The number one priority for the remainder of the preseason should be the chemistry of the second unit
The regular season is just around the corner, but the Boston Celtics still have some valuable preseason games. There may still be some undetermined roster spots, and an incredibly inexperienced second unit needs all the time together they can get on the court together.
Brad Stevens has seen his starting unit excel together. They already had a lot of cohesion and the veteran Al Horford has looked like one of the most comfortable players on the court. Stevens has already started resting the starters, but the main second unit players could even see an increase in minutes.
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Kelly Olynyk and perhaps Jonas Jerebko are the only two players on the second unit that have nothing to establish in preseason. The ball handling roles, expected to be taken up by Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier remain undetermined. Neither one has separated, and it could be interesting to see how they balance an approach with the two of them sharing the responsibility.
The Celtics continue to have one of the youngest second units, and players still need to get comfortable. The preseason will not be nearly enough for some of them, but it can only help them get more comfortable together on the court.
Even Rozier, who is expected to have one of the most important roles, has an unbearably small sample size of NBA play. Rozier only had a legitimate role when injuries started piling up later on, and he is entering unchartered territories with this new role. That is why his shooting is such a mystery. He has looked solid, and his numbers were embarrassing in a tiny sample size last season.
So far, there have been no reasons to doubt him, but Rozier needs all the time he can get in order to optimize how he plays with the second unit. The most difficult task for any ball handler, will be looking for that balance between himself and his teammates. The Celtics are much better when they are playing in rhythm, and it is yet to be determined if the second unit has ball handlers that can consistently get them in that rhythm.
With the time he has spent with the team, Smart should be in a more comfortable position. That being said, the Celtics are extremely excited about what Rozier can do that the ball in his hands and he will get the opportunities he needs to find out how he can be at his best.
The Celtics also have a rookie in Jaylen Brown who is going to have a big role, and a newly added Gerald Green who could be a key offensive factor for the second unit. So far, Brown has looked comfortable and aggressive. He has not been tentative and that is one of the most important things for the Celtics. Green has also shown flashes of the burst scoring the Celtics want out of him.
Stevens has always established system that has looked very easy for his players to get comfortable in. But the Celtics still need to make sure they can establish some sort of trust with these unfamiliar players. The Celtics are unlikely to have one second unit player that commands the unit more than anyone else. They always approach things as a unit, and time getting comfortable with the players around them will be crucial for Green and Brown.
There are a lot of questions that remain about the second unit. There are a lot of things that need to be looked at in the preseason, but don’t expect that to be enough time to establish everyone. The Celtics have leaned on a strong impact from the second unit over the past two seasons, and that has been thanks to two guards that are no longer on the unit.
The second unit needs to find a new and perhaps better way to play this season, and figuring out what works will be the most important thing for the rest of the preseason.
The second unit has not been bad so far, but they have been inconsistent. It is hard to image the second unit avoiding these kinds of inconsistencies for the majority of the season. They simply do not have enough quality finishers that they can trust at this point. There are a lot of potential problems with the second unit with two guards that may not be able to shoot at all, and a small forward that may be no better.
The rest of the preseason will be about identifying exactly what their problems are going to be, and then finding the ways to overcome those problems. Last year, the Celtics needed efficiency and distribution from Turner, and that is exactly what they got. They understood that the three point shooting was a lost cause, so they had Turner focus entirely on finding other ways to generate offense and it paid off as Turner drastically improve his shooting percentage and kept the ball moving.
Smart’s shot looks improve mechanically, and Rozier has also shown an ability to score. There have been a lot of positive signs in the preseason, but that could change quickly once the real action starts. The Celtics need to use this time to prepare for that adjustment as much as possible, to make sure that the second unit is not a liability on the court.
With Boston’s track record of a strong second unit, and a tendency to get a lot of their production from non-starters, there is good reason to be optimistic about the second unit this year. The Celtics let Turner walk because of the confidence they have in their depth and youth.
Unfortunately, it is still impossible to trust such a young unit, and even if the excel in the preseason, they still have a long ways to go. The good news is that the Celtics have a starting unit that is, by far, the strongest in the Stevens era, and they should be able to take a lot of pressure off the second unit this season.