It’s a good thing Summer League records don’t mean much, or the fanbase would be freaking out right now. Instead, it seems like we’re all pretty relaxed and our only concern is the delay in Jaylen Brown’s contract extension. We can talk about Brown another day though. Right now we actually have basketball to look back on.
The Celtics were exhausted New York Knicks in almost all categories. New York generated more screen assists, deflected more passes, recovered more loose balls and they contested more shots. It’s hard to win when the other team puts so much effort into doing the little things that add up throughout the game.
With several players boasting NBA experience on their roster, you’d assume the Celtics should be the team to commit to the smaller details. Still, outside of rebounding and boxing out, the Knicks put in the hard yards and reaped the benefits throughout the night.
#2 Celtics defense – they’re in the zone (said in EA Sports voice)
Another summer league game, another healthy dose of zone defense. Tony Dobbins and his coaching staff have clearly committed to experimenting with the zone during their time in Las Vegas, and the results are encouraging. Whether the decision to experiment so heavily came from Dobbins or is the work of Joe Mazzulla is something we’ll never know, but it’s clear that Boston is looking to emulate some of Miami’s success.
Part of what makes the Miami Heat so threatening when they go into their zone coverages is their ability to squeeze penetration, pressure the ball handler and shut down their lane/penetration ability. The Celtics have begun trying to incorporate a similar approach to Miami, though it appears they still need reps before they’ve mastered it.
The Celtics do a good job of denying the initial penetration, but fail to stop the secondary drive and allow a hole for the offensive ball handler to come through before finishing his scoring attempt. Becoming proficient in a new style of defense takes time. The fact that 90% of the Summer League roster won’t be in training camp also means they likely won’t fully adjust.
My biggest issue with Boston’s performance in Summer League is that several players have been in and around the NBA before. There is enough experience and talent in the rotation that silly mistakes should be kept to a minimum. But in the opening half of the game against New York, the Celtics consistently gave the ball away. Dalano Banton, JD Davison, Udoka Azubuike and Justin Champagnie — all players with time at the next level — each had two turnovers apiece.
It didn’t get much better in the second half as the Celtics committed nine more turnovers. The only difference is that Boston forced New York into eight turnovers of their own. I understand it. Summer League is messy, it’s chaotic, and the pace isn’t conducive to cerebral playmaking. Still, the biggest culprits for making errant passes are the same guys who are fighting for a chance to crack the rotation or at least be on the periphery next season.
#4 JD Davison showed scoring diversity
For most of his time in Las Vegas, JD Davison has looked like a line-line drive kind of finisher, with maybe a counter or two up his sleeve. Overall, Davison has looked one-dimensional when trying to get his own shot. We finally saw some variation in Davison’s offensive approach against the Knicks as he hit Euro Steps, baseline floaters and even knocked down a three as well.
This was my favorite bucket from Davison. If you follow his skills coach, Sean Marshall, on Instagram, you’ve likely seen the videos of Davison working to create space off the dribble. In the possession above, you can see that work pay off as Davison uses his shoulders to create separation before flowing into a mid-range pull-up and lacing the bucket.
#5 A beautiful team offensive possession
Last season, the Celtics had countless possessions where they would swing the ball around the perimeter without anyone cutting or screening, and it felt like they were moving the ball just to move it. On the possession below, the ‘Summer Celtics’ first team shows how it should be done.
Possession starts with dribble penetration and it ends with, you guessed it, dribble penetration. Every pass had a purpose as the Celtics looked to find the hole in New York’s perimeter defense before launching their offense. It may have been early in the game, but this possession was among my favorites of the night, and truly one of my favorites of Boston’s entire time in Las Vegas.
#6 Another new role for Jordan Walsh
In his last outing for the Celtics, Jordan Walsh was the featured player in Boston’s offense. This time, Walsh played a role that will likely be more in line with what we see from him in the NBA (if he’s not bringing the ball up the court).
Walsh continues to disprove any notion that he is a non-shooter and even looks like a player with smooth shooting mechanics. The rookie forward looks confident running close-outs along with some more complex ball handling, such as snatchbacks, and driving into traffic while keeping his dribble tight and under control.
So far, everything Walsh has been asked to do has been successful. It’s hard to say if Walsh will get much run with the Celtics next season, after all he is a second-round pick joining a contending team, but he’s done his chances to crack the rotation without injury with his continued solid performance in Las Vegas.
#7 Dalano Banton is confusing
We’ve only seen two games from Dalano Banton so far, but in those two games he’s given us as many reasons to like him as he has to be unsure. Banton’s size and length are certainly a plus, as is his nose for rebounding and willingness to pressure the rim. However, Banton has also shown a tendency to fall asleep on defense, make poor passing decisions and run himself into trouble instead of making the right read.
Unlike some members of the Summer League rotation, Banton will be with the Celtics next season. There’s a chance the 6’9” guard can thrive in a much more defined role. Nevertheless, his mixed performances in Summer League have left me confused as to whether he will be a valuable member of the rotation or just a body on the bench to put up numbers.
#8 Zipper Actions
Under Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics used Zipper actions when running inbound plays. A zipper action is simple to run and easy to perform. Simply put, a zip action is a downward screen near the baseline where an off-ball player makes a straight vertical cut toward the top of the perimeter.
Dobbins has used similar actions during Summer League, which tells me we’ll likely see similar inbound plays during the regular season.
I tried to think of a witty headline for this takeaway, but no dice. Champagnie has been OK during the Summer League. There are stretches where the third-year forward looks like the best player on the field (as he should) and others that make you wonder why he’s out there in the first place.
Throughout the first half of the game against New York, Champagnie was a net neutral asset on the floor. He didn’t make any mistakes, but he also didn’t add much value to the rotation. But the second half saw Champagnie grow into the game, registering 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the rim.
Champagnie had a similar outing in Boston’s game against Los Angeles Lakersand while he can get away with the slow starts in Summer League., he will need to find a level of consistency if he wants to earn a role off the Celtics bench this coming season.
#10 Jay Scrubb needs to show some defense
Jay Scrubb is clearly the best offensive talent on the Celtics Summer League roster. Scrubb can score at all three levels, he’s aggressive, he’s poised going downhill, and best of all, he’s fearless. But without proving himself on the defensive end of the floor, Scrubb will struggle to convince the Celtics or any other NBA team that he’s worth a legitimate role in their rotation.
Scrubb is clearly talented enough to be a microwave scorer in the NBA and could get buckets for any team. The question is, can he hold his own on defense enough that he’s not just an empty-calorie goalscorer? Because that will be the question he will have to answer if he wants to hang around in the NBA for years to come.