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How Ime Udoka can challenge his key players

Udoka called Tatum and Brown “pillars” and Smart a “foundational piece,” but how can they be better next season?

Boston Celtics Introduce Ime Udoka Press Conference Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Ime Udoka is the new voice of the Boston Celtics. One repeating narrative that we’ve heard over the last few days is how the players want to be pushed more and Udoka is the perfect kind of guy to give them some tough love.

One example Ime himself gave was a time in Philly when he saw Joel Embiid warming up. He was just out there shooting around, with no particular plan or purpose. Ime pulled him aside and talked to him about the routine that Tim Duncan did before each game and how it helped him be a consistent performer each night, regardless of the competition.

So I started thinking about how he could challenge the Celtics key players. Note that as I’ve said countless times (and proven in what I’ve written), I’m no coach. But here are some humble suggestions I would have for each guy:

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Jayson Tatum - Pick your spots when complaining to refs

Working the refs has been proven to be a good thing over the long haul. Especially for star players. But there’s a time and place for that kind of thing. Not to mention a way to go about it that doesn’t show them up. I love Jayson’s approach to the game in just about every other way. But I physically cringe when I see him waving his super-long arms at a ref when the ball is whipping down the other end for a potential transition bucket.

Jaylen Brown - Develop off-ball defense

Don’t get me wrong. Defense in general is something that everyone needs to work on. But we know that when Brown is locked in, he can be one of the better on-ball defenders on the team. He struggles more off the ball though. It isn’t as though he doesn’t have the mind for it or the reflexes. I would imagine that he needs to study film and focus on disrupting and recovering. Get him jumping into passing lanes and we’ll see more breakaway dunks.

Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Both Tatum and Brown - Get more engaged from the jump

Both stars are going to get a lot of the defense’s attention. So they need to make reads and get their teammates involved. With that said, it feels like there are entire quarters (sometimes multiple) where one or both of them seems out of the mix. That just can’t happen going forward.

As much Ime (and Brad before him) wants to see players make the “right basketball play,” sometimes the right play is to dive into a double team and force the defenders to foul you. Or frequently, those guys are simply going to be a better option while double-teamed than some of their teammates are while wide open.

Marcus Smart - Ease up on the heat checks

This one seems obvious, but it is worth pointing out from a fresh voice. This is not necessarily saying he should “shoot less.” If he has open three-pointer looks in rhythm and preferably not too early in the shot clock, he should by all means take those shots. But dribbling over half court and jacking up a 3 when most of your teammates are still crossing half court with you, is a bad shot for pretty much anyone not named Dame, Steph, or Durant.

Your Turn

I’m sure I’m missing some. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.

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