Less than one week after training camp began, the Celtics will get their first look at live competition Monday when they face the Orlando Magic in a preseason game at TD Garden. Celtics coach Ime Udoka said that he is still in the experimentation phase and that one should not read into the lineup choices and rotation patterns he uses against the Magic.
“What you see Game 1 and Games 2 and 3 in preseason will probably look different every night,” Udoka said, “and I just want to see those lineups and see who stands out with different groups. Like I’ve said, it’s not just about the starters, it’s about finding the right balance off the bench and who plays well together, so we’re looking at that every day.”
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams are essentially locked into starting roles. Al Horford, Josh Richardson, and Dennis Schroder appear to be the most likely candidates for the fifth spot, and Udoka has hinted that there could be a rotation there based on matchups.
Here are a few things to watch as the preseason gets underway.
Jaylen Brown’s health
The All-Star forward missed the end of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. Brown said that he put more of an emphasis on film study as he recovered, and while he has been cleared to play without limitations, he does not feel fully healthy yet.
“Some days it’s like a little sore right now,” he said. “Nothing to really worry about too much. But just trying to keep it [healthy] and break through that scar tissue that’s still there. The wrist is one of the harder things to heal. It’s great that it’s my off-hand, but it still has a tremendous effect on my game, my shooting, my ball-handling, my defense, putting my hand in there [on defense].”
Marcus Smart’s playmaking
The Celtics traded starting point guard Kemba Walker to the Thunder and signed Schroder as a backup. But Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic, reached out to Udoka this summer and essentially requested more responsibilities as a playmaker.
Smart’s 3-point shooting has regressed in each of the past two seasons but he averaged a career-high 5.7 assists last year. And he will be surrounded by capable scorers.
“He’s a natural playmaker that can do some things,” Udoka said. “So we obviously want to find him and help him get guys shots. He understands the personnel on this team because he’s been here all these years so he knows what Jayson and Jaylen bring to the table and it’s his job to do more facilitating than he’s done in the past.”
Over the first week of training camp, several Celtics have commented on the team’s fast-paced approach. And that does not just include the guards.
Now that Tristan Thompson has been replaced by Horford, Boston has another big man who can ignite a fast break off the dribble. And the Celtics are becoming increasingly comfortable with Williams handling the ball, too.
“Al has shown that, throughout open gym and training camp, how he can really push the ball,” Udoka said. “And teams that have a big that can attack really put pressure on other teams.
“We’re encouraging our bigs to rebound, and our big wings to rebound, and not just find the point guards every time.”
Added Brown: “We got bigs who can run. We got guards who can get up and down the court. To me, that’s music to my ears.”
Jabari Parker, whose contract is not guaranteed , will likely have to battle to hang onto the 15th roster spot. The Celtics filled the end of their roster with several capable veterans.
Guard Ryan Arcidiacono spent four seasons with the Bulls before signing with Boston last month, averaging 4.8 points and 2.2 assists. Guard Garrison Mathews was on a two-way contract with the Wizards the last two seasons and averaged 5.5 points per game while connecting on 38.4 percent of his 3-pointers.
Boston signed undrafted free agent Sam Hauser to a two-way contract, but their second two-way slot remains empty, so there is a chance a player such as Mathews could be eligible for that slot. President of basketball operations Brad Stevens has said the team would likely wait until the start of the season to fill that opening after potential candidates have been waived by other teams.