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BOSTON – The regular season will finally begin Wednesday night when the Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers. Before that game arrives, however, let’s take a look back at what lessons were learned while watching Boston’s exhibition games.
I’ve taken by five key takeaways from the preseason and explained them below. Fortunately for the C’s, these are all positives heading into the regular season.
Smart in Pick-and-Rolls
Nothing stood out more during Boston’s preseason than Marcus Smart’s play in the pick-and-roll. And nothing was more important.
Smart looks like a totally different player this season while running the NBA’s most popular play. He looks comfortable. He looks poised. He looks like a guy who’s seeing the floor and dictating the play to the defense, rather than the other way around.
Everyone knows that Smart must improve his shot, but what the Celtics really want to see from him this season is an improvement in pick-and-rolls and more aggressiveness in attacking the rim. Five preseason games have given us evidence that he’s already taken a huge step forward in the former.
Rookies can contribute
There wasn’t much excitement in Boston on draft night in June. In fact, there were even some boos at watch parties when the Celtics wound up selecting Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter with the 16th and 28th overall picks, respectively.
Those boos have quickly turned into cheers this preseason. Fans have quickly fallen in love with Rozier’s speed and athleticism, and he has also shot the ball incredibly well. Meanwhile, Hunter has looked much more like a lottery pick than a near-second rounder. He is playing with confidence and showcasing much better defense than anyone expected from him at this stage of his career. Jordan Mickey has also played well, but due to depth purposes, he seems to be less likely to make the rotation.
These guys have already proven that they can contribute this season. The question is, will they get the opportunity to do so?
Which leads me to my next takeaway: this team is deep. Really deep.
It’s almost a guarantee that Brad Stevens will give substantial playing time to 10 players on a nightly basis this season. Even refining the rotation to 10 players will be difficult. That would leave players of the caliber of Jonas Jerebko, Rozier, Hunter and others out of the rotation.
Stevens certainly won’t have an easy time limiting the rotation to 10 guys. Players who are left out of the rotation, meanwhile, are unlikely to take kindly to watching from the sideline. But if there’s one major positive to take from this depth, it’s that the Celtics should be able to maintain pace and energy for 48 minutes every single night.
Amir Johnson Is Legit
Danny Ainge gave Amir Johnson a substantial payday this offseason. We’re quickly understanding why.
Johnson isn’t a flashy player who’s going to put up monster numbers, but he’s just so solid in so many different areas. He’ll provide defense, rebounding, leadership, interior scoring, transition offense and efficiency to the team this season.
Johnson is a lot like Smart in the sense that his impact on a game cannot be measured purely by his statistics. Do yourself a favor and watch this guy closely this season, because he’s legit and will help this team in so many ways.
Bradley’s Finding the Corners
Last season, Avery Bradley made 39.5 percent of his corner 3-point attempts. Compare that to 33.2 percent from all other areas, and you’ll quickly realize where his hot zones are.
Boston really wants to get the ball into Bradley’s hands in the corner this season and it appears that such a goal is at the forefront of the shooting guard’s mind. Bradley attempted 21 3-pointers during the preseason and 12 of them were corner treys. He made 58.3 percent of his corner treys, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance from the left corner.
Bradley will still take plenty of 3s from the wings and the top of the key this season, but he’s clearly looking to take the majority of his 3s from the corners. That’s a good thing for him and the team.
Side note: Keep an eye on Bradley in transition this season. If the ball isn’t in his hands and it isn’t a two-on-one break, he should (and likely will) fly to the corners and spot up.