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Just 79 days after the Miami Heat sent the Boston Celtics home from the Disney World bubble, the Celtics will be back on trial.
The Celtics open their preseason on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.. m. against the Philadelphia 76ers on TNT. We have no way of knowing how much Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart will play. So what should fans see when the exhibition games in Boston offer a tip?
Brad Stevens insists that the starting grid is not as important as the finishing grid or even the starting grid in the second half, but it will be interesting to monitor this until Kemba Walker returns from his mysterious pain in his left knee at some point after beginning of January. Will Celtics slot Marcus Smart be the one who has proven time and time again that it could be a starter for most teams in the NBA? If so, who will start next to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum? Will they stay smart with the two of them and start Jeff Teague, who has significantly more NBA experience than Grant Williams, Semi Ojeleye and especially Aaron Nesmith?
There are a variety of options ahead of Stevens, but the lack of depth of experience at Celtics early in the season could be significant.
Preseason is well underway and one thing is clear so far: the aesthetics of an empty NBA arena are terrible. The video screens with fans zooming in from across the country are nowhere to be found and the bubble’s overall production value has gone. In its place cave-like empty seats extend infinitely behind the benches, the pumped-in fan noise sounds even worse than in Orlando and every squeak of sneakers can be heard on the broadcast.
Teague formed an all-star team once, and he’s just two seasons away from an average of 12. 1 point and 8. 2 assists in Minnesota, but he turned 32 in June and only started 17 of the 59 games he played last season.
If Teague just needed a new opportunity, he could be a huge challenge for the Celtics – a creator to himself and others who isn’t dribbling or picking and rolling anymore. The Celtics must be produced as point guard until Walker’s return.
For three games in the bubble, Robert Williams looked like the player the franchise hopes can become – an otherworldly athlete with obscenely long arms protecting the rim and providing vertical clearance. In the postseason, he reverted to many of his most frustrating tendencies – jumping prematurely due to blocked shots and a lack of defensive rotations.
So who will Williams be this year? The former would be important to him – he is entitled to a contract extension after this season. It remains to be seen if the Celtics’ tallest flyer can touch its ceiling, however.
In Celtics’ ESPN depth map, Grant Williams is listed as a backup power forward and a third backup small forward, which doesn’t seem particularly likely. Williams’ defensive versatility has improved immensely over the last year, but Stevens rates his players based on the positions they can defend and Williams may not be ready for the wing.
Even so, Williams shot 10:17 from the bottom of the bubble and told reporters he was open to anything Stevens throws at him.
« I honestly played everything, » said Williams. “The coach just brings me in and expects me to know every position, no matter what it is. I’ve done a little of everything. Like last year, no fixed position. Also, there are a lot of people outside. So it could be different when guys like Tristan are back or when guys are practicing. ”
Stevens has preached caution about Nesmith despite acknowledging the former Vanderbilt wing’s skills as a marksman.
« Aaron Nesmith hadn’t played a 5v5 game since January until his first practice session and everyone is asking me if he’ll be in the rotation or not, » said Stevens. “He was just trying to come down the square. There is so much growth that we all have to go through. We’re just on an accelerated schedule here. ”
Reading between the lines, many expect Nesmith to contribute immediately as its 3-and-D skills feel like a natural fit. But the NBA defense is complicated, and Nesmith had less than a month to prepare. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t have Stevens’ notoriously hard-to-earn trust in the morning.
Teague plans to win the safepoint guard fight easily unless he’s a starter. The favorite to claim Teague’s spare minutes is Payton Pritchard, who impressed Stevens, Tatum and Smart. But Pritchard, like Nesmith, faces a major challenge as a newbie to an NBA system. If he’s not ready, could Carsen Edwards – or even the two-way security guard Tremont Waters – see some time on the ground?
Few players are in the gym as much as Ojeleye, who is known to hit medicine balls against the locker room wall after Did Not Play – coaching decisions in 2018-19, but spends a lot more time on his mobility and stretching work. Ojeleye fires endless 3-pointers before and after a workout, which is the most obvious way he can get (and stay) on the ground, but he seems to lose confidence in his shot if he misses his first or second try. Is this the year he breaks this cycle? If so, he could start some games.
Tatum was the best player in Boston at the end of the season, but not at the beginning. This created an interesting dynamic where the Celtics won or lost due in large part to Tatum’s performance, but it wasn’t always clear whether the 22-year-old was « the leader ». ”
« I’m not here going around saying this is my team, » he said. « I don’t do that. Like everyone else, I come to work and do my job to the best of my ability and just go out and play. I don’t feel the need to say or anyone has to say it. We all play for the Celtics. We all contribute to the success of the team and of course I’ll be here for a while. I’m looking forward to it. But no, I don’t say or think that’s how I play. We have a lot of talented people and I’m happy to be part of this team. ”
That’s a very reasonable answer. Tatum has proven that he can put a team on his shoulders and win a game, which is an important form of leadership. What if a game goes sideways and the Celtics need someone to bring them back together?
Philadelphia is a fascinating team. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers have two real stars who either don’t mesh or have never been surrounded by meaningful pieces. This year, the Sixers have shooters (Seth Curry and Danny Green), a point guard who can pick and roll when he’s ready to play as a rookie (Tyrese Maxey), and lots of wing chord (Green, Matisse Thybulle), Tobias Harris and others).
Is this the year the Sixers put it together? If not, the Simmons / Embiid tandem is likely doomed to fail. This season will be full of problems for Philly, but the roster is finally making sense and could do real damage in the Eastern Conference.
Philly is of course one of James Harden’s favorite destinations. If things don’t work out, the Sixers could have an incredible Plan B..
Boston Celtics, Jayson Tatum, Brad Stevens, Jaylen Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
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