It's a good thing the NBA's preseason doesn't count for much, because the Boston Celtics and their 1-5 record have not exactly been putting the league on notice. The C's finally notched their first win with a drubbing of the New York Knicks' garbage-time team, but they lost a pair of heartbreakers to the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors by a combined four points.
Still, new coach Brad Stevens officially has his first win in the NBA and there is much more to like about Boston in Week 2 than there was in Week 1. The team is still nowhere near championship contention and the offense looks like it could be historically dreadful without Rajon Rondo, but some key players have stepped up and provided some much-needed relief on the offensive end of the floor.
Stevens is still tinkering with his lineups, but he seems to have found some success with players like MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford in the backcourt, while Jeff Green has begun to show some signs of life after a dismal start to the year.
The Celts' preseason is winding down with just two games remaining before 2013-14 officially tips off against the Raptors in Toronto, so let's take a moment to reflect on the winners and losers of Boston's Week 2.
Brooks' minutes have fluctuated wildly during the preseason, but he finally appears to have developed a rhythm and delivered great performances against Toronto and New York.
Brooks barely played against Brooklyn, but scored 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting against the Raptors and chipped in 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting against the Knicks.
As a volume scorer, there is just no way Brooks will be able to replicate this kind of efficiency for anything more than a game or two in the regular season, but he has made some adjustments to his game and looks like a better offensive player than he was in his tenure with the Nets.
He's still not a great outside shooter, but he has looked confident with his perimeter game and connected on a trio of triples against Toronto.
Over-dribbling is still an issue for Brooks, but at 6'5" he presents some mismatch problems when bringing the ball up the court and has a decent enough handle that he can log some spot minutes at the point if need be.
He's not going to be running phenomenal pick-and-roll plays or delivering show-stopping dimes, but Brooks can initiate an offense well enough that he deserves a shot while Rondo recuperates.
His defense is still shaky and will need to be improved going forward, but Brooks has played well enough on the offensive end of the floor that he should earn minutes right away and may supplant Avery Bradley in the starting lineup eventually. The C's need a guard that can attack the basket off the dribble and while Brooks may eat up an entire shot clock trying to fake out his defender he is at least capable of creating his own offense off the bounce.
Turnovers are an issue that need to be fixed, but Brooks is not used to this much ball-handling responsibility and he will certainly have some ups and downs running an offense after spending the first two years of his career as a 2-guard.
The Nets-Celtics rivalry is going to be lopsided in the short-term future, but the teams played a contentious preseason game in Brooklyn with the Nets prevailing 82-80.
Boston carried a three-point lead into the fourth quarter and nearly won the game on a last-second jumper from Courtney Lee that missed the mark.
In his first game against the Celtics since the blockbuster trade Paul Pierce posted just four points in 27 minutes, but contributed in other ways by snagging 10 defensive boards and dishing out five assists.
The Celtics received strong contributions from Jeff Green (finally), Kelly Olynyk and a particularly motivated Kris Humphries, who made his presence felt on the glass.
The atmosphere in the game was not particularly contentious, but obviously a preseason bout is very different than a regular season contest. Additionally, the crowd at the Barclays Center simply cannot harbor the same animosity that the Boston faithful will when they see the Pierce and KG clad in black Nets uniforms.
With the future of the Celtics so clearly tied to Brooklyn thanks to the three first-round picks acquired in the trade, Boston fans will surely be paying close attention to how the Nets fare this season and for the next few years to come.
While it is unlikely that the four matchups between these two teams are quite this close given the sheer talent disparity, expect to see the animosity and intensity ratcheted up as 2013-14 moves along.
Make no mistake, Phil Pressey looked terrific against the Knicks in Providence. Pressey scored efficiently, made some great passes and generally did all the things you’d want from a starting point guard in the NBA.
Unfortunately, he simply has not been the same guy since then, and suffered an ankle injury that will force him to miss at least one game, according to CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely.
As a young player coming into the league getting reps in the preseason is crucial, but Pressey will likely be at least somewhat hampered by the injury for the foreseeable future. He should still play, but he’ll be less effective than normal.
Not that Pressey had been playing great recently to begin with though. He had two scoreless outings against Brooklyn and Toronto, including a ghastly 0-for-7 performance against the Raptors.
Pressey is still a great passer and a capable ball-handler, but he’s had problems forcing the issue at times and has taken some questionable shots as a result of his forays into the paint.
He has done a respectable job to keep his turnovers low and not play too recklessly, but his familiar struggles to connect from outside have hindered his overall play.
A small guard like Pressey who thrives off penetration needs to be able to hit jumpers to keep a defense from backing off of him, and Pressey will need to work hard to hone his outside shot going forward.
Obviously the injury was not his fault, but with Crawford and MarShon Brooks playing well and even Courtney Lee showing some signs of life, Pressey is a clear loser for Week 2.
Olynyk started his rookie preseason slowly, misfiring on jumpers and scoring just eight points in his first two appearances.
However, he has rebounded nicely, scoring in double-digits for four straight games and posting 13 points and nine rebounds on 6-for-7 shooting in the narrow loss at Toronto.
Even after his phenomenal summer league showing, some adjustment was to be expected as Olynyk got used to NBA-level competition, and he seems to have found his rhythm.
He’s been extremely foul prone, earning disqualifications against Brooklyn and Toronto, but Olynyk has been more physical than many thought and that is certainly a good thing.
He’s also continued to show the skills that made him such a tantalizing prospect in the first place. While Olynyk has not been making it rain from distance, he has been more comfortable with his jumper, made some impressive passes and showed off a low-post prowess few players nowadays possess.
Olynyk has also been staggeringly efficient in Week 2, shooting 16-for-21 or 76.2 percent over the three games.
He’s been a terrific scoring option for Boston’s bench, and could actually make a very effective, if unconventional, sixth man playing behind Kris Humphries or Jared Sullinger.
It would be nice if he could find his stroke from beyond the arc, but Olynyk has been great without it and is a big winner for Week 2.
He’s averaging 11 points, 4.4 boards and 1.4 assists on 57.1 percent shooting in 22.6 minutes over his last five games.
After a dominant Week 1, Jared Sullinger fell back to Earth somewhat during Week 2. With his conditioning still not perfect, some regression was expected, but Sully was surprisingly ineffective against the Nets and Raptors.
With his tendency to take mid-range jumpers and threes a bit more than he should, Sully is never going to be the staggeringly efficient player he was at Ohio State, but he went just 4-of-13 against Toronto and missed all of his three-point attempts.
He played only 18 minutes against Brooklyn but was held to 2-for-6 shooting and failed to grab a single rebound.
Brooklyn is very good on the glass, but Sullinger figures to be either Boston’s first or second-best bet on the boards and the fact that he couldn’t carve out position against the Nets’ 7-footers is very troubling.
To add insult to injury he missed a potentially game-tying and fairly uncontested tip shot off a missed three from Crawford at the horn against Toronto.
While it’s nice that Sullinger has the confidence to take jumpers and it’s important for Boston’s spacing that he does, his biggest asset is his strength, which is stymied when he’s popping out for threes or launching pick-and-pop shots.
In Sully’s defense he has seen his minutes fluctuate somewhat, and he was counted on too much offensively against the Raptors given that he is still recovering and finding himself within Stevens’ offense.
Sullinger has still had a successful preseason overall, particularly coming off a troublesome back surgery, but fans are hoping his averages of 10.6 points, five rebounds and one assist on just 41.3 percent shooting will be improved upon with heavier minutes in the regular season.
Green has not played particularly well yet in the preseason, but at least in Week 2 he looked like a borderline competent NBA player, which is a major improvement on his Week 1 performance.
After spending the beginning of the preseason jacking up way too many jumpers, Green finally found his range somewhat and began making positive contributions on the offensive end of the floor.
He’s scored 36 points in the last three games and shot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc in the process.
While Green will primarily be used at the 3 his ability to play the stretch 4 and open up driving lanes will be crucial for Boston’s offense going forward. Without consistently knocking down his jump shots, Green will struggle to attack off the dribble and get all the way to the cup.
He is still not doing a good enough job of initiating contact and drawing fouls, going to the line just five times in Week 2, but he has at least shown flashes of the talent that seemed to blossom in the 2012 playoffs.
Green will likely be doing more playmaking in the regular season, and his poor assist-to-turnover ratio has been troubling, but he is adjusting to a completely new role and some struggles are to be expected.
He needs to improve as a team defender beyond just using his impressive athleticism, but Green’s reemergence as a viable scoring option earns him a win for Week 2 by the skin of his teeth.
The four players Boston brought in to compete for the 15th roster spot could all have been losers in Week 1 as well, but now that even more time has gone by without any of them getting a real chance it is undeniably clear that they are not going to be part of the C’s future.
The only one to contribute in any meaningful way this preseason has been Iowa State standout Chris Babb, who has appeared in four games and averaged four points and one rebound on 54.5 percent shooting.
Babb is a versatile defender and a reliable three-point threat, but he likely won’t catch on with a Boston team that already has too many combo guards and wing players who can’t really handle the ball.
The one big man Boston brought in, Damen Bell-Holter, has played four total minutes in the preseason and been a complete non-factor. Bell-Holter was a terrific rebounder and interior finisher at Oral Roberts, but there is virtually no way he earns a contract with the C’s.
Kammron Taylor and DeShawn Sims are two perimeter players who bring athleticism, outside shooting and toughness, but have not had much of a chance to make an impact either. Taylor stands a better chance because he can play the point, but that alone will not be enough to earn him a roster spot.
Add to all that the fact that Boston is dangerously close to the luxury tax and the idea of any of the four free agents inking a long-term deal effectively becomes an impossibility.
It may have taken three seasons, but we may be seeing what Jordan Crawford looks like in an offensive system that isn’t just “Hey Jordan, you should probably shoot the ball right now. Who cares if there are 15 seconds on the shot clock and you’re 28 feet from the hoop?”
Crawford couldn’t get much going against Toronto, but he looked very good against New York and Brooklyn.
He's a scoring guard primarily, but Crawford also has the ability to handle the ball and run a team's offense when he is focused and motivated.
He posted a 13-point, seven-rebound, three-assist line against the Knicks and followed that up with a 10-point, five-rebound, six-assist performance against the Nets.
Crawford is still turnover prone—he had 10 total during Week 2—but in Stevens’ offense he has looked like a semi-reliable ball-handler and someone who could actually help keep Boston’s offense afloat with Rondo out.
He has also looked more confident with his jumper, nailing three threes against the Knicks and two against the Raptors.
Crawford doesn’t need to become a deadeye spot-up shooter, but since he’s primarily a shoot-first guard it would be nice if he could at least hit a league-average from deep.
Before the preseason began it looked like Crawford would be the odd man out in Boston’s backcourt rotation. However, his impressive play during Week 2 might be enough to earn him consistent minutes if he can prove the hot shooting isn’t purely a fluke.
The C’s desperately need someone who can create shots for himself and teammates, and while Crawford’s game still has some glaring problems on the defensive end he might be the best option they have.