WALTHAM — Their system isn’t being tossed into the dumpster, but there will be changes.
“I want more aggression on sets overall, offensively and defensively,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said this week as his team prepared to enter training camp, which entered its second day Wednesday. “More pressure, more pace . . . ”
Pace is the key word. The Celtics were middle of the road in that category last season, ranking 15th (95.88 possessions per 48 minutes). The team also grinded out many halfcourt sets on the offensive end rather than having much fluid motion.
Stevens wants to change that, too, which means he wants his players to react and make their own decisions more than he wants to call plays and script everything.
In a way, he wants them to play like the San Antonio Spurs, at least in that fashion.
“Probably every team will refer to the beauty of the Spurs playing basketball last year, as you look at what makes them so good, they run great actions,” Stevens said.
“But there’s so many reads and looks that they make off them and they’re playing basketball. I think if you look at the best teams throughout the years here, a lot of people will refer to that ’86 [Celtics] team as a great passing team, a team that always made each other better, always made the right basketball play.”
“There’s a fine line,” he added. “You can’t script everything as a coach. This is a game that’s played fast and the more options you can give on the fly, the better. And part of my job, and part of the development side of things is, to get these guys to be in a position where they can learn, grow, and read and make plays on the fly.
“And that’s what I want to see. I want us to be not as scripted, grind it out, call a set every time down the floor, I want to see us read and react to five options on each little action.”
Of course, it takes time for players to learn. After all, the Spurs read and react so well in part because many of their players have been in that same system for many seasons.
“I’m going to have be patient a little bit,” Stevens said. “At the same time, these guys are smart guys, they’ve played the game for a long time. I’m not putting in 9,000 things. I’m going to put in the right amount, we’re going to break it down, we’re going to teach it, and we’re going to try to get as good as we can at it. And a lot of it is nuances or tweaks to what we did last year.”
After two days of camp, the players have noticed those tweaks.
“The pace is a lot faster,” said swingman Jeff Green. “[Stevens is] putting us in spots where we can succeed and get great shots. He’s putting everybody in a comfortable position rather than just trying to force the system on us.”
Said rookie guard Marcus Smart, “He’s trying to get us all together at one pace, everybody going at the same effort, day in and day out, and get the ball down the floor as quick as possible and get into our offense.”
So far, the reviews have been positive.
“Playing fast is good,” said forward Kelly Olynyk. “When I grew up watching those Phoenix Suns games with [Steve] Nash all the time, that’s something that’s tough to stop. That offense was tough to stop. When you play at that pace, keep defenses on their heels, they don’t know what’s coming, it makes it tough to stop.”
That’s not to say the Celtics will be blazing up and down the court like the Suns did with Nash at point guard. And it’s not to say that they’ll be piling up points at a rapid pace, either. But there’s an increased emphasis on speeding up the pace.
Forward Jared Sullinger even said the up-tempo practices have helped his conditioning. “There’s no choice but for me to get in shape,” he said.
But is what they’re trying to do now really all that different from last season?
“It’s not drastically different,” Green said. “I think it’s just simple. And I think that’s better.”
Stevens mentioned the Spurs’ style, but he also said the actions that the two teams run “will probably not be all that similar, because our stuff has got to be unique to our personnel, as every team’s does.
“But, yes, we want to be able to have four or five options on each action and we want those to be reads and we want them to get to the point where, like a quarterback is reading the defense, everybody can do that with the ball.”
That will be a harder task with starting point guard Rajon Rondo out for up to two months after breaking a bone in his left hand.
But as Rondo said on media day, “I’ll have a chance to sit and watch and learn the new system that Brad is putting in and be able to learn from the sideline standpoint vs. on the court right away.”