It’s a good thing Summer League records don’t mean much, otherwise, the fanbase would be freaking out right now. Instead, it would appear we’re all rather relaxed, with our only point of concern being the delay in Jaylen Brown’s contract extension. We can talk about Brown another day, though. Right now, we have actual basketball to look back at.
The Celtics were out-hustled by the New York Knicks in almost every category. New York generated more screen assists, deflected more passes, recovered more loose balls, and they contested more shots. It’s hard to win when the other team is putting in so much effort to do the little things that pile up throughout the game.
With multiple players boasting NBA experience on their roster, you would assume the Celtics should be the team to commit to the minor details. Yet, outside of rebounding and boxing out, the Knicks put in the hard yards and reaped the benefits throughout the night.
#2 Celtics defense - they’re in the zone (said in the EA Sports voice)
Another Summer League game, another healthy dosage of zone defense. Tony Dobbins and his coaching staff have clearly committed to experimenting with the zone during their time in Las Vegas, and the results are encouraging. Whether the decision to experiment so heavily has come from Dobbins or is a remit from Joe Mazzulla is something we’ll never know, but it’s clear Boston is looking to mimic some of Miami’s success.
Part of what makes the Miami Heat so threatening when they go into their zone coverages is their ability to pinch on penetration, pressuring the ball-handler and closing down their driving lane/ability to penetrate. The Celtics have started attempting to incorporate a similar approach to that of Miami, although it appears they still need reps before they’ve mastered it.
The Celtics do a good job of denying the initial penetration but fail to stop the secondary drive and allow a gap for the offensive ball-handler to get through before he finishes his scoring attempt. Becoming proficient at a new style of defense takes time. The fact that 90% of the Summer League roster won't be there at training camp also means they probably won’t fully adapt.
My biggest gripe with Boston’s Summer League performance is that multiple players have been in and around the NBA before. There is enough experience and talent within the rotation that silly mistakes should be kept to a minimum. Yet, in the opening half of the game against New York, the Celtics consistently gave the ball away. Dalano Banton, JD Davison, Udoka Azubuike, and Justin Champagnie — all players with time at the next level — each had two turnovers apiece.
It didn’t get much better in the second half, as the Celtics committed a further nine turnovers. The only difference is Boston forced New York into making eight turnovers themselves. I get it. Summer League is messy, it’s chaotic, and the pace isn’t conducive to cerebral playmaking. Yet, the biggest culprits for making errant passes are the same guys fighting for a chance to crack the rotation or at least be on the periphery next season.
#4 JD Davison showed scoring diversity
For the majority of his time in Las Vegas, JD Davison has looked like a straight-line drive kind of finisher, with maybe one or two counters up his sleeve. All in all, Davison has looked one-dimensional when trying to get his own shot. We finally saw some variance to Davison’s offensive approach against the Knicks, as he hit Euro Steps, baseline floaters, and even knocked down a three too.
This was my favorite bucket from Davison. If you follow his skills trainer, Sean Marshall, on Instagram, you’ve likely seen the videos of Davison working on creating space off the dribble. In the above possession, you can see that work paying off, as Davison uses his shoulders to create separation before flowing into a mid-range pull-up and lacing the bucket.
#5 A beautiful team offensive possession
Last season, the Celtics had countless possessions where they would swing the ball around the perimeter with no one cutting or screening, and it felt like they were moving the ball just to move it. On the below possession, the ‘Summer Celtics’ show the first team how it should be done.
The possession starts with dribble penetration, and it ends with, you guessed it, dribble penetration. Every pass had a purpose, as the Celtics looked to find the gap in New York’s perimeter defense before launching their attack. It may have been early in the game, but this possession was among my favorites of the night, and in truth, on of my favorites from Boston’s entire time in Las Vegas.
#6 Another new role for Jordan Walsh
In his last outing for the Celtics, Jordan Walsh was the featured player in Boston’s offense. This time around, Walsh played a role that will likely be more aligned with what we see from him in the NBA (barring him bringing the ball up the court.)
Walsh continues to disprove any notion of him being a non-shooter and is even looking like a player with smooth shooting mechanics. The rookie forward looks confident in driving close-outs, along with some more complex ball handling, such as snatchbacks, and driving into traffic while keeping his dribble tight and under control.
So far, everything Walsh has been asked to do, he’s succeeded. It’s hard to tell whether Walsh will get much run with the Celtics next season, he’s a second-round pick joining a contending team, after all, yet he’s done his chances of cracking the rotation no harm with his continued solid performances in Las Vegas.
#7 Dalano Banton is confusing
We’ve only seen two games from Dalano Banton so far, but in those two games, he’s given us as many reasons to like him as he has to be uncertain. Banton’s size and length are certainly a plus, as his nose for rebounding and willingness to pressure the rim. However, Banton has also shown a tendency to fall asleep on defense, make bad passing decisions, and run himself into trouble rather than make the right read.
Unlike some members of the Summer League rotation, Banton will be with the Celtics next season. There’s a chance that in a far more defined role, the 6’9’’ guard can thrive. Nevertheless, his mixed showings in Summer League have left me confused as to whether he will be a valuable member of the rotation or just a body on the bench to make up numbers.
#8 Zipper actions
Under Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics utilized Zipper actions when running inbounds plays. A Zipper action is simple to run and easy to execute. Simply put, a Zipper action is a down screen near the baseline, where an off-ball player makes a straight-line vertical cut toward the top of the perimeter.
Dobbins has been using similar actions during Summer League, which tells me we’re likely to see similar inbounds plays during the regular season.
I tried to think of a witty headline for this takeaway, but no dice. Champagnie has been OK during Summer League. There are stretches where the third-year forward looks like the best player on the court (as he should), and others that make you wonder why he’s out there in the first place.
Throughout the first half of play against New York, Champagnie was a net neutral asset on the floor. He didn’t make any mistakes, but he also didn’t bring much value to the rotation. Yet, in the second half, Champagnie found himself growing into the game, registering 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the perimeter.
Champagnie had a similar outing in Boston’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, and while he can get away with those slow starts in Summer League., he will need to find a level of consistency if he wants to earn a role off the Celtics bench in the upcoming season.
#10 Jay Scrubb needs to show some defense
Jay Scrubb is clearly the best offensive talent on the Celtics Summer League roster. Scrubb can score on all three levels, he’s aggressive, he’s posied when getting downhill, and best of all, he’s fearless. However, without proving himself on the defensive side of the floor, Scrubb will struggle to convince the Celtics, or any other NBA team, that he’s worth a legitimate role within their rotation.
Scrubb is clearly talented enough to be a microwave scorer in the NBA and could get buckets for any team. The question is, can he hold his own on defense enough that he isn’t just an empty-calorie scorer? Because that’s going to be the question he needs to answer if he wants to hang around the NBA for years to come.