Preseason basketball isn’t always the most beautiful version of the sport the NBA has to offer. The league’s stars play limited minutes, usually several notches below maximum intensity. More obscure, less talented players feature prominently. Games are disjointed and ugly as a result.
But the preseason isn’t all bad. If consumed correctly it can even be fairly enjoyable. And that’s where we come in. We’ve outlined five tips for making preseason basketball as fun of an experience as possible. Let’s dive right in.
5. Enjoy the rookies
We got a taste of the Celtics’ new crop of rookies during summer league, and they were largely good. Grant Williams is a jovial, undersized, do-it-all big. Carsen Edwards is “a bucket,” and Tremont Waters a scrappy, waterbug point guard with impressive instincts on both ends of the court. Add in the growing myth of Tacko Fall and the first glimpse of the player Boston took highest in the draft - Romeo Langford - and there is plenty to be monitored.
The rookies that played on the Summer Celtics were team-oriented and fun, and equally entertaining off the court. And the joy they spread wasn’t limited to their time in Las Vegas. Upon returning to the Boston area there were oversized Red Sox hats to be worn, swim lessons to be participated in, and a size difference between Waters and Fall that never got old (just wait for the chest bump at the end of the clip).
None of the rookies are likely to see huge amounts of playing time during the regular season. Several will find themselves spending most of their year in Maine. That leaves the preseason as their time to shine, and your opportunity to enjoy them. Don’t miss out.
4. Pay close attention to defensive schemes
Boston made its bones on the defensive end of the floor in recent years, but they lost two massive defensive anchors in Al Horford and Aron Baynes this summer. Both players excel at defending the space between the ball handler and screener in the pick-and-roll. The Celtics oriented their defensive accordingly, dropping Horford or Baynes to whatever level the shooting ability of the ball handler demanded, and waiting for one of their rangy, tenacious perimeter defenders to catch up to the play.
It was an effective strategy, but it’s not one that Boston is going to be able to lean on with its current roster construction. None of the team’s big men have the right combination of size, quickness, and most importantly feel on defense. Projected starting center Enes Kanter is a trainwreck defending in space, a truth the Celtics will need to compensate for.
The Portland Trail Blazers had some success stationing Kanter very deep in the paint against opponent pick-and-roll attacks, essentially ceding pull-up midrange shots in an effort to keep from yielding the layups and open threes that Kanter’s forays into defending the pick-and-roll frequently yield. Boston might try a similar approach.
The Celtics’ other bigs could have better luck, though none are anything close to approximating Horford or Baynes. Daniel Theis has great instincts, but lacks the girth and athleticism to fully capitalize on his intelligence. Robert Williams has freakish physical tools, but is a long way from understanding NBA defense well enough to feature prominently. I’ll just admit to not knowing much about Vincent Poirier at the moment, but it would be surprising if he became a critical component of Boston’s defensive identity.
The Celtics could always get funky and turn to switch-heavy small ball units. There’s some real appeal to testing out something like a Marcus Smart/Gordon Hayward/Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown/Grant Williams fivesome and just seeing what happens. Figuring out rotations will be an ongoing challenge for Brad Stevens this year, and it will dictate his strategic decisions defensively. Preseason is our first opportunity to see where his head is at entering the year.
(For a deep dive on defensive schemes, read here.)
3. All aboard the Kemba Walker train
Boston landed themselves a star free agent this summer. It’s easy to forget that, given the fact that the team also lost its two best players and kissed its dream of adding Anthony Davis goodbye. Walker is as good a consolation prize as was going to be found.
He’s a jitterbug with the ball in his hands who plays with both fearlessness and joy. Walker should bring a dose of much needed positivity to the Celtics locker room, and his play on the court will be nothing to sneeze at. Boston fans should prepare to embrace him. The preseason is a great opportunity to get a head start on doing so.
2. Get a first glance at Gordon
Gordon Hayward wasn’t good last year. Nor should anyone have expected him to be. Hayward was playing in his first season back from a traumatic leg injury. He clearly lacked explosion and confidence, and his game was marked by hesitancy because of it.
There were moments where it looked like Hayward had returned to full strength. Virtually every time he dunked the ball was declared the moment he “was back,” but in actuality that moment never came. Boston needs the versatile wing to play like the All-Star he’s been in the past if they want to be competitive in a way that approaches meaningful this year. He’s their best shot at having a high-level secondary playmaker to turn to, and a potential linchpin in switchy, wing-heavy units.
Early reports from teammates are that Hayward is looking good, but that was the case last year as well, so perhaps they should be taken with a grain of salt. Now, however - two years out from the catastrophic injury - is the time when it is reasonable to expect Hayward to return to form. The preseason will be the first chance the viewing public has to assess whether he has.
1. Dream a dream
This lands as the top recommendation every preseason. The games basically don’t matter, which means you can ascribe any meaning to them that you want. If the Celtics stink, don’t worry about it, it’s just preseason. If they go undefeated, amazing it’s a sign of things to come.
Grant Williams looks like a blend of Draymond Green and Al Horford? That’s precisely who he’s going to be. Grant Williams looks like he’s too small to be a big and too big to be a wing? Don’t get worked up, he’s got all season to carve out a role.
See how this all works?
Let your imagination run wild. Trust me, if you miss a few possessions day dreaming in optimism, you won’t actually miss all that much.