I keep trying to temper my expectations for this season. To remind myself that it’s only the preseason, that this team has barely played together, that they’re virtually all new to the Celtics’ culture and Stevens’ system. But then I see this Celtics squad out on the court together and I’m left in awe of how much these players already seem to fit.
Despite the roster shakeup, despite whatever fears or concerns might exist about chemistry and continuity and identity and everything else – this team looks good. Like, really good. Instead of a team that has to force almost every shot and work relentlessly on every possession this Celtics squad makes it look effortless out there.
"The way we've been playing, it feels like we've been playing together for a long time," Marcus Smart says of the new team.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 12, 2017
When Kyrie Irving was recently asked the difference between playing for the Celtics and playing for the Cavaliers he responded simply, “Ball movement.”
Jalen Rose asks Kyrie Irving what's the biggest difference between Cleveland and Boston. His answer: "ball movement."— Bill Sy (@deliberatepix) October 12, 2017
Under Brad Stevens the Celtics have been at their best when players are being unselfish and the ball is whizzing around the court. This isn’t unique to Stevens’ system either. Unselfish pass-first basketball is a part of the Celtics DNA – the 60s Celtics’ fastbreak style basketball was all predicated on passing and the Larry Bird-led 80s Celtics are often described as one of the greatest passing teams of all time.
With the massive roster turnover this offseason you would think there would be a dip in chemistry and a resultant decrease in passing efficiency. But the Celtics restructured roster has managed to maintain a fair degree of fluidity on the court.
Despite having never seen the court as a unit before a few short weeks ago this Celtics squad already seem to be working together and playing through one another. Watch as the Celtics move the ball confidently and find Tatum for the open shot with a dazzling display of ball movement.
This team might be mostly new to Boston but they’ve already got each other’s backs and there seems to be a real sense of trust on the court. Part of this is because of the strength of Stevens’ system, another part is the Celtics’ assist orientated culture and play-style and yet another part of this is because the Celtics have added more shooters to their roster, making the choice to pass an easy one.
Premiere passing is great and all but as Bill Russell once so sagely said to Uncle Drew - ‘This game is about the buckets.’ I am genuinely excited about the number of shooters that the Celtics have on their roster. The roster has gone from being reliant on Isaiah Thomas’ bag of tricks or Avery Bradley as virtually the only thing close to a ‘knock-down’ shooter to having a plethora of shooters on the floor at any given point in time.
Kyrie drains the pull-up trey pic.twitter.com/GbNG93TZrJ— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 11, 2017
Kyrie can shoot, Gordon Hayward can shoot, Al Horford can shoot, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier can shoot, and (while I’m reserving my judgement and excitement for the regular season) right now based on the preseason even Marcus Smart looks like he can shoot.
Tatum shows off his vision and hits the wide-open Smart for a trey! pic.twitter.com/ArleBi9SzF— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 9, 2017
Plus there’s Jayson Tatum who already has a song about his pull-up shooting abilities, which is objectively awesome. Also objectively awesome is being able to put Jayson Tatum’s name down as an afterthought on the list of Celtics’ shooters.
This roster is simply stacked with shooters making it a pass-first player’s dream and ideal for Stevens’ system. Better still when not creating shots for each other there’s several guys on the roster who can create their own shot if needed.
Whereas passing and shooting look to be improved one of the few areas where the Celtics might have taken a hit this offseason is their defense. Losing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder as well as a roster full of guys familiar with Brad’s defensive schemes should surely result in a downtick on defense.
Yet even in this area this roster still looks strong. International imports like Daniel Theis and rookies like Guerschon Yabusele should bolster Boston’s frontcourt. While Irving and Hayward both look to be making a noticeable effort on defense and Al Horford continues to be consummate professional – providing help when needed and acting as an anchor for the team. Plus resident pitbulls Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier are still on the roster doing what they do best.
But in many ways it’s more than just personnel. The Celtics hustle-driven defense, like their pass-first mentality, is a part of the team’s DNA. With improvements across the roster of course something as central to the Celtics’ style as their defense should improve as well.
Better still for Boston fans, this season should only see this squad continually get better as they learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and grown on the court together.
The Celtics have upgraded their roster at almost every position. With a strong system and even stronger culture in place this extremely talented roster of players have already shown how easy it is for them to work together and improve one another. In fact, even with all the issues around chemistry and fit and identity this Celtics squad somehow already has the effortless on-court presence of a contending team. It’s going to be a fun season.