After his first Celtics practice, Jaylen Brown said it felt like going back to school at Cal-Berkley with Brad Stevens as his professor. In many ways, that is Stevens’ job in training camp. The Celtics have enjoyed some continuity with the roster, but there are new faces in the rotation, including Brown, and he’s got to get everybody up to speed with the team’s concepts and playbook.
Stevens has PhD’s in several coaching subjects including Play Engineering and Team Psychology. As the team gears up for the regular season, his focus right now is on On Court Chemistry, another of his specialties. Stevens is the beautiful mind that turned the combustible element of Jordan Crawford and the previously inert career of Evan Turner into cold fusion by putting them in situations that accentuated their skill sets.
This October, the mad scientist is back in the lab. With do-it-all center Al Horford and physical freak Jaylen Brown at his disposal, Stevens has found spots for them that simultaneously make them effective and maybe even more importantly, not disrupt the existing balance of his team. His read-and-react system allows players to find their way the offense and as soon as Stevens can identify what a player likes to do and can do, he puts everything under the microscope and starts extracting a player’s value in its purest form.
Coach Nick over at Basketball Breakdown put together a highlight reel of Boston’s sets from their first two preseason games. Check it out below:
Here’s one of those plays again:
It starts with a simple pin down screen from Amir Johnson just to create some separation between Al Horford and Marvin Williams. If Williams gets pinned and Roy Hibbert switches, Johnson could seal the smaller Williams off in the restricted area for a simple dump down pass from Horford for an easy two. Johnson shot nearly 84% of his FGA’s in the paint at a 64% clip. He can finish around the rim.
Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley then run crisscross dribble hand off routes from above the break. If either of them can turn the corner and get to the rim, Horford will deliver the ball. Surprisingly, nearly half of Thomas’ FGA’s came at the rim last season and he lead the team in FTA’s with 6.6. Bradley, on the other hand, is an above average long-2 shooter above the break. That’s been his sweet spot on the floor since Stevens became head coach.
Notice that Thomas sets a secondary screen on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to generate even more space between him and Bradley. Also keep in mind Johnson fading towards the corner in order to pull Hibbert out of the paint. It’s also important to note that Horford is the initial playmaker in this set. Because of his outside shot, his ability to put it on the floor, and his vision, he’s the perfect table setter at the high post.
Horford immediately dribbles toward Jae Crowder for another dribble hand off. Crowder has said that he’s been working on his ball handling this summer and had Charlotte not overplayed that action, he could have drove the lane. Horford opts to hit Bradley with the ball, but already the motion has created a mismatch. William and Nicolas Batum switch the DHO so now Batum is on Horford. The Hornets switch again on the Bradley’ DHO and now Horford is rolling to the rim with MKG on his back.
Here’s another sneaky wrinkle. Check out Amir Johnson trying to set a back screen on Kemba Walker as Thomas flares to the weak side corner. Thomas shot a blistering 56.8% from that corner last year.
Crowder swings the ball to Thomas and IT4 has a few options: pull up for a 3 if Walker hadn’t recovered so quickly, hit Horford (now with the smaller Kidd-Gilchrist on his hip) who has worked off ball for a lob, or play pick-and-roll/pop with Johnson. Johnson was by far the most efficient roll man last season, scoring 1.12 points per possession which was good for 77th percentile in the league.
The play ends clumsily with a Johnson miss on a sky hook, but in 24 seconds, the action created several options. Every move and action puts a player into something he’s comfortable with. There’s a counter action depending on how the players read the defense. And while defenses concentrate on the ball, there’s misdirection and off ball movement on the weak side.
That’s Celtics basketball. Class dismissed.