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Celtics weigh in on their offseason improvements

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From a new perspective from fatherhood to dribbling and finishing around the rim, many of the Celtics reshaped themselves over the summer.

NBA: Boston Celtics-Media Day Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Daddy’s always happy. But not on Monday.

Gordon Hayward could’ve presumably been the one most excited to throw on a Celtics jersey, answer questions and return to normalcy. That was not the case, since Media Day brought few novelties for the eight-year pro beyond his t-shirt idea for new fathers Aron Baynes, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris Sr.

While Hayward lamented on repeated questions from last year, “how’s it feel to join a Eastern Conference Finals team,” his teammates smiled, laughed and discussed their new children and focuses for improvement from the summer. For a team rising on returning Kyrie Irving and Hayward, improving returnees could further bolster the team’s leap.

Jaylen Brown repeated his mantra that he touched on with CJ McCollum over one month ago on his podcast. His 2018-19 goals include increasing his 65.8 free throw percentage and improving his ball-handling capabilities.

“I think it’s just mental,” he said regarding his struggles at the line. “Story of my life. Stuff that’s hard, I make look easy (and vice versa).”

He mentioned the continued importance of meditation in his preparation to play. He’ll have news about forthcoming meditation apps in the future.

While Brown sought mental balance, Marcus Smart sought physical balance. He had the emotionally toughest summer of the team with the loss of his mother to cancer, but on the court, He attempted to stabilize his shooting. The first challenge arrived with the departure of the splint he wore in the playoffs after returning from thumb surgery in the Bucks series.

Smart attempted various methods in the past to elevate his infamously streaky three-point shot to inconsistent results, but on Monday he highlighted key weaknesses he plans to cut out. That included fadeaways, shots from difficult positions and perhaps “focusing on not taking those last second heaves.”

A year after adopting the Skinny Smart moniker from his training camp physique, he reached deeper this summer and added pilates to his regimen. The balance and core-forming exercise made Smart appreciate muscles he didn’t know prior, and return home in stunning pain after his first workouts. Inside the arc, he practiced his finishing and driving with Integrity Hoops owner Noah LaRoche.

If Smart shot league average from three, 36.2 percent, and Brown from the FT line, 76.7, Boston would have added approximately 74 total points or 0.91 more points per game. That’s a jump from 20th to 18th in PPG rankings.

Al Horford reminisced on the immense opportunity last year provided with players up and down the roster getting playing time and realizing areas they need to improve on. The combination of that and an infusion of talent will work to make his role easier.

It could also give the Celtics the chance to return to Brad Stevens’ concept of pace-and-space that’s plastered inside the TD Garden locker room. Boston finished 23rd in NBA.com’s pace rating in 2017-18 — after finishing in the top-15, and twice in the top-five — in each of Stevens’ first four NBA seasons. Terry Rozier predicted pace will be Stevens’ adjustment with this roster.

Pace demands making the most of ample shot opportunities, and efficiency from those receiving less than last year such as Semi Ojeleye — after a season where he started postseason games. He honed in on his three-pointer, which he shot at a 32 percent clip in his rookie year, and asserted the importance of Stevens’ philosophy of keeping everyone involved. It’ll be harder with increased depth, but Ojeleye enjoys that culture of staying ready.

Ojeleye said his shot feels awesome. After shooting the three ball well at SMU, his struggles behind the NBA arc in his rookie work needed work. He spent the summer seeking consistency in his shooting motion with Drew Hanlen, as well as finding methods to fall back on if that form escapes him later. Everybody soon began to constantly ask him about Hanlen who also works with Jayson Tatum.

Even those who missed the playoffs like Daniel Theis, thought about how they’d fit in with a group that nearly made the NBA Finals. Between more complaints about his 2k caricature, Theis surmised that there’ll be more lob opportunities in the lane for him and Aron Baynes with this team’s spacing. While his timing and pacing hasn’t arrived to the point where he can catch an alley-oop, he’s fully cleared for training camp.

The talk of potential improvements across the roster will need to turn into action to impress Stevens, who said the team’s offense was not good enough in 2017-18. He’ll begin to see the progress tomorrow, when the Celts open training camp, then likely break into scrimmaging on Wednesday. Whether you love Media Day, like Rozier, or hate it, like Hayward, the real action is only a day away.