By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
You could probably extrapolate some stuff, but it’s an entirely different animal. It’s how Payton Pritchard goes for 16 points in his debut. On a recent Real Ones podcast, 11-year NBA pro Raja Bell shared the story of how he dropped 21 points on Michael Jordan and the Wizards during the preseason. A few weeks later, Bell recalled, he struggled to throw an entry pass to the post in a regular season game.
It’s early, and the circumstances are weird: a truncated offseason, a brief training camp, and just two preseason games. But those contests did highlight a few areas to watch for a squad some predict to wrest the Eastern Conference from the Heat next summer.
Spotlight on (Jaylen) Brown, now
With Gordon Hayward gone, Jaylen Brown will undoubtedly spend more time with the ball in his hands. That’s generally a good thing, but the loss of Hayward to Charlotte puts the Celtics down a distributor, and the fifth-year swingman has averaged just one assist per 19 minutes of play in his career. While many fans want Brown to just get the ball and shoot it (at least more than Marcus Smart does), he will be called upon to facilitate.
Brown finished with a promising four assists Friday night, including a nice dish to Robert Williams that won praise on Twitter. The consistent ability to find teammates and occasionally lead the offense would serve the Celtics well and put Brown in the conversation for his first All-Star selection.
In too deep
The Celtics were 10 games over .500 in 32 games (including playoffs) without Hayward last season. But few of those games also saw Kemba Walker stapled to the bench. Jay King made the point on a recent Anything is Poddable that last year’s Celtics planned to keep three of their top five scorers on the court at all times. They currently only have three of those players on the active roster. This puts significant stress on their depth.
Jeff Teague helps. In case you forgot, he was an All-Star five years ago. While last seen playing 21 minutes a night as Trae Young’s backup in Atlanta, he averaged a career high 8.2 assists in 30 minutes of play two seasons ago in Minnesota. He also canned 5-of-5 three-pointers in preseason action. I like what he brings to the table.
Teague will start with Kemba out. How about the rest of the supporting cast?
Your ridiculous-sample-size stat of the Celtics pre-season?— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) December 19, 2020
Jayson Tatum played half the minutes.
48 minutes on the court? Celtics were a +7
48 minutes off the court? Celtics were a -40
You need to factor in sample size, as Grande notes above. But for all the promise of Boston’s recent draft picks, much of it has not been realized at the NBA level. This is particularly true on the wing.
With Romeo Langford out, Aaron Nesmith will probably get some looks out of necessity. After an uninspiring debut, the Oregon product made 3-of-5 shots on Friday and pulled down five rebounds. But he also had five turnovers.
Again, it’s early. With time and health, the Boston bench should feature both Teague and veteran big Tristan Thompson. Short of that, the Celtics need a young player to step up to the challenge.
Thompson practiced Saturday, which seems to indicate he’s nearing a return. In the interim, Robert Williams III averaged 19 minutes over the two preseason games, an uptick from his usage during an injury plagued sophomore campaign. It remains unclear what to expect from the Time Lord in his third season.
Williams has shown flashes that indicate he might be ready for steady minutes. Then you look at the big picture. While he made 8-10 shots across the two preseason contests, with 10 boards and four blocks, he had four turnovers and foul fouls in Friday night’s game alone.
Let’s hope Thompson does more for Boston than bring the Kardashians to town. Time Lord may indeed be deserving of a rotation spot – or even a starting nod – in the future, but it’s an uneasy feeling for now.
Coming up next
The Celtics face the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday in the matchup everybody expected but didn’t get over the summer.
Milwaukee shuffled the deck after their second round ouster at the hands of the Miami Heat, and apparently adding two-way threat Jrue Holiday to the backcourt was enough to convince MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to stay. The Greek Freak put pen to paper on a five year, $250 million extension last week, sending a number of teams scrambling to identify the next superstar they might be able to shake loose from a smaller market team.
Boston was 1-2 against the top seed in the East last year, including the first game back in the bubble where the Celtics kept it close despite 2-for-18 shooting from Jayson Tatum. Against a healthy Bucks team, Tatum will have to submit the first of many big performances this season to offset the Celtics’ injury woes.
Pregame starts at 7 pm on 98.5 the Sports Hub with Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.