BRIGHTON, MA – With the depth-sacrificing moves they made this summer, the Boston Celtics has put a lot of pressure on their remaining role players. Guys like Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard, and Luke Kornet would have to step up, while new signees Oshae Brissett, Lamar Stevens, and Svi Mykhailiuk could be thrust into larger roles.
All of the supplementary pieces Boston employs have very specific jobs on the court. Pritchard is a backup ball-handler and shot creator, Kornet is a quality big who understands the minutiae of Boston’s system, and Brissett and Stevens are athletic defenders. And then there’s Hauser and Mykhailiuk.
Hauser stepped into an every-night rotation role for the Celtics last year, while Mykhailiuk enjoyed some end-of-season success with the Charlotte Hornets. Both earned minutes largely because of their three-point shots.
Throughout the preseason thus far, Mykhailiuk has been impressive, and Hauser finally found his shot after struggling in the first two games. But both have been doing more than shooting. They’ve been driving closeouts and setting up teammates after drawing the attention of the defense, acting as connectors within the Celtics’ offense.
“The main thing we teach those guys is, ‘Did you put two on the ball?’ And they have to be able to put two on the ball with the catch and with the shot,” head coach Joe Mazzulla told me after Saturday’s practice.
Hauser earned some run with some of the Celtics’ core players in Boston’s third preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers. His shot wasn’t falling early in the game, but defenders still flocked to him at the three-point line.
He was able to get past them, keep the ball moving, and create offense without making a shot — a skill he rarely got to show off last season.
“Teams are obviously going to guard them by trying to run them off the line, and they have to be able to make that next layer of the read. Once two are on the ball, is it drive to close out? Is it an over-the-top pass? Is it a bounce pass? Just make the right read,” Mazzulla explained.
“So, it’s kind of more a layer, like if they take the three away, here’s how they did it, here’s why they did it, and now you got to find the next solution.”
He picked up three assists against the 76ers, a mark he only reached five times in 80 games for the Celtics last year.
As for Mykhailiuk, he has looked much more comfortable with the ball in his hands throughout the preseason. His ball-handling and playmaking have shined hand-in-hand with his knockdown three-point skills.
That said, he’s primarily been playing with bench guys.
“I feel like just reading the game and what the defense gives you,” Mykhailiuk told me after practice on Friday. “But, yeah, it depends on who you’re on the court with.”
While playing alongside the likes of Pritchard, Stevens, Brissett, and Kornet, Mykhailiuk has naturally had more opportunities to put the ball on the floor and make a play.
But once the regular season begins, should he crack the rotation, he would be paired up with Boston’s stars, most of whom are ball-dominant, score-first players. In those situations, finding a balance between when to shoot and when to make a play becomes all the more important.
“Usually, when you are with the guys would break the defender down pretty easily, or the stars, it’s probably when I get the ball, it’s more chances than not that I’ll be open,” said Mykhailiuk. “So, in those chances, I’ll probably have to shoot every time.”
As Hauser and Mykhailiuk continue to advance through the preseason, keep an eye on their progression as connectors. Three-point shooting is crucial, but being able to leverage the spacing they create into better shots could drastically improve Boston’s offense even more.