Celtics Insider

Forsberg: What piques my interest tonight in the preseason opener

Celtics Insider

The Boston Celtics tip off their four-game exhibition slate Monday night with a visit from the Orlando Magic. Reporters have seen only tiny glimpses of training camp practices and almost exclusively individual work, so it’ll be nice to get a full-game glance at these new-look Celtics.

With all the necessary asterisks about it being just one preseason game, here’s a handful of things we’ll absolutely overreact to on Monday night: 

What is Ime Udoka's style?

Celtics first-year head coach Ime Udoka has offered a bunch of hints about how he wants to play -- faster pace, more ball movement -- and comes with a reputation as a defensive mind. Monday’s game should give us a better sense of just how Boston will operate under a new leader.

Forsberg: Who will serve as Ime Udoka's captains this season for the Celtics?

Udoka expressed a desire to utilize the multiple ball-handlers on the team’s roster to help push the ball up the floor, and the Celtics have ball-moving bigs who can facilitate that as well. Will Udoka lean into Boston’s versatility and continue a switch-happy defense?

We’re also intrigued to simply see Udoka’s sideline demeanor. Will he be as stoic as Brad Stevens, or wear his emotions a bit more?

New tricks for the Jays?

Jayson Tatum packed on some muscle this summer and pledged to attack the basket more often. Jaylen Brown said he spent his recovery from wrist surgery studying playmakers and, while he wouldn’t offer hints on who he studied, he said Saturday that he’s "looking forward to going out and showing all the things that I watched.”

 

We can talk about a myriad of things that need to break right for Boston in order to truly compete with the East’s elite this season, but Tatum and Brown continuing their development and emerging as All-Stars that make everyone around them even better is paramount to them all.

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Can the Jays make the final -- and often hardest -- leap where they not only earn the individual accolades but consistently elevate everyone around them?

Which groups play best together?

Udoka has already reminded us not to overreact to who starts Monday's game while recently noting, “it's not just about the starters, it's about finding the right balance off the bench and who plays well together, so we're looking at that every day.”

But there could be some hints about how Udoka plans to deploy his talent this season. Much of that will hinge on who plays best together and getting a chance to see how players operate outside of intra-squad scrimmages could be key to determining roles.

Forsberg: Who should be the Celtics' fifth starter?

One thing we found interesting: Udoka pledged to find a firm starting five, so if we assume that Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, Brown, and Tatum are likely four starters, we’re intrigued to see who shines brightest when paired with that core.

And while we’re still shel-shocked from all those Daniel Theis/Tristan Thompson double-big lineups last season, we’re at least intrigued to see how an Al Horford/Williams pairing fares and whether it’s a sustainable look for the team.

Who makes a statement?

Over the weekend, Udoka said, "We don't want to define roles early, we want [the players] to kind of show us who they are.”

Even with an influx of veterans, there is an opportunity here for players throughout the roster to sort of force the issue. There’s a starting spot open, who wants it? Which young player is going to distinguish themselves from the pack and kick in that playing-time door? Which veterans are most capable of consistently helping this team and carving out a hefty role?

We’ve wondered out loud if Aaron Nesmith can make enough strides to make a play for a starting spot alongside the core. But this is also a bit of a blank slate for Romeo Langford and Grant Williams, who really need to assert themselves given the veteran additions to this roster. Even Payton Pritchard is going to find it tougher to find minutes if Dennis Schroder plays a hefty role this season.

 

Unlike past years where the Celtics were sort of crossing their fingers hoping younger players would make a push for bigger roles, it feels like there could be some serious competition for spots in the ramp to the regular season. The team still has a two-way slot open and flexibility with the 15th roster spot so everyone is fighting for something. Sine we can’t see much behind the practice curtains, we’re eager to see who asserts themselves in game action.