celtics will lean on but he’s going to have to find a balance between diving at the rim and popping to the 3-point line. Boston’s new-look frontcourt has a lot of players eager to be near the basket but Theis being able to space the floor would set him apart from others.
6 games, 5 PTS, 58.8 FG%, 3.3 REB, +4, 13.5 MPG
We might get one more glimpse of Poirier in Sunday’s bronze-medal game, though he took a hard shot to the head in France’s loss to Argentina in the semifinals. That he was a DNP versus the US was a disappointment with a chance to better measure where he stands against NBA competition. The biggest takeaway with Poirier is that he lived up to every bit of the scouting report and running the floor in transition should be his calling card. He’s going to have to win the coaching staff’s trust on the defensive end but if he can get that 7-foot frame up and down the court after chasing rebounds, he’s going to carve out a role with this new-look frontcourt.