Anyone that's played organized basketball knows what suicides are. The Celtics have their own version called the "Boston Marathon" that they use at the end of their pre-draft workouts. It's a drill used to test a player's stamina and sometimes, punish a team's lack of hustle. Next year, Boston wants to ramp up the pace and could have opponents running suicides for all 48 minutes.
When healthy last season, the Celtics had a nine-man rotation with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, and Amir Johnson backed up by Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk with the occasional cameo from Tyler Zeller. Brad Stevens has said this summer that he plans to play even faster with the team "flying around" even more than last year when they ranked 3rd in pace. Turner and Sullinger will certainly be missed, but heading into 2016-2017, they've replaced Sully with four-time All Star Al Horford and look to inject some youth with rookie Jaylen Brown and sophomore Terry Rozier inserted into ET's do-it-all role. Here's how the new personnel could help to ratchet it up even more:
Jaylen Brown off the catch
The Celtics' pace-of-space, read-and-react system might seem like a complicated offense of cuts, screens, and misdirection, but stripped down, it strips down to one simple mantra: you do you. Brad Stevens has been masterful at with letting his players find their way--playing to their strengths, revealing their weaknesses--in the offense and then teaming them with players who can bring out the best in them.
In Las Vegas, after stumbling out of the gates, Jaylen Brown revealed what might be the best part of his game: driving the basketball and getting to the rim. In an interview with Amanda Pflugrad of Celtics.com, he compared the spacing in college vs. the NBA and said, "there's a lot less help. I can get to the basket whenever I want. It's just a matter of what I want to do when I get there." After returning from a two-game absence in Utah, Brown struggled to bounce back from his knee injury.
He found himself in many one-on-one situations and while he did create separation off the dribble, he had a tough time finishing with defenses keying in on him. Assistant coach Jamie Young said, "I thnk anytime Jaylen can catch it and drive it, he's good. Anytime he gets out in transition, those types of things." Putting Brown in those positions ignited his game and he averaged 22 PPG to close out the summer league, aided by an aggressive mindset and 36 trips to the free throw line in the final three games.
Point guard is Boston's deepest position with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and SL stand out Terry Rozier at the helm. Brown will always be paired with a ball handler, making him less of a playmaker, and more of a play finisher as he learns the NBA game. Like Marcus Smart, Brown comes into the league a little raw on the offensive end, but he'll immediately be able to mix his size and speed to compete on defense. In an interview with SLAM Online, Brown talked about what he's been working on since leaving Las Vegas:
"The type of stuff that I work on now is defensive stuff, things that'll get me on the floor and a lot of stuff that people don't like to work on. Defensively, if I keep working on that, I'll continue to get better. Right now, I just work on a lot of defensive stuff and shooting the ball and things like that."
The 19-year-old knows he's got a lot of work to do to reach his potential as a #3 pick, but he knows he can contribute right away if he sticks to his strengths. He'll join a long line of defensive-minded players that have shaped the character of this team.
The former #16 pick has proven that he wasn't a reach when Danny Ainge drafted him last summer. For the most part, Rozier bounced between Maine and Boston in his rookie season and showed glimpses of what he was capable of doing at the pro level, but it wasn't until summer league that his potential was realized in full view.
Rozier averaged a very efficient 20 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in six summer league games. He shot 54.2% from the field, including 45.2% from behind the arc and going to the line 49 times.
Rozier has always been quick, but coming out of Louisville, it was important for him to develop some shiftiness off the dribble to maximize his burst. Now, he's able to change speeds, blow by defenders, and get to the rim. If he continues to progress over the next two months and remains consistent in training camp, he could take a bulk of Evan Turner's minutes and a larger role sharing ball-handling duties with Marcus Smart in the second unit.
The knock on Turner--and I'm a big Turner fan--was that he over dribbled, but I always thought of that as "probing" the defense. He could almost single handedly manipulate a defense to find his mid-range shot. He wasn't selfish. He averaged about five assists per game in two seasons as a Celtic, but there was an unpredictability with Turner that was equal parts brilliant and frustrating. With Rozier, his style isn't as enigmatic. He'll penetrate defenses with his quickness, make the quick read, and look to score or kick after he turns the corner. He's much more A to B to C rather than Turner's meandering style.
Al Horford, small ball big
Horford is a fine offensive player (and the Celtics may ask him to do more than he's ever have), but it's his defense that will have a larger effect on his new team. Horford is the rim protector that Boston has been craving since they started their rebuild and Horford had a career high 121 blocks in his final season as a Hawk. Guards and wings will have the luxury of gambling a little more on the perimeter knowing that he's patrolling the paint behind them.
Atlanta was second in the league in defensive rating last season in large part to Horford manning the middle. He's not a intimidating presence at 6'10, but what he lacks in size he makes up with activity. The Celtics know this first hand from their first round series vs. him and the Hawks.
He's not only a threat to block shots, but he's great at reading offenses and playing passing angles with his quick hands. And yeah, he can handle the ball on the fast break, too.
The 15th man
Also consider how the front office is dealing with their final roster spot. Demetrius Jackson is signing a guaranteed contract looks to be #14. Jackson didn't exactly show out in summer league, but his (potential) game exemplifies what the Celtics are looking for: players that can defend their position, score from multiple places on the floor, create for their teammates, and play with speed. As The Globe's Adam Himmelsbach reports, James Young, R.J. Hunter, Ben Bentil, and John Holland will go into training camp in contention for the final roster spot. What does that mean?
In their college and D-League careers, Bentil and Holland have been multi-faceted players. They can guard multiple positions and stretch the floor on offense. That kind of versatility could help the team on the frontline and on the wings but unfortunately, what could spell the end of Young and Hunter's brief stints in Boston. For the last several years, the team has needed perimeter shooting and they've spent a late Nets' pick (Young at #17) and the Clippers' pick from the Doc Rivers trade (Hunter at #28) to address those holes, but so far, they haven't delivered and more so, haven't developed into more.
Neither have become knock down shooters in the NBA (despite some success for Young in the D-League) and they don't really provide much else on offense. On the defensive end, they've struggled against bigger and faster competition. I wouldn't be surprised if both were cut in favor of Jackson and Bentil. Neither are speedsters, but they could make the team for the simple fact that though they may not space the floor, they move the ball.
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NBA teams have different philosophies. Some try and bully ball you inside with size. Others bomb away from the outside. Ainge has assembled a roster of gritty welterweights. They're players that can punch and counterpunch, bob and weave. Individually, they may not have knockout power, but they'll go the distance and wear you out.