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The perfect play: what the Celtics have built this summer

2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Training Camp - Las Vegas Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The combinations are endless. Over 82 games, the Celtics will score thousands of points. Some will come in transition. Some will look pretty, some ugly. But if you’re building the most basic offensive set for Boston, it might look a little something like this:

Step 1: Kemba Walker-Enes Kanter pick-and-roll

Last season, Walker was the gold standard for point guards in the PnR. In 82 games in 2018-2019, Walker ran the most pick-and-rolls as the ball handler per game (11.8) and ranked in the 90.9th percentile in the league at 1.01 points per possession. As Greg Brueck-Cassoli describes, he’s a maestro in the mid-range. His ability to slow down or speed up tempo as he turns the corner combined with his body control and shot-making ability makes for a deadly combination. With his 6’1 frame, he’s reminiscent of Isaiah Thomas as waterbug guards who invite body count and finish through fouls. And because he can score at all three levels, he’s a threat from anywhere, not unlike the departing Kyrie Irving.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Danny Ainge went out this summer and fortified Boston’s big man depth with a handful of rim runners and lob catchers. Al Horford’s stretchiness at the 5 is gone and in his place are a cadre of more traditional centers to pair with Walker. Enes Kanter isn’t a great roll man, but he carves up the paint at any opportunity. Rookie Vincent Poirier and sophomore Robert Williams will both get chances to play alongside Walker. Last season, there were few pogo stick players on the Hornets roster, but Ainge was sure to surround Walker with viable targets. In Charlotte, Walker averaged nearly six assists per game, but many of them were to wing players like Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Marvin Williams.

Step 2: Secondary slashers and swingmen: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown

The theme throughout USA Basketball’s training camp has been Brown and Tatum’s aggressiveness. They’ve had varying degrees of success so far, but they’ve been consistent in their focus to attack more this off-season, most recently displayed in Jaylen’s game high 19 points against Canada.

Tatum has shown some flashes as a primary ball handler and Brown has occasionally moonlighted as Team USA’s power forward. But back in Boston, Walker will be the head of the offensive snake and both will benefit off secondary actions and broken down defenses. Last season, they (and Marcus Morris) were the biggest beneficiaries on spot up and cutting off ball opportunities. This summer, they’ve sharpened their tools with quicker decision-making and more pointed attempts to either get to the cup or the line.

Step 3: Gordon Hayward as the secondary playmaker

In his comeback season, Hayward was eased (and then arguably force fed) into a playmaking role that made him an All-Star in Utah. Next season, he’ll start again as second fiddle to Walker (and maybe even to Tatum and Brown), but reports out of the Auerbach Center is that he’s training without restrictions and poised for a comeback from his comeback.

2019 NBA Playoffs: Boston Celtics Vs Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Field House Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What makes Hayward intriguing is his size. In his final season with the Jazz, he was the de facto point guard with a 27.6% usage rate, averaging 3.5 assists per game. At 6’8, he can play at a slower pace than quick point guards that rely on their speed and probe defenses with his defender on his back. He’s not as tall as Horford, but he’s a bigger threat off the dribble. He could see a lot of time at the 4 next year which could mean a lot of looks midway through the shot clock.

Picture a pick-and-pop with Walker with Walker kicking out to Hayward between the arc and the free throw line. That’s Old G’s office. Depending on how the defense reacts, he can either post up the smaller guard on a switch or operate in space against a big dropping down in coverage.

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