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Joe Mazzulla on Luke Kornet in the starting lineup: ‘I definitely think it’s something’

Kornet was grouped up with the starters at training camp, and Mazzulla said that playing big is a part of their identity.

Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Last season, the Boston Celtics found a ton of success playing big. The combination of Al Horford and Robert Williams in the frontcourt allowed them to remain flexible on offense while also creating one of the most dominant defensive lineups in the NBA.

In fact, the five-man starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Horford, and Williams had the best defensive rating in the NBA among all five-man groups with at least 200 minutes played. The Celtics found a formula that worked and they stuck to it.

However, Boston hit a slight fork in the road this year, as the team announced that Robert Williams underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss roughly 8-12 weeks. That timetable indicates that Williams likely won’t suit up until December or early in 2023.

But according to interim head coach Joe Mazzulla, that won’t necessarily stop them from playing big. At the Celtics’ first training camp session, big man Luke Kornet was seen playing with the starters alongside Horford. When asked about it, Mazzulla said that it could be something to watch out for.

“That was our identity last year, was trying to play big. And like I said before, we’re trying to figure out our identity on the defensive end, and keeping it as consistent as we can is important, so I definitely think it’s something.”

Kornet re-signed with the Celtics this summer on a partially guaranteed, two-year contract. He originally joined the Celtics during the 2020-21 season as a part of the Daniel Theis trade, but he wasn’t brought back to the main roster until this past year.

The 7’2 big man appeared in games for three teams last season - the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Celtics, but Boston eventually inked him to a standard contract after some roster spots opened up after the trade deadline.

Bobby Manning of CLNS Media and CelticsBlog asked Mazzulla what he likes about Kornet in that spot, and Boston’s coach said that “he’s smart, he knows how to play, great screener, [and a] good rebounder.”

When the Celtics traded Theis in the deal for Malcolm Brogdon this summer, it was clear that Kornet would have additional duties this season. But with Williams out, his responsibilities could be taken to a whole new level. At Celtics Media Day, Kornet was asked about what his potential role this year, and while he didn’t provide an exact answer to the question, he said that he’ll be ready for anything.

“I mean, I definitely realize there’s definitely a great chance of being a more involved member, in terms of being on the court. I’m honestly just, I think it’s kind of the same thing I’ve always done, it’s just being ready for whatever role I’m given. Through my experience in my career, even game to game it can go from zero minutes, to 25, to 10, to 30, to zero. So it’s like, to be ready for all that.”

In the 30 total games Kornet has appeared in with the Celtics over the course of the past two seasons, he’s averaged just 11.3 minutes per contest. His averages sit at just 3.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks when in a Boston uniform.

Kornet also spoke about how he’s been able to learn about the team more since joining the Celtics, and he understands how to play his game to compliment everyone else.

“I’ve had a lot of time of being able to be around these guys now compared to when I first came here. I feel like I have a lot more understanding of guys’ games and how I can kind of play mine to be able to help them.”

Throughout his time with the Celtics, Kornet has only played 15 or more minutes in 10 games and 20 or more minutes in two games. That being said, the organization has shown a ton of confidence in his ability to play the role he’s expected to step into. Brad Stevens has given Kornet his vote of confidence (via his words and a telling Twitter “like”), and now Mazzulla has echoed those sentiments.

Seeing Kornet play big-time minutes and potentially start isn’t what most people expected when Boston constructed their current roster, but both he and the team are ready for him to step up when he needs to.

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