The Boston Celtics will open their preseason against the Toronto Raptors tonighyt at 7:30 p.m ET. It’ll be the tipoff to a new and exciting season with a plethora of different narratives and talking points. Everything from Rajon Rondo’s return to Brad Stevens’ systems to Jeff Green’s ball handling and even how the Celtics are going to score points will be discussed.
The preseason shouldn’t give us any strong indications as to how the regular season is going to look. Just like preseason in any other league, teams in the NBA aren’t going to showcase , their full hand in the preseason. Instead, they’ll only give us tastes and leave us with ideas to ponder on. A lot of times the preseason will be used as a barometer to see how certain players have progressed in certain areas and whether or not that’ll be something that can be put to use in the regular season.
The Celtics are going to do much of the same during their preseason run. Brad Stevens seems to be a very innovative and intuitive coach, so we could see a lot come the start of the regular season.
As far as what to look for tonight, there are a few specific things that I’m going to be looking for.
1. Brad Stevens Defensive System
The Celtics were inherently a good defensive team under Doc Rivers in the Kevin Garnett era. Garnett picked up the defense and carried it on his shoulders; essentially, he played the role that a quarterback does on offense in the NFL. He made the calls for the defense on the fly and made any needed adjustments. He was an amazing defender and a very cerebral player.
Well, now Garnett has been moved to Brooklyn. Doc Rivers and his system have gone to L.A and the Celtics have lost two of their better defensive players on the roster. In return they got Keith Bogans and Gerald Wallace who both have been decent defenders at some point, but that has been lost as their roles in the NBA have slowly diminished.
Now the Celtics are going into the season without Garnett for the first time since 2008 and the defensive system may look relatively different. The Celtics may be show us a more man-oriented scheme instead of playing on the part-zone principles that Doc Rivers had instilled in the team throughout his tenure here. They may be more aggressive than they were on the defensive end last season because of their ability to defend the perimeter. They may employ a switching scheme if they choose to be a small-ball team.
The point is that we have absolutely no idea what Stevens is practicing because we’ve had limited practice and training camp access and we haven’t seen these guys in game action. This will be the first time that we’ll see things play out on the floor for the Celtics under their new regime. If you can’t tell, I’m very excited.
2. Jeff Green’s Offensive Role
Now, with defense we’ll certainly see what the Celtics are going to run consistently. Teams don’t like to change defensive schemes on the fly throughout the year because you need to be acclimated with a system in order to know the calls and where to be. However, the offensive end is much more fluid and provides us with constant change and adjustment.
I’m interested to see what role Jeff Green is going to play in Brad Stevens offense. He’s hinted that the Celtics are going to be a much more up-tempo style of team that likes to defend and get up and down the floor. Hopefully that is the case because this team is likely going to lack shooting throughout this season. But if it is the case, will be see Jeff Green handling the ball more in transition?
We was a decent transition player last season with a head of steam and the ball in his hands. The issue with Green was that his left hand was such a problem for him. He consistently could not finish plays with his left hand nor handle the ball. Teams would constantly force him to use that hand in order to work for points. We need to see some form of improvement or work from Jeff in that area if the Celtics are going to be competitive at all this season.
There’s a chance that Green could be their leading scorer this year and his left hand and the ability to handle and create–even in short stints–is going to be essential for him. He doesn’t need to be a point forward and become the second ball handler for this team, but he does need to become a threat outside of catching and finishing plays.
3. How Phil Pressey Handles Things
Phil Pressey is, more than likely, going to be the starting point guard for the Celtics. If they choose to hold on to Kammron Taylor, the Celtics will have Pressey and Taylor as the only lead guards on the roster. Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley have some experience handling the ball and playing point, but they are both more suited for being the off-guard. Pressey has experience as a lead-guard from his days at Missouri and looked like a decent fit in Summer League with the Celtics.
Of course, the Celtics’ offense was pretty simplistic throughout the Summer League run, but Pressey was pretty impressive nonetheless–no pun intended, although, that got a genuine chuckle out of me as it was typed. He averaged 9.4 points per game and 6.6 assists per game in his stretch in Orlando. He showed a pretty good grasp offensively and left the Celtics with a good enough impression to earn him a non-guaranteed deal on the team.
Pressey seems to be the placeholder until Rajon Rondo is able to get back. That may very well be in December or January, so we could be in for a very long ride with Pressey. One preseason game isn’t going to be the end or the beginning for a successful career for Pressey, but it will give us further insight into his strengths and weaknesses as a player.
Overall, the Celtics are going to look to see who should be on this roster going forward into the season. A lot of the players with guaranteed spots aren’t going to get too much playing time, but for those who are looking to earn or keep a spot, they’ll see a lot of action. The Celtics are going to use this time to chisel down their roster and see who can really play ball. And, more importantly, this brings us one step closer to the NBA season.