The plan: Roll with Luke Kornet as the primary backup center heading into the season.
The quiet storyline to watch from Thursday night: Neemias Queta earning minutes with the core rotation over Kornet.
In their final game of preseason action, the Boston Celtics stomped the Charlotte Hornets, earning a 127-99 victory. But while the scoreline was relatively uneventful, Queta’s emergence is certainly a tidbit to take note of.
Al Horford missed the contest, so behind Kristaps Porzingis, Kornet was expected to be the next man up. But with 3:01 remaining in the first quarter, Queta subbed in the game. He went on to play 13:08 while Kornet picked up a DNP.
After a practice last week, head coach Joe Mazzulla revealed that Queta had earned more opportunities.
“He’s earned minutes. He’s earned opportunity,” Mazzulla said via Inside the Celtics. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and he’s come in every day, and he’s worked. And I really like how he’s gotten better and better each time he’s been on the floor.
“So, we’re excited that we have an opportunity to develop him. And over these next two preseason games, it’s definitely a goal to see: can he continue to get better? Can he continue to execute on both ends?”
Not only did Queta earn his opportunity against the Hornets, but he got it alongside the Celtics’ main guys. He shared the court with Jrue Holiday, Payton Pritchard, Jaylen Brown, and Sam Hauser - four players who will be part of Boston’s every-night rotation - and he looked impressive in doing so.
Queta finished the night with 12 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the field (though he did go 0-of-2 from the free-throw line). He also snagged seven rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
The high energy he brought, combined with his seven-foot, 250-pound frame, helped him wreak havoc on the interior, and his touch around the rim looked compelling, too.
“I feel like I’m always consistent with my work in the paint. I can finish up there with the best,” Queta told Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston after the game. “So, I just want to be consistent with that and in my role and help the team win the most amount of games possible.”
The 24-year-old big man, who spent the first two seasons of his career with the Sacramento Kings (primarily in the G League), has put together an intriguing preseason campaign.
In addition to his rebounding and interior finishing, the Portuguese big man was lethal in the pick-n-roll and seems to have developed a nice chemistry with Pritchard, who had eight assists against the Hornets. His huge body allows for bone-crushing screens, and he showed off some unique passing abilities in Boston’s first preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Celtics inked him to a two-way contract after he parted ways with the Kings, and he’s slated to spend some time with the Maine Celtics, but the talent is evident, and he’s already fitting in with the team.
“The vibes are great right now,” Queta told Chin. “Everybody’s rolling on a high, guys are making plays for each other, and we’re just excited to be a part of the Boston Celtics. And we just want to be able to win games and be able to have fun with it, too.”
Queta’s place over Kornet against the Hornets doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll take his spot in the rotation. In fact, it could mean the opposite.
Mazzulla already knows what he has in Kornet - a reliable, system big who will play his role when needed. But he doesn’t necessarily know what he has in Queta, who had never played with Boston’s core players until Thursday night. By benching Kornet, Mazzulla tested out the unknown variable while keeping the known in his back pocket.
The expectation should still be that Kornet begins the season as the Celtics’ first choice at backup center, with Queta hoping to dominate in Maine. That said, with how seamlessly Queta fit in next to Boston’s rotation guys, he could have a case to earn real minutes as the year progresses.