Welcome back, basketball fans.
The NBA preseason is in the books, and the Boston Celtics are ready to begin Year 2 of the Brad Stevens era. As you count down the final hours until tipoff, take a spin through our season preview to find out what to expect from this year’s Celtics squad.
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A Rondo return?
Everyone expected Rajon Rondo to be the talk of the preseason but for much different reasons. Rondo’s broken hand and ensuing rehab dominated conversation and cast the spotlight on rookie Marcus Smart, whom most pegged as the Celtics’ starting point guard with Rondo on the shelf. That much is true — head coach Brad Stevens said last week Smart will start opening night if Rondo cannot go — but it now looks very likely that Rondo will, in fact, be on the court when the Celtics tip off Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets. The four-time All-Star has been predictably cryptic regarding his status, however, and said Tuesday he will not make his final decision until shortly before game time.
Starting with a bang
Stevens eased his way into the world of NBA coaching last season, lucking out with early-season games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic. This year? Not so much. The Celtics play 11 of last season’s 16 playoff teams before the end of November, and their initial stretch arguably is the league’s most difficult:
Stevens called this schedule “a gauntlet” last week. We won’t disagree with that.
This murderers’ row of opponents also features some of the NBA’s best point guards, which makes potentially having Rondo back in the fold all the more important. Smart had his worst game of the preseason when he lined up opposite Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, and having to do so against the likes of Deron Williams, Lowry, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Eric Bledsoe all in the span of just a few games might be too much for such an inexperienced player to handle. Smart has skills, especially on the defensive end, but he will be much better off beginning his career on the bench.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
After shuffling through seemingly endless lineup combinations last October and November, Stevens wasted little time settling on his starting five for this season. The tandem of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk has been set almost from the get-go, with Sullinger starting all eight preseason games and Olynyk starting seven. It’s a small frontcourt duo, for sure, but it’s one the team hopes can further its goal of spacing the floor and being more dangerous from 3-point range.
Avery Bradley also has been a constant at the two — he started all eight exhibitions there — and has not been shy about putting up shots. His 80 preseason field goals ranked third on the team behind Sullinger and Marcus “Jordan Crawford 2.0” Thornton, and his 46.9 percent mark from behind the arc trailed only Sullinger’s.
Jeff Green, the Celtics’ leading scorer last season, returned to his usual spot at small forward after missing the first four games with a calf injury. Stevens said Green likely will see time at the four, as well, in order to open up minutes for Evan Turner, who also could see some time at point guard in some sets.
Photo via Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports Images