Following a rocky start to the season, Luke Kornet stepped up for the Boston Celtics on Saturday night. In their 124-114 win over the Brooklyn Nets, the 7-foot-2 big man was a key factor off the pine.
During the offseason, Joe Mazzulla, Brad Stevens, and the Celtics were adamant about rolling with Kornet heading into the season. They made their confidence in him evidently clear, and his performance against Brooklyn validated their thought process.
“Just honestly having the opportunity to get out and play because, the offseason, no matter how short or long it is, it feels really long,” Kornet said when asked about playing with a sense of fun. “And once you get back out playing, it’s a lot of fun just to get back to getting those juices flowing and your brain working and try to figure it out.”
Kornet played 14:48 - his most in a game yet this season. He put up 11 points, seven rebounds, and one steal while shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
He scored his points primarily off cuts and in the pick-n-roll, putting himself in perfect positions to score under the basket. For the first time this season, Kornet looked comfortable. His decision-making off the ball was picture-perfect.
“It’s just kind of going back and looking at the decisions I made,” Kornet said when asked how he judges his play. “That’s working with [assistant coaches] Charles [Lee] and Amile [Jefferson] and just kind of seeing where that is.”
And while counting his stats popped off the page against Brooklyn, the numbers often don’t play a part in Kornet’s evaluation process.
“It’s funny because sometimes I could feel just as solid about decisions I made in a game where [I score] 11 points vs. a game where it was zero,” he said. “And it just changes night to night. So it really is going back and looking at the decisions and my energy level and how aggressive I’m being.”
During training camp, Mazzulla emphasized how comfortable Kornet is in the Celtics’ defensive scheme, and the same can be said about his play within their offense.
Kornet’s a role player. But not the type of role player who will seamlessly step into a bigger role when the moment tries to force him to.
The big man looked disappointing in the preseason, but part of that problem was the expectation that he’d elevate his game into that of a scorer and primary offensive hub. In order for Kornet to be at his best, he needs to be playing next to high-level players. When put in those spots, he’s great at filling the gaps.
“I think Jrue and KP are just awesome guys to play with,” Kornet said. “They do an awesome job of using their abilities but also being aware of everyone else’s. And I feel like it just kind of magnifies our team. It’s just been a lot of fun playing with them.”
Having a “know-your-role” guy like Kornet is a valuable commodity. Kornet will likely never be a starting-level player, but that’s not what the Celtics need him to be. They need him to play his role, position himself correctly on the floor, and play with energy.
In the Celtics’ first few games of the season, they let their talent shine through rather than leaning into the connectivity that will take their team to the next level.
“I feel like we’ve done a better job of doing that in the last two games,” Kornet said of playing with togetherness. “Some team will come and find a different challenge, and we just got to kind of figure out that one from there. So that’s kind of the playing of the game, and you just got to figure it out as best you can and as quick as you can.”
Kornet’s showing against may not be replicable on a night-to-night basis, but it doesn’t have to be. The stats aren’t nearly as important as Kornet’s knowledge of the Celtics’ on-court goals.
If he can continue to play within the system the Celtics have set up, Mazzulla should feel more than comfortable rolling with him when he needs to.