As the Boston Celtics restart the NBA season, they’ll be relying on their youth to fill key roles. That’s normally a precarious position in the playoffs, but Boston’s youngsters have benefited from the pause of the season.
Brad Stevens said that several of his rookies have improved their games. Stevens said he doesn’t have all the stats on players making their biggest jumps from their rookie season to their second season, but that his experience says “that is probably the case. Your head is spinning so much in the first year. It was the same for me in my first year in the NBA as a rookie coach.”
Stevens called out rookie guards Tremont Waters and Carsen Edwards as two players who have shown improvement to him. On Waters, Stevens said “He can make you look bad if you’re not focused. He’s pretty special at that.”
Edwards also looks more comfortable, as Stevens said the Purdue product “looked confident with his shot and had a terrific Day 1 of practice.”
Young big man Robert Williams was first at the podium today and said he feels good as the season resumes. Williams was asked if the hiatus gave his hip a chance to recover and he nodded “It did help in my recovery. I was doing good, but I mostly took it to get my body ready and come back with a good mindset.”
Williams said he feels like he’s quicker than he’s ever been in his NBA career and he believes that will help him, especially as a perimeter defender.
Stevens echoed those thoughts when asked about Williams, saying “He looks like an older player now. His communication is great. He’s really improved in our pick-and-roll defense.”
As for his plans for Williams, now that the center is health, Stevens said he can go back to the way he wanted to use him at the start of the season. Stevens had hoped to use Williams to give the team some versatility and flexibility at the five and that “He’s got great vertical athleticism. Hopefully he maintains good health. When he’s had his opportunity, he’s had some moments.”
Williams, Waters and Edwards, along with Grant Williams and Romeo Langford are getting lots of reps in these first few practices according to Stevens. The coach said the team went very hard today after taking it a little easy over the first couple of days of practice. For each of the rookies Stevens said he has seen improvement and that they’ve all had good moments.
The Celtics practicing hard and the presence of the rookies allowed Stevens to give Kemba Walker the day off as a rest day. Stevens said there is no concern with Walker and that is all part of his progression. The team plans to be cautious with Walker throughout the training camp and the eight seeding games. The hope is to have Walker at his best when the playoffs start in mid-August.
Walker has missed several games this season due to knee soreness. Boston had previously said the soreness was something they expected to have to manage for the rest of the season. It seems to still be the case as the team chases a championship.
Bringing home Banner 18 seems to be a team-wide mindset. Smart said the Celtics aren’t focused on seeding or who they play. He said the lack of home court advantage means the best team should win: “This is good. You can’t complain. Nobody has their home court. This is all fair game for everybody. Check the ball up and let’s play.”
Smart also talked about his desire to be part of a bigger change in the world beyond basketball when the season restarts. Smart said he will wear “Freedom” on the back of his jersey. He had hoped to be able to put his own saying on the back, but understands why that wasn’t allowed. If he had been allowed, he would have worn “I Matter” on the back of his jersey.
Lastly, Smart talked about the team building a bond while in the “bubble” at Walt Disney World. He said the Celtics have been spending time together playing video games and doing outside activities. Smart was the latest in a line of Celtics that includes Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Enes Kanter to talk about the team’s fondness for each other. Smart said that will definitely pay off when the season resumes.
That bond was evident when the Celtics talked about how much they are going to miss assistant coach Kara Lawson, who was recently named the Women’s Head Coach at Duke University. Stevens, Smart and Williams all talked about the bond they had built with Lawson and what a great coach she has been for Boston. Smart smiled when talking about her being his specific coach and how he knows he can go to her whenever he needs for advice. All three said the entire team is happy for her and will be rooting for her success at Duke.