1. 2020 NBA preseason, we hardly knew ye. Just two games for the Boston Celtics in this abbreviated preseason and both left watchers with more questions than answers. The Celtics didn’t look particularly good in losses to the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. The question now is: Was that just “Eh. It’s preseason” or signs of bigger issues?
2. Jayson Tatum was Boston’s best player despite an off-shooting night. When Tatum was on the floor, the Celtics were +5. Without Tatum, Boston was -29.
It’s probably going to be that way, albeit hopefully not as drastic, until Kemba Walker gets back. With Walker recovering and Gordon Hayward gone, Brad Stevens no longer has the double duos he used last year. Right now, it’s just Tatum and Jaylen Brown. We’ve seen Tatum carry the offense by himself. Boston needs the same sort of growth from Brown, or the team is really going to struggle in non-Tatum minutes.
3. Tatum talked a lot about having to improve his playmaking for others to take another leap. He was a very good passer at the end of last season. He’s showing signs of it again in the preseason. Here Tatum drives and instead of forcing up an awkward floater, he drops it off to Daniel Theis for a short jumper:
In the second half, Tatum does a great job off a scramble. He looks off the defender by staring at Brown in the corner, then he zips it into Smart for the easy layup:
4. Jaylen Brown, like every Celtic not named Jeff Teague, struggled to get his jumper to fall in the preseason games. But Brown’s inside scoring remains solid. Last season he added the little stop-and-turn fallaway in the paint. Against the Nets, he broke out this running hook. This could be a nice way to finish over the bigger defenders he regularly draws.
Getting points in transition are going to be extremely important for the Celtics while Kemba Walker is out. In particular, Brown excels when he can get out and run and attack the rim. He does a nice job here of forcing, absorbing and finishing through contact:
5. Brown did a nice job as a playmaker as well. He hooked up with Robert Williams on back-to-back scores. This first one is a nice set off an ATO. Brown catches on the move, right into a pick-and-roll with Williams:
On this play, Brown drives the closeout, stays patient and doesn’t force a shot and finds Williams for the easy finish:
Brown’s ability to function as a primary ballhandler, versus just a scorer, will really open up the Celtics offense.
6. Robert Williams was up and down in this game. He had some nice finishes, made some decent defensive plays in the second half. The issue was against the Nets frontline players, he looked lost. Here’s an example:
Williams starts out the play too low. He’s not guarding anyone back there and Kyrie Irving isn’t a guy you drop against. Then he decides too late that he’s going to challenge Irving’s jumper, which leaves Allen alone underneath for the easy putback. It’s also not great that neither Grant Williams nor Jeff Teague dropped down to put a body on Jarrett Allen.
7. It’s a little hard to judge the Celtics bench at the moment. It should look much better when Kemba Walker and Tristan Thompson are back and everyone can slide into their proper roles. Right now, beyond Jeff Teague on offense and Grant Williams doing a little bit of everything, Brad Stevens can’t feel confident putting anyone in the game. After a strong first game, Payton Pritchard didn’t look great in the second game. That happens with rookies, especially point guards. As covered above, Robert Williams is unreliable. Semi Ojeleye looks like he’s barely a deep bench player at this point, never mind a rotation guy. This is where the drop-off happens for Boston and it’s going to put strain on the starters to build big leads, or have to play from behind.
8. One bright spot from the reserves was Aaron Nesmith. He was solid when he played in the second half of the first game. In this one, Nesmith got run with the main rotation guys at times and looked even better. He already looks like one of the better wing options off the bench.
This may seem an odd “highlight”, because Jeff Green hammers one on Nesmith. But it shows his understanding of where to be defensively. He correctly slides over and then he at least challenges Green at the rim. Plays like this will be ones that prove to Stevens that Nesmith deserves minutes.
9. On offense, Nesmith flashed once again. He had a nice drive to the rim where he drew some free throws, but this is what he was drafted for. Takes the handoff, gives a little fake and right into a one-dribble pull-up three:
10. Following the game, Brad Stevens, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum all said the same thing: “There is a lot of work to do.” The Celtics have five days of practice before their opening night. That game sees Boston host the Milwaukee Bucks, before these same Nets come to town on Christmas Day. It’s about to get real and the Celtics don’t look ready. We’ll know next week if they were able to fix what’s ailed them thus far.