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Stevens re-casting roles as Celtics look for leading men on defense and offense

Going into the season, we had these predetermined roles for everybody. Avery Bradley was going to be the lock down perimeter defender. Jared Sullinger was responsible for rebounding. Jeff Green was going to be The Man. Now, two weeks into training camp and four preseason games under our belt, Brad Stevens has begun to, well, coach.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There were two interesting tidbits from's Jay King in the last two days.  The first: in the Celtics' only win this preseason, the Celtics didn't run any plays:

Brad Stevens stresses need for practice and improvement; Keith Bogans out indefinitely

After the Knicks win, guard Avery Bradley noted that Stevens really wanted Boston to work without set plays.

"Our main focus was to just move the ball," said Bradley. "We didn't run plays. He told us to just go out there and play. First play of the game was just a random pick and roll; that's how we played and that's how we want to play, because we want to be able to move the ball and anybody (can) score."

That's been a focus for Stevens, who understands he cannot manage as many possessions as he did at Butler.

"Substitution patterns are different (in the NBA). The other thing that's pretty different is, you've got so many possessions where you just have to play out of spacing and your stuff," said the coach. "So that's something that we have to continue to improve on. Going through a set in a college game, there may only be 70 possessions. If you run 10 or 15 sets, those are pretty magnified. Here, 10 or 15 out of 113 is a little bit different. So we have to be better out of timeouts, we have to be better in our sets, but most importantly we just have to be better in our flow."

After spending two weeks putting in different sets, it's as if Stevens threw out whatever knowledge he had about the team before he got there from prior film sessions and tape study and said, "Guys, I know everyone on this team is talented.  This is the NBA.  Some of you have played your entire career in Boston, some of you have bounced around, and some of you are new to the league.  Show me what you got."  They went on to win in a laugher against the Knicks.

If you watched the game, you could tell the guys were playing a little more free.  The ball moved quicker and decisions were made faster.  Offensively, players started drifting to their comfort zones.  Sullinger took a pair of threes, but he did most of his damage from the inside.  It's obvious that Bradley worked on his mid-range last summer because he consistently took and hit the 15 footer.  Kelly Olynyk played everywhere, finishing in transition and shooting the three.  New York was playing without their stars, but the Celtics were also playing without hesitation and that made a bigger difference.  They'll surely but in more sets as the season goes on, but it's interesting that Stevens may have cleared the slate after such a miserable start this season.

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There's also the matter of defense.  Before today's game, Bradley talked about how his role might be changing on D.  He's been known as the ferocious pitbull who hounds ball handlers in the back court and he'll always have that, but Stevens might want him to back off a little:

Avery Bradley says Brad Stevens 'wants me to calm down ... not be so reckless' on defense

"I was always on the ball last year so I could get time off the shot clock, but this year they want me to calm down a little bit more, not be so reckless I guess you could say on defense," Bradley said Tuesday after a morning shootaround at the Barclays Center. "They want me to be disciplined, pick my spots every now and then, pick up fullcourt but get back and play angles. They're just trying to make me into a great team defender, as well as an individual defender."

Explaining the move, head coach Brad Stevens said, "I think what people think Avery's really good at is true, is picking the ball up the court. But he can be really, really good off the ball. And that's where we think we can get even better, is off the ball. The other day we did not start him on the point, we started him on (Tim Hardaway Jr.), and Hardaway had killed us in the first game. He was really good on him. That's another thought of mixing and matching and taking guys' strengths, and trying to make your team the best it can be."

This plays right into Stevens' pack line defense at Butler and bend-don't-break philosophy.  In seasons past, Doc Rivers would unleash Bradley on the opposing team's PG in order to bite chunks of time from the 24-second clock; the less time his vets needed to play D, the more energy they'd have to expend.  Now, with a younger team with demonstrably less size, having Bradley step back a bit and play more team defense could help in the long run.  There's nothing better than seeing AB rip the ball from another player, but if he gets beat, that compromises the entire defense.  I'd say the odds are pretty even that Bradley will get a steal or get called for a foul anyway.  Without a big protecting the rim, Bradley's job goes from trying to create a turnover and milking the clock to making sure his man stays in front of him, cutting off passing angles, and denying the ball.

Ironically, the Celtics come face-to-face with their past tonight as they travel to Brooklyn to play Paul Pierce and the Nets.