The NBA preseason is upon us, and the Boston Celtics are scheduled to tip off their first of two exhibition games on Tuesday. Preseason basketball is never particularly pretty, but it is likely to be even more disjointed this year. COVID has canceled the NBA Summer League, shortened training camp windows, and added a layer of restrictions to the time new teammates have had to learn to play with one another.
That’s likely to manifest in sloppy play, a reality that will be exacerbated by a number of injuries sustained across Boston’s roster. But amidst the turnovers, lackadaisical effort, and general lack of familiarity that usually mark preseason play, there are always discrete storylines to focus in on that can make your viewing experience more enjoyable.
Interpret Limitations of Celtics’ Rookies as You Wish
Boston’s 2020 draftees – Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard – have had a truncated offseason to prepare to adjust their games to the NBA level. Missing out on Summer League is particularly disappointing. Nothing can replicate the jump in speed, athleticism, and skill between the collegiate game and the NBA, but Summer League is a nice steppingstone in the right direction.
Nesmith and Pritchard will have a few weeks of inter-team scrimmages as a starting point instead. That may translate in the form of slow starts for each. There’s nothing anyone could have done about their lack of seasoning entering the year. Such is life in the pandemic. What we can control, however, is our reaction to any growing pains they may display.
I leave it up to you about just how to react. If you enjoy chaos and despair, feel free to declare the Celtics’ draft a total failure. If you prefer a more optimistic approach, then discount the preseason entirely, and put your faith in future growth as Nesmith and Pritchard acclimate to their surroundings.
There is also the possibility that Boston’s rookies play well. Such an outcome seems unlikely, but it too is open to interpretation. Now is a great time to overreact. Embrace it in whatever direction feels best to you.
Overthink the Starting Lineup
There has been an awful lot of discussion about who Brad Stevens should start once the real NBA season begins. Kemba Walker will be sidelined with an injury, and it is possible free agent addition Tristan Thompson will miss the team’s opener as well. That pretty much locks in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Daniel Theis into starting slots, leaving two fairly large holes to be filled.
Marcus Smart is likely to claim one of the starting vacancies. The final spot remains a bit of a mystery. Most Celtics fans have already spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about how things should/could play out. Preseason will be a chance to add a bit of fuel to the fire.
Here’s to hoping that Stevens throws out two funky starting units in each of Boston’s preseason slates just to keep us all on our toes.
Enjoy Jacked Jayson Tatum
Every player claims that they are in the best shape of their life heading into every preseason, but if the photos emerging from Celtics’ training camp are to be believed, it would appear Jayson Tatum has added a bit of muscle to his frame. His game could benefit from a little additional strength, assuming it doesn’t impact any of his other athletic gifts.
Do you remember that part of The Last Dance when Michael Jordan essentially credits getting stronger to what made him the greatest player on earth? It may not be the most likely outcome, but projecting Tatum is on the same trajectory should at least be considered.
Adjust to the “New Normal”
Most of these recommendations are made tongue-in-cheek, but this one is a bit more somber. Basketball arenas designed for fans don’t have the same feel as bubble gyms that were designed to make the lack of local supporters feel normal. The aesthetics of NBA games are going to feel different amidst thousands of empty seats. The preseason will be an opportunity to start to get comfortable with the non-bubble, fan-free NBA.
The Celtics will play their second preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets. Assuming he is healthy and available, that means we’ll have a chance to see Kevin Durant back on the floor for only the second time since returning from a serious Achilles injury. Durant was arguable the best player in the world when he last played in an organized NBA game. His tilt with Boston will be a chance to get a sense of just how much of his athleticism he’s retained.
Reports out of Brooklyn are that he looks phenomenal. Those may need to be taken with a grain of salt, given that they are based on assessments from teammates and coaches, but there is plenty of reason to believe that he could continue to be an immensely impactful player, even if his movement skills are diminished. Durant’s shooting alone is enough to completely warp defenses.
The preseason is a great opportunity to focus in on a single player. Take a little time to abandon your concern with the outcome of the game and lock in on Durant. His level of play may define the competitive context of the Eastern Conference. It’s worth getting a head start on understanding where he’s at.
Know it Will All be Over Soon
The Celtics are only playing two preseason games, so there won’t actually be all that much slog to be endured this year. Perhaps that means it will carry over into the regular season, but Boston will tighten up its rotations and increase the minutes loads of its best players enough at that point that things will be more likely to resemble real NBA basketball.