Hornets Sting Celtics to In Pre-Season Opener

To kick off the pre-season the Boston Celtics opened against the Charlotte Hornets in the confines of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Under the college atmosphere, the Dean Dome was packed with not light blue shirts to start, but kelly green. Bostonians travel well to see their team now happy and healthy, and while they did not come away victorious, even in the closely contested 97-104 Hornets win did the Celtics walk away with all the more reasons to feel supremely confident going into what should be a stellar season.

The starters did not come out guns a blazing. For the entire game Boston’s issues shooting the ball primarily seemed that of rust. As a team they shot 19.1 per cent from deep; the starters finished 5 of 21 – third year perimeter player Jaylen Brown lead the starters with three makes from deep off eight attempts.

Outside of Kyrie Irving, the starters didn’t really impress. Gordon Hayward, who just under a month ago began competing in 5-on-5 scrimmages, did not seem sluggish running up and down the floor, but his timing defensively seemed off and his jump shot was anything but automatic. His less than ideal 2 for 7 shooting did not deter him from scoring 10 points mostly from the free throw line, of where he went 5 of 7 in 23-minutes on the floor.

Irving was the only Celtic who looked in control and settled early on. Breaking the ice early with a fantastic left handed lay-up, controlling his dribbling and body just perfectly to kiss it off the glass. Irving was afraid to let it fly, being that it’s the pre-season I do not know if i can blame him. Taking four long twos, 10 shots in total and six threes, the 26-year-old point guard had just 9 points as he was outplayed slightly by his UConn counterpart Kemba Walker.  

The stars of the game was the Celtics bench unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris enjoyed the free flowing spacing that’s become a staple of Brad Stevens’ offense, using the exhibition nature of the contest to play a looser brand of individual basketball that wouldn’t be excused in a more competing setting. The two shoot-first bench players were 10 of 21 combined for 23-points. It was the bench units led by them, sparking a large 20-point Celtics lead with under 3-minutes left in the first half. Aided by Aron Baynes two solid putbacks off Celtic misses, Boston wasn’t pushed around on the boards until the very end when the end of the bench finished the game.

It was two-way contract player Walter Lemon Jr who scored Boston’s last five of their six points, as Charlotte put the clamps on Boston to edge them out in a good game that of course is very meaningless.

Robert Williams, Guerschon Yabusele and Brad Wanamaker moonlighted for a time very late, but didn’t do anything particular of note besides take spot up shots and set screens. Perhaps in the follow up matchup against these two teams on Sunday they’ll be more time for the end of the rotation personnel to shine.

The Warriors Achillies Heels

Remember when the Miami Heat repeated as champions in 2013 and the rest of the NBA cowered under their boots? Seems so long ago. Little did we know how gentile Miami’s foundation was. Behind the Herculean efforts of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Miami laid waste to a league unable to contain either of them. So what eventually brought these titans down? Age… specifically, D-Wade’s. And Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and various other role players who provided key assistance in championship runs in the past fossilized over the course of a summer.

Coming off their second straight championship, their third in four seasons, the Golden State Warriors possess the same hubris and internal flaws that’ll surely bring them down… one of these days. Perhaps it’ll be this year their eagerly awaited demise arrives and the NBA will ceased to be “ruined” and return to a nirvana that never really existed.

Forget the noise surrounding the DeMarcus Cousins signing. The reason no one offered anything significant, which lead to this apparently earth shattering deal is because historically Cousins is a moody player and relies heavily on athleticism to get his points. Coming off an achilles injury he’ll be rehabbing until February and there’s no telling what he’ll look like once he returns to the hardwood. At best, Cousins is a complete zero on defense. Will Steve Kerr be able to inspire constant effort on the defensive end when previously there was never any? He’s more likely than to squeeze that out of the similarity egotistical, aging star Carmelo Anthony than Cousins.

The departures of veteran centers David West and ZaZa Pachuila hurt this team more than we’re letting on. Even Pachuila was still setting quality screens and effective in the pick-and-roll (1.32 points per possession)in a noticeably down year. West, though pushing 37, is the superior passing big and a clear-cut professional. West was also an alternative to Draymond Green as the Swiss-army knife in a small-ball lineup when Kerr wanted to rest Green. With that option gone, you’ll see an awful lot of Kevin Durant at center. Which isn’t bad, but there’s a reason the Al Horford’s and Anthony Davis’s of the world don’t like playing the position – it’s awfully taxing on the body to have people Cousins’s size jump on your back every thirty-seconds. With K.D pushing thirty, a history of injuries to his lower body, is it wise for Kerr to put his star through the ringer in such a manner?

The other free agent signing of former Utah Jazz Jonas Jerebko performs better as a stopgap center than Cousins. Yes. That is something I just said. You want to know why? Because it’s true. I’ve watched Jerebko play during his time in Boston and let me tell you, he’s a great hustler. Surely able to guard the likes of backup power forwards and centers such as Montrezl Harrell, Trey Lyles, Patrick Patterson and maybe even slow footed starters like Tobias Harris.

A frequent spot-up shooter, his 49.1 freq% rate last season was higher than Danny Green. Jerebko posted a solid 1.12 PPP in spot-up situations, and 41.4% from three-point land on 2.1 attempts per game. His lone season was Jerebko’s finest, I expect nothing less from him in Golden State.

To discuss the situation in the backcourt, I can in no way explain how fucked the Warriors are if Stephen Curry misses 30-games again. The price never dipped far enough for Wayne Ellington for the Warriors to offer the $5.3 million they have to Cousins; Ellington later signed a $6.3 million deal to stay in Miami. And they drafted Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans, someone who acts more as a specialist 3-and-D personnel rather than a playmaker like Villanova guard Jalen Brunson would’ve acted as if selected. Evans did maintain a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Cincinnati.

Curry doesn’t just shoot threes. He passes, creates constant movement in the offense and raises havoc in opposing defenses. With him on the bench it’s easier quell the likes of Durant or spot-up shooter Klay Thompson. It’s astonishing they didn’t just offer a pick to Boston for Terry Rozier just to see if Danny Ainge bit.

There is no playmaker besides Curry on this Warriors team that can conceivably play point guard. As great as Shaun Livingston is, he’s pushing 33 and his assist total last season was just 2. He’s a fine placeholder for Curry – for now. Will he be this year? An awful lot depends on it.

The Good, The Bad, The Meh

We are in a time of the year where everyone is still in love with their teams. Ask any Celtic fan, they wouldn’t give up Guerschon Yabusele unless it was to guarantee them an All-Star in the process. The water is still warm, stats speaking louder than results because their hasn’t been any action for months.

Little do we know what lays ahead for our teams. But we can read the various tealeaves, there’s a team that was one game away from knocking off the Warriors, only to fall to a statistical anomaly.

The Good, The Bad, The Meh

The Bad:

The Houston Rockets are the first team I want to touch on. They are on the downswing, falling from title contenders to mere pretenders thanks to the losses of veteran forwards Trevor Ariza (Phoenix) and Luc Mbah a Moute (Los Angeles). In their place, journeymen James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams and the recently acquired Carmelo Anthony have big shoes to fill. Any viable option to defend Durant is gone, replaced with players who barley graze the bar of average and, in Anthony’s case, a washed up has been.

It’s a damn shame. The entire Rockets franchise is a damn shame. So much losing on one squad, neither the brilliance of Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Chris Paul could conquer their demons. Arguably, if the ownership of Tilman J. Fertitta wasn’t as tight with his pocketbook as previous owner Leslie Alexander, Houston would be the odds on favorites to dethrone Golden State. Unfortunately, for Houston, Fertitta is one of those capitalist who merely bought the team because he could and wanted to elevate his status in his social circle. That’s why the Rockets are in the middle of an awkward, bone-chilling stare-down with center Clint Capela instead of just paying him like the Celtics did Marcus Smart earlier this week. Morey has to squeeze Capela for every penny in these negotiations because this expensive team is already laying down the groundwork to cutting cost in the future.

The Good:

A team on the upswing is the Utah Jazz. They haven’t done very much other than draft Duke shooting guard Grayson Allen, who averaged 10 points in Summer League despite shooting just 6-of-29 from the field. Showing the ability to get under the opponents skin like he did at Duke.

Fairly above-average at every position, Utah is well positioned to take the mantle of second best in their conference. While the contingent of perimeter players Alec Burks, Thabo Sefolosha, Royce O’Neal, Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder leave much to be desired, you could do worse. Thabo and Crowder can defend their positions predominantly well, as Ingles is an elite shooter, making 44% of his threes.

Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors enjoyed bounce back years – Favors especially, his 56.3 field goal percentage ranks ninth in the NBA. While his fit next to the dynamic center Gobert remains unfounded, Favors rebuilt himself from the injury riddled power forward who saw his value depreciate over the years. Rubio soared in production after the All-Star Break, three-point percentage jumping from 32.4 to 40.9, postings +16.9, averaging 15 points per game. Rubio can defend Stephen Curry fairly well.

The Meh:

To round this column out, the Philadelphia 76ers, 50-Game winners the previous season are lucky if they’re to reach that mark next season. Losing Ersan Ilysova in free agency, trading backup center Richaun Holmes and promising forward prospect Timothe Luewawu-Cabarrot. Not that they helped a whole bunch last season, it’s possible they’d take a considerable leap this year. Their most notable additions Mike Muscala and rookie Zhaire Smith aren’t projected to be better then what Philadelphia lost at least for this season. Smith can defend, but his offensive game is lacking. As for Muscala, his effects on offense is a little overstated. Ersan played solid defense aided mostly by his effort, but Muscala is a complete liability.

The Sixers possess the best 1-2 combos in the conference, but are so underwhelming everywhere else the buyout market is going to be where management looks for the second consecutive year to raise their ceiling. The addition of Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler is a nice pick-up. Though the last thing Philly needed was a wing who could not shoot, the floor will be incredibly cramped as the only floor spacers will be star Joel Embiid and shooter J.J Redick. If number one overall pick Markelle Fultz sophomore year is to be loss, then it be wise of Brett Brown to consider starting the young T.J McConnell at point guard as his growth as a scorer and creator is a potential ace in the Sixers hole.

Philadelphia is set for the next however many years the Simmons/Embiid duo are together. They needed just one player to make them serious title contenders in the east, that player SHOULD have been Nemanja Belicja, who spurned Philadelphia last minute to apparently sign in Europe, then Vlade Divac of Sacramento offered him 3-years at $20.5 million.

I feel terrible labeling the Sixers off-season as a failure, even though it is, because they tried and seemed to have come out on the other side of the Jerry Colangelo burning account fiasco as fine as possibly can be. They swung big and whiffed on just every pitch. It won’t be the same story in the future, but it’s another year the Sixers reasonably could have grabbed control of the league is lost.