CANTON, Mass. — Here’s what I think about the Celtics starting a new season: I think that a lot of things that this team went through last year, from coach Brad Stevens to the lowest guy on the roster and everyone in between, is that a lot of things got swept under the rug.
I'm not a big believer in that at all. I think issues need to be addressed and dealt with as the season is going along.
The idea that Kyrie Irving came out and said the team would be fine in the playoffs because he was there, that's the wrong mindset to have, even if you believe that. Listen, we know LeBron James is like that, but that's LeBron. He's a different animal. He's older, and he knows how to manage the season. He's so accomplished. Back in the day, the superstars didn't coast during the regular season. They played hard. They wanted to win at all cost.
Nowadays, the regular season is becoming like an afterthought for some guys as they prep for the postseason.
But if you're a young team that's unproven like the Celtics, you can't think like that. I don't think it's even about home-court advantage, like people point to the record and getting home court in the playoffs. It's not, it’s about developing habits. I always used this term last year: When things start going sideways, teams that take the regular season seriously can right to ship. Things went sideways for the Celtics in the playoffs. There were some monumental runs against them and they had no idea how to react and adjust.
I don't believe in chemistry. I believe in fit. I believe in basketball being played a certain way. When you play that way, everyone thinks you have great chemistry. This team can love each other, they can have S’mores, singing “Kumbaya" with guitars out there. If they don't get to the restricted area and they don't get to the free-throw line, especially with this defensive frontcourt they have, this team is not going to be that good.
Now, if the C's can attack the restricted area -- and I look a lot at Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward -- if those guys are attacking the restricted area and getting to the free-throw line, that’s a good sign. A lot of times they want to attack and they want to swing out, which is fine. I don't have a problem with that. But I want to look at the numbers in the restricted area. When the ball hits the restricted area, whether it's a shot or a free throw or a kick out, what are the points per possession? When that stuff happens, I think chemistry is good. When that doesn't happen, and you're not getting to the free-throw line, and you're taking pull up jump shots, I think people will point to chemistry, but it's just because it's not good basketball.
People aren't emphasizing what this team needs to, which is attack the rim, make the right play. That could have been solved a lot about Kyrie being sad about his grandfather or whatever the issue might have been. You just have to have that mentality. Coach Stevens has always talked about, we want to get layups. Well, this team needs to get layups. How do they do that? I think they've got to play a lot faster this year. I think they've got to be north of 5-6 possessions more per game than they did last year — which is a lot. But they played slow last year. They have to up their pace because I just don't think we’re going to be that good defensively.
How small can this team play? I don't know. But I guess if anybody can do it, Brad can do it. I like Tatum and Hayward at the 4 and 5. It was clear as day last year, you needed to have Marcus Smart out there. If you have Kemba Walker, you have to have Smart. Brown has the ability to guard bigger guys. Look, Danny Ainge has that DNA in his blood to play small with his old Phoenix teams. So maybe Grant Williams at the 5 at times. Maybe Robert Williams at the 5, he’s a good passer. It’ll be interesting to see how small they can go. But even then you still have to rebound out of it.
It will be interesting when I get a chance to sit down with Brad and just start talking to him about what are the points of emphasis this season. When you start scratching away at basketball, there's going to be three things that he's going to emphasize all season. I’ll know what those things are and it'll probably happen maybe two weeks after training camp starts and he’ll be, 'These three things are what we have to do; if we don't we won't be good.'
Who is the X-factor on this year’s team? I think Gordon Hayward is going to be good. My expectation of Gordon Hayward is for him to be like he was in Utah. So I don't think he needs to exceed that. Obviously, he has to be better than he was last year. I think Tatum might be the X-factor. Tatum has to be so much more dominant. I can't call a game and not mention his name for a quarter. He's got to impact the game in so many ways. Crazy big shoulders, long arms, he’s got game. I don't want to see all his shots end up in Kobe Bryant's 18-foot step-backs. Get to the free-throw line, which he is capable of doing and get to the restricted area, which he is capable of doing.
I think Jaylen is going to be great. I think Tatum has the ability to really take that next step. But, to me, the result of that for Tatum is going to be 8 free throws per game, 10 free throws per game, which is -- we have to see more of that. Because Tatum has so much game and people can't stay in front of him. But you can't be settling for those shots, even if you make them. I'll just remind everybody that Kobe, his first couple years in the league, all he did was go to the basket and dunk on people. Yes, after like 15 years in the league, when he busted his Achilles, he turned into a jump shooter. But, early on, he was attacking the rim.
So, get the young players to attack the rim and then you can worry about that other stuff when you're old and can't move.
And if the Celtics do attack the basket, that so-called "chemistry" issue they had last year will be a thing of the past.
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