Boston Celtics: 5 things to focus on in tonight’s preseason finale in Cleveland

The Boston Celtics conclude their preseason slate tonight in Cleveland as they take on the lowly Cavaliers. Given the absence of most of the Celtics’ key players, what should fans be looking out for in a contest that won’t at all resemble a regular season game that counts?

The Boston Celtics have ran roughshod over the competition so far in the NBA preseason. While the Charlotte Hornets took Boston to the very last shot in a nail-biting 107-106 victory, the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers were unable to have fans even nibble on their finger-tips.

Just two days ago, the Boston Celtics ran the Cavaliers off of the TD Garden floor. Brad Stevens and co. claimed a 118-72 victory this past Sunday in the final preseason games the starters would take part in.

Tonight’s game will feature the second unit running the show. While Celtics fans would have rather seen their team’s top guys, this set-up actually gives the front office a chance to see which end-of-the-roster guys are worth keeping around. Here are five keys to hone in on for tonight’s preseason finale…

1. How will Carsen Edwards perform as the team’s primary ball-handler?

Coming into the 2019-20 season, Carsen Edwards is expected to be the second-unit scoring spark-plug. However, tonight, with the team’s decision to rest Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, he will be tasked with primary ball-handling duties.

In college, it was apparent Edwards thrived in off-ball situations. As I mentioned in an August piece praising the Boilermaker’s fit in the Boston Celtics offensive system, Edwards’ efficiency in catch-and shoot scenarios was well above average.

In college, 12% of his shot attempts were off catch-and-shoots, where he managed to convert at an impressive 1.048 point clip per possession. With this, the combo guard saw himself finish within the 75th percentile of this statistic.

Edwards’ scoring arsenal is deep. However, his facilitation skills are a work-in-progress. Tonight is presents a good opportunity for the 21-year-old to show that he can handle expanded minutes as the primary ball-handler.

2. Can  Brad Wanamaker prove he has a role on the Boston Celtics?

Brad Wanamaker is only under contract for the 2019-20 season. The career overseas-journeyman was only signed to the veteran’s minimum. At 30-years-old, he is what he is and his ceiling projects to be a reserve point guard. Is that what the Boston Celtics need?

It’s understandable to bring in a backup like, say, Isaiah Thomas to teach rookies like Edwards and Tremont Waters how to navigate NBA life on and off the floor. Wanamaker has only been a pro for one year more than either guy, though.

If Wanamaker can have a profound impact on tonight’s game, it’s understandable to keep him around. He has played on a 48-win Boston Celtics team and has played (briefly) alongside Tatum, Brown, Smart and Hayward.

If not, what is the point of using a fourth roster spot on a second-year point guard in his 30’s?

3. Can Robert Williams establish himself as a viable option at the 5?

Now in his second season, Robert Williams should be expected to show signs of being an option for Brad Stevens if someone goes down in the front-court with injury. In his one preseason start against the Charlotte Hornets, Williams was all but invisible on the floor.

He recorded a meager two points, two rebounds and an assist in 10 minutes in his one chance to prove that he can provide a boost at the onset of games. While his athletic finish on a Gordon Hayward lob was the perfect way to start the preseason, he didn’t do a single other notable thing against a less-than-intimidating Hornets front-court.

Tonight is a huge test for Williams. He needs to fend off Vincent Poirier and Tacko Fall for front-court minutes…otherwise Danny Ainge may be better off squeezing out value for the Time-Lord by finding an organization that can better facilitate his improvement.

4. How many minutes will Tacko Fall receive?

You did it, Boston Celtics fans. The front-office answered your prayers and guaranteed at least 45 days of Fall. Tacko Fall is on a two-way contract, and his improvement will be monitored by both the Celtics and Maine Red Claws training staffs.

Periodically throughout the preseason, he has been granted minutes to showcase just what a 7-foot-5 supergiant can contribute at the highest level of basketball in the universe. So far he has played 21 minutes in three contests, looking incapable of breaking through the crowded front-court rotation.

Fall has proven worthy of receiving a two-way contract from the Boston Celtics. Now it’s time to prove he is deserving of minutes from the jump, come time for the regular season. His final audition for a substantial role in the rotation comes tonight, where he is a huge fish in a small Celtics pond.

5. Strus vs. Green: the final battle for the 15th roster spot

After converting Fall’s deal to a two-way contract to ensure the Senegalese tower stays in Boston, the battle for the final roster spot has likely come down to two players: Javonte Green and Max Strus. By giving both a partial guarantee on their contracts, Danny Ainge assured maintaining their rights to retain either for a deal with the Maine Red Claws.

So far, Green has made a stellar case to make the Boston Celtics. In 8.7 minutes per game, Green has averaged seven points on 100% shooting. You read that right. The man has not missed a single shot from anyone on the floor (including beyond the arc) this preseason!

Strus, on the other hand, has shot a stellar 4-7 (57%) on 3-point attempts. His achilles heel has been interior scoring, as he has not made a single shot from inside the arc.

Next: 3 players that could land on the trading block for Boston

It would appear at the moment that Green has the edge, but tonight’s game can change a lot of things with the pair likely receiving a heavy minutes-load. The battle for the final roster spot commences tonight at 7PM at the Quicken Loans arena in Cleveland.

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