Last season, the Celtics depth ended up being more curse than blessing. With so many players trying to live up to expectations and gunning for their next contract, Boston’s talented roster was a recipe for disaster. This season, a seasoned rookie class and a handful of veterans seemed to have gelled and everybody will have a chance to contribute.
On Thursday, Brad Stevens said, “I can tell you right now five guys that are going to play a lot. I’m sure you can write down who you know those five are (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart), but everybody else has added a lot of good things, and so there’s a lot of minutes left. There’s a lot of minutes left, and we’re a team and we’re going to have to operate like one. Sometimes it’s going to be your night, sometimes it’s not, but we believe in everybody’s ability to impact.”
The preseason can often be the birthplace of overreaction and false positives. Nobody should expect the firestorm that Carsen Edwards rained down on the Cavaliers in Cleveland or the level of defense the Celtics have suffocated teams with during training camp, but there are some trends that could be the real deal come November and December:
Gordon Hayward will get opportunities as a primary playmaker: So far in the preseason, Stevens has duplicated his substitution pattern with Hayward with his plan for Al Horford toward the end of 2018-2019. Horford played three stints in each half in order to 1) preserve his health and 2)
Hayward has been getting the early hook among the starters, not because he’s the weakest link. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Hayward has looked great in training camp and his early exit to start halves is due in large part to his ability to run the offense with the second unit and be the primary ball handler. He’s averaging more than five assists per-36 minutes so far.
Enes Kanter will play against second units: Daniel Theis seems to have solidified his place as a starter. Surrounded by a wing trio of Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum, Theis is tasked as less a rim protector and more positional defender. Vincent Poirier has shown a knack for a similar skill set, but the veteran Theis will get the nod to be a starter first.
Kanter, on the other hand, has unfortunately lived up (down?) to his reputation as below average defender on pick-and-rolls and switching on to quicker guards. To mitigate some of those concerns, Kanter will come off the bench and bring his rugged offensive rebounding game and scoring ability to the second unit. Presumably, backups aren’t as good offensively as the starters, so Kanter won’t be as often put in situations against top flight offensive players. To offset his defensive liabilities, he’ll also be surrounded by Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye.
Tatum and Brown are going to get a lot of run and a lot of run together: For now, the dynamic duo are getting that superstar treatment when it comes to playing time. They’re getting that extended rest at the end of the first and third quarters when teams might be in the penalty and free throws are getting shot, when players get a blow during the commercials, another breath to start the 2nd and 4th. Otherwise, they’re expected to start games strong and finish halves stronger.
Tatum and Brown averaged 21.1 and 18 minutes respectively in the preseason. Friday in Orlando, the two were separated for only a minute and twelve seconds of game time. With both players committing to an attacking style of play, the pair represent a potent 1-2 punch on the floor. Alone, teams can wall off penetration and stymie driving wings. Together, they can wear down perimeter defenders alongside Hayward and Walker by constantly putting pressure on opposing teams with spacing and ball movement.