Thursday, October 24, 2013

9 Things the Boston Celtics showed us in the preseason

Preseason observations Boston Celtics 2013-2014 NBA season

Okay, I hear you. The NBA preseason is basically just glorified scrimmaging: coaches experiment with rotations, role players get extended minutes to showcase their skills, and nobody really cares about wins and losses. Still, we were nearly four months removed from the last meaningful NBA game, so of course we eat it all up. This year, I paid a little more attention to how the Boston Celtics performed. The much-analyzed trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets marked the end of an era of contention, and the start of an interesting rebuild. The preseason showed me nine things:

Coach Brad Stevens is a man with a plan

First-year head coach Brad Stevens has some pretty big shoes to fill. It might not have been entirely kosher how Doc Rivers manoeuvred himself to the Clippers, but Boston fans will always be grateful  to the inventor of Ubuntu for sticking through the bad years and delivering a title in 2008. Coach Stevens will have to tweak his Butler playbook to succeed at the NBA level, and it will be a long and learning season for him, but you have to admire his approach to the rebuilding process. He is making nice with his players, saying and doing all the right things, and installing a looser system based on defense, running and floor spacing.

Jeff Green and Courtney Lee remain inconsistent

Forward Jeff Green, who missed the 2011-2012 season with an aortic aneurysm, but nonetheless netted a rich four-year, $36 million contract, is entering his sixth season in the NBA. He has never been "the guy", serving mostly as a sidekick to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and playing the sixth man role for a Boston team that featured Hall Of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Mr. Green, often criticized for a lack of aggressiveness, failed to convince he is ready for his role as featured scorer, shooting a putrid .325 from the field.

Courtney Lee continued last year's up-and-down play in the preseason. I remember being ecstatic when Danny engineered a sly sign-and-trade deal for Lee last summer. And what was not to like? For a modest five-year, $21.4 million contract we netted a young 3-and-D shooting guard to replace the departed Ray Allen. Lee still appears mired in last season's disappointing campaign, shooting .327 on a Celtics team that is loaded with shooting guards. He will need to improve his shooting to warrant playing time.

...while Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford and Brandon Bass expand their roles

Mainstays Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jordan Crawford, on the other hand, used the preseason to carve out bigger roles. Bradley, who missed the first two months of the 2012-2013 campaign, struggled with his shooting upon his return, but his defense never missed a beat. He was sparingly used at point guard in the preseason, but his real future is at shooting guard: AB has developed a reliable 3-point shot without compromising his airtight defense. Danny Ainge recently stated that he has had talks about extending Bradley's contract.

Bass has become more of a communicator on defense with Kevin Garnett no longer on the team, and trigger-happy Xavier product Jordan Crawford has been admirable with his shooting and passing.

Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries should fit right in

Disgruntled former Net Gerald Wallace, who briefly became an internet sensation for sounding like a didgeridoo, is still a gritty and motivated competitor. The versatile 31-year old forward is exactly the type of lunch-pail player that Celtics fans typically fall in love with, even though his salary -- G-Force is owed a handsome $30 million over the next three years -- will make him an easy target for scrutiny. 

Kris Humphries aka the former Mr. Kardashian is one of those players you hate if playing on another team, but love when he is on yours. This move on November 8, 2012, earned him the collective hate of Boston fans, but apparently him and Rondo will have a good relationship moving forward. As long as he hustles and rebounds, the city of Boston will quickly embrace him.

We are all waiting for Rondo

This is Rajon Rondo's team now. When Danny Ainge shipped Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn in June, Rondo became the last remaining member from the team's championship run in 2008. Over the years he transformed from question mark to triple-double notching four-time All-Star who just last year flirted with Magic Johnson's double-digit assist streak record. Our championship aspirations unfortunately came to a screeching halt when he tore his ACL versus the Hawks in January. He could possibly return in December, but Danny Ainge will not provide a formal timetable. Even Rondo doesn't know.

Kelly Olynyk is the real deal

Canadian shampoo model Kelly Olynyk was compared to Dirk Nowitzki 5 billion times over the summer. Perhaps that comparison is a bit far-fetched, but I am certainly expecting good things from our Canadian top pick. Olynyk, appropriately nicknamed Sunshine by Jeff Green, tore up the summer league, and he continued his impressive play in the preaseason, averaging 9.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG. The former Gonzaga star has a tendency to pick up fouls, but he should improve in that area with experience. 

We should have never traded Marshon Brooks

Guard MarShon Brooks, orginally drafted by the Boston Celtics with the No. 25 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but subsequently traded to the Nets for JaJuan Johnson, returns to Boston after two eventful seasons in New Jersey and Brooklyn. Brooks is arguably the best incoming piece from the Pierce & Garnett trade: he is 24 years old, he can flat-out score, and he is eager for a fresh start after seeing his playing time cut from 29.4 MPG in 2011-2012 to 12.5 MPG in 2012-2013.

The return of Simba

Bruising power forward Jared Sullinger, who was charged with domestic violence over the Summer but is out on bail, quickly became a fan favorite during his first season in Boston. The former Ohio State star, amazingly still available to Boston at No. 21 in last year's NBA Draft, started yanking rebounds like was still in college, and his defense improved greatly under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett. He averaged 6.0 PPG and 5.9 RPG in 45 games before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove two herniated disks. Sullinger indicated that he was "not ready" on Media Day, but he has certainly looked active in the preseason, averaging  10.1 PPG and 4.6 RPG.

Pair of undrafted free agents should see plenty of playing time

Undrafted free agent signings Phil Pressey (son of former Warriors point forward Paul Pressey) and Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani were impressive in the preseason. Both players are willing to learn, reasonably priced, and they supply some valuable depth at our thinnest positions: point guard and center. Pressey, who earned a training camp invitation after his strong play in the Orlando Summer League, is as quick as lightning and also quickly soaking up as much of Rondo's advice as possible. Former Valenica BC star Faverani, in many ways the anti-Fab Melo, runs the floor well and has very good hands. He averaged 7.3 PPG and 4.4 RPG in the preseason.

The Boston Celtics open the 2013-2014 season against the Toronto Raptors on October 30.

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