When Ime Udoka took over as the Boston Celtics head coach last season, we were all incredibly receptive to the notion that there would undoubtedly be some teething issues to start the season. Just like a player, no amount of practice, time spent on the bench, or hours in the film room can fully prepare you for the heat of the moment — that’s a lesson you have to learn on the job, and in time, your ability to process information at a quicker rate will rapidly improve.
We saw Udoka go through those lessons, as he struggled with his rotations, and sometimes persisted with a specific lineup for too long, or pulled guys too soon. Eventually, though, Udoka got things right and never looked back. Joe Mazzulla, in his first season as an NBA head coach, will likely experience a similar learning curve, and we, as fans, should be cognizant of that.
“One of the main things that you are gonna see from a rookie head coach, predominantly when it comes to struggles, is gonna be rotations. We saw Ime really struggle with figuring out his rotations early in his career when he had just moved over to Boston. Knowing when to go a little bit deeper into your bench because you’ve got a sharpshooter who can create an advantage. Knowing when to shorten that rotation because you need that continuity down the stretch. Having the foresight and the confidence in your own ability to be like, ‘hey, I need to play the eighth man in the rotation, along with the starters for the next three minutes because the matchup dictates that that’s what’s gonna be best for my team.’
I think that’s gonna be an area we see Mazzulla have to adapt to. It’s all well and good being part of a coaching staff and recommending somebody come into a rotation, but, being the guy that makes the decisions on that rotation, where either all of the blame or all of the glory goes on you for those decisions, that’s gonna be a whole new weight on his shoulders,” Adam Taylor said on a recent episode of the CelticsPod podcast.
Beyond figuring out how to manage a game in real-time, Mazzulla will also need to decide which aspects of Udoka’s system he wants to carry over into the new season, and more importantly, which area’s he want’s to stamp his own style onto.
The fact of the matter is, Mazzulla, until a few weeks ago, was preparing for his fourth year as an assistant coach, and suddenly, he’s tasked with leading a team that has every intention of returning to the NBA Finals. While it makes sense to keep a lot of the system and schemes in place, Mazzulla needs to be his own man - and that starts with implementing some of your own ideas.
“Robert Williams went from, you know, in the midst of all the Ime craziness went from four to six to eight to 12 (weeks out, due to undergoing surgery on his knee). That’s a big jump, Adam...This isn’t temporary, this is potentially half your season, that you’re kind of looking at (without Rob Williams). What is your starting line-up going to look like? And, I think there are two real options that Mazzulla will look at. That’s gonna be either, do you insert newcomer, Malcolm Brogdon, aka Malcolm Obama into the start and lineup? Or do you go with what you did in the playoffs when Rob was out and you, and you insert Grant Williams? I think that’s gonna be his first big decision as a head coach that’s gonna, not be criticized, but critiqued depending on how it goes and how he adjusts,” CelticsPod co-host Will Weir noted.
The Celtics officially began their season on Tuesday, September 27, as the team reported for the first day of training camp. Throughout the day, multiple media members shared footage of the team’s workouts, with many noting how Luke Kornet had been tasked to train with the first team. However, while there is a chance that the stretch-five could be given a starting role to begin the season, the more likely reasoning behind Mazzulla asking Kornet to work with the core group is to build some familiarity between everybody that projects to be in the Celtics primary rotation.
Still, Mazzulla will not only need to adapt his approach, learn on the job, and stamp his own ideas onto the team — he’s also going to have some tough decisions to make before the season gets underway. Luckily, we will get some early information when the Celtics begin their pre-season games in early October, until then, it’s safe to assume there’s going to be a lot of discussion about how the Celtics are going to set up their rotations to begin the new season.
You can find the full conversation surrounding Mazzulla, Boston’s rotations, and much more, on Wednesday’s episode of the CelticsPod podcast, which comes to you three times per week, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
You can also find regular episodes of the CelitcsPod podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts, and if you prefer to watch your podcasts, every episode of the CelticsPod is uploaded to my YouTube channel.