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Brown: “nobody wants to step on each other’s toes”

With only one preseason game left, the Celtics are still searching for chemistry.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When the Big Three was put together, it was a natural fit. Ray Allen was one of the league’s greatest shooters from beyond the arc. Kevin Garnett dominated in the paint and on the baseline. Paul Pierce worked his mid-range and everything in between. It was a puzzle that needed little manipulating in yesteryear’s NBA. Even at the superstar level, “shooting guard,” “small forward,” and “power forward” were labels that came with built-in roles.

Ten years later, the NBA has drastically changed. Teams are playing smaller, offenses and defenses have both become positionless, and the game has sped up dramatically. While Brad Stevens has seemingly simplified his player designations to ball handlers, wings, and bigs, that doesn’t mean it’s simplified the game on the floor.

After last night’s anemic 102-95 to the Not LeBrons, Jaylen Brown talked about the team’s slow start to the preseason and concerns about chemistry moving forward:

Here’s the key quote from Brown responding to Brad Stevens’ post-game presser where he said that they “weren’t as good as advertised” and had “no shot do we dominate on talent alone”:

“We have a lot of guys who do the same things.”

“We have to find a better chemistry and rhythm.”

“Nobody wants to step on each other’s toes.”

Those are things you don’t want to hear less than two weeks away from the regular season but here we are. With Kyrie Irving sitting out for rest, last night was a good opportunity to see which of the starters would step up as a playmaker. For a point guard like Irving, setting up his offense can be simple: with his handle and speed, freeing him up with a pick and having him attack a big in space can be enough. It pits the biggest mismatch--a quick guard vs. a slower big--against each other. Trying to figure out how to utilize three similar wings is a little more difficult.

Here are a few half court sets from last night. The shots are generated by off ball screens or dribble hand offs with little space generated from the picks. Hayward, Brown, and Tatum do little to put pressure on the Cavaliers’ defense and take the first shot available. That effort is understandable. It’s the preseason, the games don’t count, and they’re trying to not get injured.

However, Brown’s quote and more importantly, the Celtics’ starters’ makeup does raise some questions. Since Media Day, we’ve all touted the versatility of this roster, but there are role players’ skills that are lacking in the starting five. Who are your screen setters? Whose all-around game will take a back seat as a spot-up shooter? More so, who’s iso scoring might even be better served in the second unit?

I’m including this video breakdown from Scalabrine not to suggest that Gordon Hayward come off the bench, but to highlight how role players fulfill their roles and in a way, simplify the game. Marcus Smart might be the trigger man, but it’s Hayward that’s the key playmaker for this bench unit. He comes off a hard screen from Aron Baynes and then has a few options: the rolling Baynes and Smart and Marcus Morris on the strong side perimeter.

If the goal of the Celtics’ starting five is to keep defenses off kilter, they’ll have to move the ball more and punish teams for switching. Unfortunately, the preseason and the 80% effort level they’re playing aren’t exactly conducive for that kind of game. Players are trying to find a rhythm with their jump shot and avoid contact and injury. But with all that said, the team isn’t only lacking chemistry. They’re lacking character and identity.


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