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Mailbag answers: Position battles, coaching, and late game execution

You had questions, I’ve got answers. Results may vary.

NBA: Preseason-Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, the mailbag call went out and once again you guys delivered with the questions. Thank you!!!


Probably a too early for this. Luke vs Queta vs Gabriel still up in the air. Stevens vs Brisket not settled. Mikhail vs Hauser? Blake?

I can’t tell if the Brisket name is a typo or an epic nickname idea but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the latter.

I’ve said it before but I’ll put it out there again. I haven’t seen anything in the limited sample size of preseason to indicate that anyone has moved up the depth chart ahead of guys like Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, and even Luke Kornet.

Luke is by no means a perfect answer but I’m not sure that Queta or Gabriel are any better at this point. I like Svi, particularly on offense, but I think Hauser has proven more reliable on the other end of the court thus far.

In short, there’s not a lot of separation between all the guys they brought into camp for a preseason look. Maybe the team sees something in practice that I’m not seeing and someone will emerge with a larger role than expected. Or maybe we’ll see Brad Stevens make a move just before the season (either to pick up someone waived from somewhere else or maybe even to make a trade). Ultimately though, I’m not sure how much any of this will really matter. These are all replacement level guys that are here for depth and eat up minutes in the regular season.


With the team now having two much better scoring options on the team as compared to last year and Derrick White assuming a larger role, how much points per game scoring sacrifice do you feel Jaylen and Jayson will need to have to optimize the offense?

And do you think a decent drop in points per game will drop Jayson out of any chance he had at getting an MVP award?

That’s an interesting question. I think the whole team is going to need to adopt an Ubuntu type of attitude towards sacrifice for the sake of the team. I think they are poised to do so for various reasons. Brown got paid, Jrue knows that sacrifice can lead to titles, Porzingis is in the best position to win he’s ever been in, and Tatum knows his legacy is tied to titles.

Ultimately Tatum might see his usage dip a bit and he might focus a little more energy on defense this year and if that costs him MVP votes, I think he’ll be ok with that if the rest of the team is bought in and the results lead to breaking through to his first title.


Was the plan always to bring in another guard to replace Smart or did Jrue just fall into their laps?

I think the answer might be “both.” I wrote back in August that Smart was most likely a casualty of the thinking that “something needed to change” and it wasn’t going to be the Jays or Joe Mazzulla. There’s plenty of speculation over how quickly the team was able to pivot from Brogdon to Smart in that Porzingis trade.

Now I don’t think anyone realistically could have anticipated Jrue Holiday being available in the last week before training camp opened. So that certainly fell into their laps. Of course it is worth noting that the Celtics certainly put themselves in position to pounce if and when a situation like that popped up.


Is there a chance we can still stay under the second apron this year? With all the comings and goings I’ve lost track, at some point we could but has that ship sailed with the acquisitions?

I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed. They are above the 2nd apron now. The penalties, however, don’t start until next season. So they kind of have the rest of this year to squeeze in any additional additions if they are willing to pay the price.

(side note: I do miss having Keith Smith around to write lengthy articles explaining all this. He’s still around, and you can check out all his stuff on Spotrac.)

Frank Malzone

who will be in the low post on a regular basis this year?

Porzingis, probably. But what about Tatum? Brown? Holiday?

How about all of the above? Granted, I don’t think it will be a huge part of the offensive gameplan, but Mazzulla has talked repeatedly about having a curveball. Teams are going to switch out on our perimeter players which could leave some mismatches on the block.

I still like the idea of Tatum and Porzingis working out of the mid-post as well. They can look for their shot or if the defense collapses they can kick out to shooters or cutters.


It’s no secret that end of games, especially end of close games, was an issue for Boston last year. Much was made about slowing the game down and limiting the possessions and that most of it was on purpose. So my question is what ways can the Celtics improve their late game execution?

I can only give my own (theoretically educated) guesses. It might be as simple as trusting in the offense enough to run the same kinds of sets as they do the rest of the game. If something is working to get you a 10 point lead, I don’t know why you go away from it in the last 5 minutes.

However, if you really do need to slow things down and grind out the clock, the hope here is that we have more options beyond Tatum and Brown taking their man off the dribble. Maybe that means a pick-n-pop with Tatum and Porzingis. Or maybe Holiday can start off with the ball as Brown and Tatum come off screens to get open looks. And of course if all else fails, Holiday and Porzingis are simply better at creating their own looks than Smart, Brogdon, or Grant Williams were last year.

In short, there has to be less predictability. The team has more options now, so it is up to Mazzulla and his staff to put them in good positions and develop good closing habits.


Is it me or are the Celtics focusing a lot more on bench players this preseason than they did in previous years? Do you think that means they aren’t concerned about acclimating Kristaps and Jrue with the starters?

I don’t think they are overly worried about acclimating Holiday and Porzingis. They will have 82 games to gear up for the playoffs and they simply have so much talent that I’m pretty sure the wins will come even if they aren’t clicking on all cylinders right away.

With that said, I’ll point out that the preseason schedule was weird this year. Their first 3 games happened in 4 days, which just isn’t ideal for gearing up veterans after a long summer. So they strategically sat the stars to give the subs a longer look.


In terms of Minutes Per Game, the C’s have a clear Top 6, likely followed by Pritchard and Kornet at 7 and 8. Which players do you think will earn spots 9 & 10, and why?

I would put Hauser ahead of Kornet even though there’s less depth at the center position.

Beyond that, I think you could see a lot of Brissett (when we need rebounds) and Svi (when we need more shooting).


Will this team buy in to a defense first identity without Ime at the helm to hold their toes to the fire?

I think they will, but it has to start at the top. Mazzulla has to preach it, Tatum and Brown have to buy in, everyone has to play their roles. I’m also encouraged that they brought in Charles Lee from the Bucks. I have a feeling that he and Holiday can introduce a few wrinkles that have worked for them in the past.

I also think the team needs to mix and match their coverages as much as possible. That might mean using zone from time to time. Maybe switching up top but using drop in the paint. I enjoyed seeing the team try out some full court press in a recent preseason game as well. Whatever they can do to keep the other team off balance.


Which celtic player will be the MVP when they win the in-season tournament?

In past years this is where I would reflexively say Marcus Smart. Tatum is too obvious an answer. I could see Jaylen stepping up and balling out for a few games to get MVP honors. Note: I don’t even know if there is an MVP for the in-season tourney or how that would work.


Who is your 3rd big? and will this just be a see how it goes and address it at Trade Deadline or in buyout or based on who falls off other rosters.

Do we need a 4th guard?

Are Svi and Hauser redundant and is that OK?

Are Stevens and Brissett redundant and is that OK?

I’m good with Kornet for now, but targeting a big at the deadline would be smart.

I don’t think we necessarily need a 4th guard. Banton is fine for now as well.

I’m good with Svi and Hauser since you can’t have too much shooting.

I’m good with having more wing depth as well.

In short, our top 8-9 will play in the playoffs. The rest of these guys are just here to get us through the regular season.


Mazzulla often looked overmatched in the playoffs last year, but now he has a full coaching staff. What signs of hope have you seen in the preseason to indicate that Joe has gotten the help he needs? It would suck if we got crushed in the playoff chess match once again.

Honestly the biggest thing I’ve seen from Mazzulla thus far this year is humility. He seems to really understand where he struggled last year and knows what he needs to work on. That doesn’t mean he isn’t confident in his overall philosophy. He’s just had a summer to reflect and compare notes with Brad Stevens and others on the different decisions he made.

A prime example is him admitting that he didn’t emphasize defense enough last year. To outsiders like you and me it seemed evident that the defense was slipping (or at least inconsistent). But he didn’t think it needed to be stressed because it should have been obvious to everyone to give full effort on defense all the time. Now he knows that it needs to be preached throughout the season.

I do think voices like Charles Lee and Sam Cassell will help with that messaging as well. They’ve been around the league and have a feel for what works and when to push certain buttons with players (and no two players are exactly alike in how they respond to coaching).


It’s been fun to watch the competition between players with overlapping positions and potential roles (ie. Hauser and Mykhailiuk, Brissett and Stevens, Queta and Kornet) play out in the preseason. I’d feel pretty confident giving any of those players situational, spot minutes as end-of-bench options (For that 8-10 bench group, we’re probably looking at 20-25 combined minutes behind a “Top 7” of Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, Holiday, White, Horford, and Pritchard). My biggest concern at this point is what happens to our big man depth if either or both of the following happen:

1.) Al Horford starts to show his age. He should be able to shoot corner threes until he’s 40, but what makes Al special is his versatility as a defender and if he loses a step or two on that end, it will have a real impact on the team.

2.) Porzingis has looked terrific in limited preseason minutes but questions about his durability linger. With the way our roster is currently structured, if Porzingis misses extended time, you’re putting a lot more minutes and trust into the hands of Horford, Kornet, Queta, etc.

Either now or closer to the trade deadline, I’d love to see Brad use the Grant Williams TPE to provide a little more depth in the event either or both of those scenarios play out during the season. It’s not a hugely inspiring list of names the Celtics could go after, but the following players fit the profile of players that are theoretically attainable and fit within the TPE. Any takers?

- Andre Drummond

- Jalen Smith

- Goga Bitadze

- Dwight Powell (can’t be traded until Dec. 15)

I agree with your overall premise - if anything happens to one of our rotation bigs that is going to be a situation of concern. The team has more than enough talent to survive a few games or even a few weeks by plugging in Kornet or Queta. Longer than that would be a bigger issue but then again that could be said for any team and their top rotation players.

I would keep in mind, however, that 3rd string centers or bigs are pretty easy to find on the market. Starters and rotation bigs are hard to find and paid big bucks. Backups, not so much. I think if a need arises, the team can find someone on the market to sop up some minutes. Of course that means setting your expectations low. Just find a guy that has one big league skill (hopefully rebounding and/or defense) and accept the other limitations in his game.


How much (basketball x’s and o’s... not leadership) will Smart be missed and do you think the addition of Holiday can replace him?

If you take the leadership and camaraderie off the table, I’m not sure if there’s anything he did that Jrue Holiday can’t do better. They aren’t the same players but each are known for their defense and situational offensive contributions. Jrue is a better shooter and probably a better on-ball defender. Smart might have had the edge in help defense and passing but those aren’t exactly weaknesses in Holiday’s game. Smart had a knack for stepping up in big moments with heady “game winning plays.” But it is worth remembering that Jrue helped seal a championship with a steal and long distance alley-oop.

I will dearly miss Marcus Smart the person and I’ll miss rooting for him on the court. I’m just not worried at all about the on court product.


How many games into the season before the first sports writer refers to this year’s Celtics as a “juggernaut?”

Zero, because here I am ready to call them a juggernaut. I hope I count as a “sports writer.”


Payton Pritchard is 25 years old now and could almost be considered a grizzled veteran. In light of that, is it time for him to ditch the crew cut and, if so, what should his new hair style be?

Payton can rock whatever hair style he wants as long as he’s bombing away from long range and playing scrappy, in-your-face ball. With all of that said, I wonder how he would look if he adopted the Jason Williams cue-ball look. As long as he doesn’t try bouncing passes off his elbow.

Thanks for the questions everyone! Here’s to another preseason in the books. Let’s enjoy the season!

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