Last night the Celtics had their first professional action since the playoffs last season, dropping a surprisingly exciting game to the Sixers. Like all preseason games, you shouldn’t draw full conclusions from it, but you can take clues about what to expect once the real games start. Below are some notes about everyone who played in the first preseason game (Demetrius Jackson was omitted because he played under 4 minutes). Each guy has a “stock grade” which is based on his overall impact to the game.
Jae Crowder (Stock: Up)
What a difference a healthy ankle makes. Crowder was an absolute ball-hawk defensively, reading rotations with ease and getting his hands on what felt like every ball in his vicinity. Offensively, Crowder showed off a quicker form on his way to a 3-of-6 night from beyond the arc. He also added 3 rebounds and steals to put together a solid stat line on short minutes.
Amir Johnson (Stock: Same)
Johnson continues to do what he does best, which is play fantastic under the radar. Johnson had the initial task of trying to slow down Joel Embiid, and he did a solid job of getting under him, and keeping him from getting a rhythm. Johnson didn’t score, only had two rebounds, and committed 4 fouls in about 15 minutes of action, but overall he was the silent anchor on defense.
Al Horford (Stock: Up)
Horford knocked down his first shot of the game off the pick and pop, and he never looked back. Horford looked as good as advertised with his ability to fly around defensively and open up the floor enough for Boston to have an efficient half-court offense. If tonight was any indication of what’s to come, this is going to be a fun year for the Celtics.
Avery Bradley (Stock: Up)
Bradley may have been the surprise of the night—despite a solid shooting performance, Bradley had a team-high 6 assists. It was clear that Bradley put an emphasis on becoming a better creator for others, and it was great to see him come off of DHOs and make some nice reads. Another plus to having Al Horford on your team.
Isaiah Thomas (Stock: Same)
Thomas was mostly on cruise control tonight, but he had some nice moments attacking the rim. The space that Horford and Thomas create for guys like Bradley/Crowder is going to be something to pay attention to throughout the season, as looks will be great in the halfcourt.
Marcus Smart (Stock:Up)
Smart didn’t necessarily have a dominating night, but it’s the under-the-hood stuff that caught my eye. For one, the quick trigger early in the shot clock was gone, and there was a bigger emphasis on getting easy buckets. Smart didn’t hit a three, but he had couple of nice buckets off the PnR and showed off a pretty fadeaway out of the mid-post. The poise is starting to become tangible trait for Smart, and the next step will be continuing to build his relationship with Terry Rozier, as the two will be responsible for spearheading the second unit.
Jonas Jerebko (Stock: Down)
Jerebko did not have good showing. He shot a team-worst 16.7% (1-6) from the field, and he didn’t seem to be able to get into any rhythm offensively. Philadelphia’s length and athleticism most likely played a big part in the lack of a standout showing. Jerebko wasn’t able to assert himself on the boards or spread the court from beyond the arc.
Tyler Zeller (Stock: Same)
Zeller did Zeller things. He ran the floor alright, couldn’t finish strong, and seemed a step slow on most defensive rotations. The most telling sign was late in the first, as Brett Brown rushed Embiid back in the game when he saw Zeller in the game, and the bigger Embiid instantly got into a rhythm offensively. At this stage, Zeller is what he is—a skill-specific player who can be a valuable insurance policy or trade chip.
Terry Rozier (Stock:Up)
Rozier had a shaky first half, but he followed it up with some nice sequences in the second half. Becoming a consistent force off the bench will be huge in establishing minutes for Rozier. I’m going to hold off on grading Rozier as the primary ball handler for a couple of reasons. One, when guys like Green and Olynyk are back, the floor will be a lot more open, which is specifically great for a guy like Rozier who thrives in space. Two, he’s still young and this is mostly a new unit that has to learn how to play (period), and play together. It won’t be a quick fix, but I think that by the time the playoffs come around, the second unit will be a secret weapon for this Celtics team.
Jaylen Brown (Stock:Up)
This is going to be fun. Brown was just about everything we’ve read and seen. He’ll get himself in trouble running to the lane without a plan, and tunnel vision is still a serious issue that’ll need to be worked out. Despite all that, Brown is everything that the Celtics need—a big, strong, wing who can get to the lane at will and force his way to free-throw line. What was great for the Celtics, but maybe not so much for Jonas Jerebko, is that Brown looked at his best as the team’s small-ball 4. Here, Brown was able to easily get by bigger defenders and he showed some better-than-advertised vision to cutting teammates as defenders closed in on him. Overall, Brown finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Not too bad for a 19-year-old.
It’s no secret that the battle for the last roster spot is a wide-open competition that will have many ups and downs as the preseason rolls along. Right now, the battle seems to be between James Young, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey, and Gerald Green. Here’s how each did:
James Young (Stock: Up)
Young was the brightest against the Sixers, getting the nod as the first bubble guy off the bench and capitalizing with 7 points on perfect shooting from the field (though he was 1-3 at the line). He still had his moments missing defensive assignments, but the newly found aggression has been evident in his play, and a few more good performances might be enough to survive final cuts.
Jordan Mickey (Stock: Same)
Mickey remains pummeled by the frontcourt depth that the Celtics possess, and based on the minutes distribution, it’s clear the coaching staff has him as the lowest big on the depth chart. In his 13 minutes, Mickey didn’t exactly make a lasting impression, but he was solid on the defensive end, and didn’t make any atrocious mistakes. While Olynyk is out, it’ll be nice to see if Mickey can recapture some of last seasons aggression as the preseason goes on.
R.J Hunter (Stock: Down)
In probably the most surprising turn of events in training camp, Hunter now looks like the most likely bubble guy to be cut. He only logged 8 minutes last night, during which he didn’t score and still seemed to be struggling to grasp defensive concepts. The most telling signs however, was his demeanor. Hunter was visibly frustrated after Brandon Paul made a shot that he nicely contested, and he dropped his shoulders in angst after missing a transition three. It’s clear that Hunter is caught up in his head right now, and he’s playing not to mess up rather than letting his instincts take over. If something doesn’t give, he’ll without a doubt be wearing a new jersey this season.
Gerald Green (DNP)
We still haven’t seen any of Green as he nurses a hip injury, but he’ll definitely be another guy who will be fighting to make the roster. Despite his ability to put points up in a hurry, Green has been a weak defender for most of his career, and he doesn’t do anything on the court consistently with the exception of shooting. That may be okay for second-unit players on some teams, but in order to keep him the Celtics will have to say goodbye to a quality asset on a rookie contract. Green will be a favorite to make the team regardless, but he’ll have to earn it just like the guys above.