The Boston Celtics have been one of the most successful teams in the preseason so far. Here are five takeaways from their performances.
The Boston Celtics capped their set of preseason games off with a 121-96 loss to the New York Knicks, dropping the Celtics record to 5-2. In the loss, Boston played without four starters, electing to give their young players more time to fight for the last few spots on the roster.
As a team, the Celtics have played very well throughout their first few exhibitions. The offense has shown a mix of beautiful ball movement and outstanding shot selection, while the defense has continued to be solid with the addition of Al Horford inside.
Here are a few takeaways from some of the preseason success:
Al Horford is going to shine in Boston
It’s no secret how big the signing of Al Horford was for the Celtics culture. The team has desperately lacked a presence inside since trading Kevin Garnett, and they now have a capable rim protector in Horford.
Statistically, Horford has been outstanding. He averaged 10.2 points, 6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 0.8 blocks in only 16.6 minutes per game during five preseason games. Now, transitioning that into around 30 minutes means Horford would be averaging a double-double, plus some.
And it’s not just the stats, watching him play is a welcome site for Celtics fans. Brad Stevens has never had an All-Star big man at his disposal before, especially a multi-tooled star like Horford, and he’s been experimenting with his skills in the preseason. We’ve seen his beautiful and unselfish passing on display, making it obvious that he is trying to make the right play within the offense instead of forcing things for himself. He’s also shown off his range, and his shot looks a lot better than what we were seeing out of Jared Sullinger for the last few seasons. Horford’s post game has been a nice feature, and he has a skill for scoring on the low block. Defensively, he has impressed with his ability to always be in the right position and make timely blocks.
With Brad Stevens putting him in the right positions, Al Horford is going show that he is the perfect addition to this team.
Avery Bradley could have a career year offensively
One player that I can think of that always comes back with an improved part of his game every offseason is Avery Bradley. He was a project guard coming out of Texas and looked lost for some of his early career. But, he continued to work and grind in the gym to become what he is today, one of the top defensive players in the league.
This year, Bradley has come back with an improved jumper as well as offensive moves that could boost his production offensively. Defensively, he exhibits the same hard work and passion that we see every year.
With Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford on the court, opposing teams will have to focus more on the Celtics main offensive threats, leaving other options like Bradley and Jae Crowder with more opportunities to score. They have to take advantage of these shots more often than not, and that seems likely to happen with Bradley’s improved shot and Crowder healthy again.
Terry Rozier is ready to break out
Is there anyone on this roster whose status has changed as quick as Terry Rozier’s? The sentiment was largely one of disappointment and skepticism when Rozier was selected with the 16th pick in the 2015 draft, one year later and it looks genius. After barely playing with the Celtics throughout the regular season, Rozier shined in the team's playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks after he was thrust into action when Avery Bradley went down with a season-ending injury.
He carried that momentum into the offseason, where he was training extremely hard for his sophomore season. Rozier actively documented his workouts on SnapChat (trozzay3) and it seemed like he was in the gym almost every single day. His improvement was noticeable as he dominated in Summer League play, averaging 20 points, 3.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 steals over 29 minutes per game. He shot 53 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from downtown and 83 percent from the line. For comparison, during his rookie season Rozier shot 39.1 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three, and 100 percent from the line (2-2) during the 2016 playoffs.
During the preseason it has been much of the same for Rozier, he has continued to show off his improved shot. He averaged 9.6 points, 2.3 assists, 2.1 assists over 17.1 minutes per game and he’s shot 50 percent or better in five of the seven contests.
For now, it will be up to Rozier to make the most of his time as a rotation player. He’ll likely share ball handling duties with Marcus Smart in the second unit, and these two will wreak havoc on opposing teams benches this season. Rozier looks primed to become a big time contributor sooner rather than later.
Jaylen Brown is going to be ready quicker than we thought
Like Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown was also thought of as a draft disappoint by some of the fans who were expecting a big move. However, Brown has done anything but disappoint so far. With his high-flying athleticism and crafty moves around the basket, he has converted a lot of big plays throughout Summer League and the preseason. On defense, he is still learning but has the potential to become a versatile defensive stopper with his athleticism and basketball IQ.
Previously, it was expected that Brown could take a few seasons before he would develop into a productive player, but those expectations might have gotten tossed out of the window after his performance on the court. He has looked much more NBA ready than a lot of the other prospects so far, and it’s giving fans some optimism.
During Summer League, he came on strong with his ability to get to the basket and draw fouls, as well as some strong dunks. Brown averaged 16 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 2.3 steals over 29.1 minutes per game. He also averaged over 10 free throw attempts per game. His shooting percentages were about what we expected out of someone who’s still developing a jump shot, 32.4 percent from the field, 36.7 percent from three, and 71 percent from the line.
Brown has continued to improve, and Brad Stevens has been calling his number a lot during the preseason. He has averaged 23.4 minutes per game and put up averages of 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1 steal.
Jaylen Brown has a high ceiling that he can live up to if he continues to work hard and develop his game.
Roster Crunch: Who’s in, who’s out?
With multiple players under consideration for the last few roster spots, the Celtics will soon be making cuts and finalizing their 15 man roster. The team came into training camp with 16 players with guaranteed contracts, and four with non-guaranteed deals.
Predictably, the following players had already ‘earned’ a spot on the roster before the start of training camp.
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier
SG: Avery Bradley, Gerald Green
SF: Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown
PF: Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller
This left James Young, RJ Hunter, Demetrius Jackson, and Ben Bentil fighting for the final two roster spots. I recently wrote a piece on why I thought James Young would earn a spot on the roster over RJ Hunter and Ben Bentil, and I’ve changed that prediction just a little bit.
I now believe that James Young and RJ Hunter will make the roster over Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil based on what we’ve seen during the exhibition games. Young and Hunter have both looked like competent NBA players, they both have their faults, but they fill more important positions than Jackson or Bentil. The point guard spot and power forward spot where they would fill in if they made the roster is stacked, while the shooting guard and small forward spots could use a little more depth.
With their skill sets, James Young and RJ Hunter are more valuable to this team right now than the other options.