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The "five quarterbacks" system

The buzz words over the last two years in Boston have been "read" and "react." As Brad Stevens embarks on his third season with the Celtics, he may finally have a team that can truly put it into motion (pun intended).

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In a wide ranging interview with's John Tomase, Danny Ainge talked about Brad Stevens' offensive system and identifying the need for versatile players to make it work:

"We sometimes think of the game in terms of football or baseball, like we need a cornerback, but in basketball you need a player that can do everything on the court," Ainge said. "You need five quarterbacks to some extent. You can get away with having a rim protector if all he has to do is play defense and rebound, but until you put four stars around him, he can be a liability."

After a season that included eleven trades and 41 players, this roster finally looks like one that Stevens could put his mark on.  In Brad Stevens' offense, it's less about A to B to C (think Doc Rivers' and his rigid offense with the Big Three) and more about concepts and actions.  Stevens' has proven to be an ATO master--particularly with the game on the line with only seconds left--but generally, his system features a lot of motion and freelancing and relies heavily on every player's ability to do everything.  If a shot's available, you take it.  If the ball needs to be put on the floor, you dribble.  If there's nothing, you make the right pass.  It's why Danny Ainge's "five quarterbacks" comparison is so accurate.

In football, wide receivers run routes, offensive linemen protect the quarterback and open holes, and running backs hit those holes, but the person responsible for calling out audibles and making changes at the line is the quarterback.  Sure, that's a gross oversimplification, but that's what Ainge and Stevens want from their players: depending on the situation, they need to be able to adjust, whether that's in a pick-and-roll, an off ball pin down, or a cut into the key.

Over a week into training camp, we're starting to see little sneak peeks into practice to see how this gets implemented:

These drills seem simple, but that's what a young Daniel LaRusso thought when he was waxing cars and painting fences in The Karate Kid.  (And yeah, that makes Brad Stevens Mr. Miyagi in this scenario.)  Bad movie analogy aside, that's where the team is at right now.  It's early and the team is sorting through the nuts and bolts of putting in new sets and plays, but more importantly, it's about players getting familiar with each other and developing a chemistry so that in real speed, they can instinctively guess what their teammate's next move is going to be.

Check out yesterday's Practice Report from  At the end, there's a little snippet from Amanda Pflugrad about Isaiah Thomas pulling Terry Rozier aside and telling him that "it looks like you're thinking out there way too much.  You just need to go out there, hoop, play ball, and most importantly, just relax."

Here's Rozier running a simple hand off with Jordan Mickey with Stevens defending.  Stevens slips under the pick, Mickey re-sets the screen, and Rozier and Mickey are attacking the rim in a pick and roll.  Again, it's simple, but these are the building blocks.  Stevens is trying to get his team to read defensive coverages on the fly and react instinctively.

A similar drill but with different results here.  Whether it's Amir Johnson or Jonas Jerebko, the bigs need to be able to recognize that if defenses are going to blitz picks, instead of rolling to the rim, they need to make themselves available by popping off quickly into space.

The next clip best illustrates the randomness that Stevens wants to simulate in training camp.  The first dribble hand off is similar to the one above: Stevens goes under a Tyler Zeller pick, Jae Crowder reads it, Zeller re-sets the screen, and Crowder and Zeller run a simple PnR to the lane.  The second drill has Marcus Smart and David Lee.  One of the assistant coaches tries to go over the screen so Smart promptly goes to the lane (and fumbles the ball).  Turner and Sullinger make the same read as Crowder and Zeller: hand off - re-set screen - pick and roll.  So on and so forth.

Now check out the practice video from the Globe's Adam Himmelsbach.  It's heavy on perimeter action, but you can see how a simple dribble hand off drill plays out in a full 5-on-5 scrimmage.  In the first possession, Thomas and Kelly Olynyk run several screen actions to see how the defense will react, simultaneously playing quarterback.  The second possession shows just how much constant movement and screens can disrupt a defense.  Thomas and Jerebko run a pick-and-pop followed by a pick-and-roll that catches Perry Jones III sinking into the paint.  Avery Bradley quickly rotates the ball to Rozier.  With the created space, Terry instinctively blows passed PJIII and hits Avery for his patented one-dribble mid-range jumper.

That's playing without thinking too much.  That's hooping.  That's karate.  Wax on, wax off.

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