When the Boston Celtics acquired Al Horford and Dennis Schroder — two pass-loving veterans, who each averaged four or more assists per game, respectively, for the past three seasons — it added a dimension that the 2020-21 Celtics sorely lacked last season.
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Averaging 23.3 assists, per TeamRankings.com, Boston finished seventh in the NBA for fewest assists per game — which wasn’t surprising, considering its .500 regular-season record (36-36). Ball movement was a constant issue, for Boston last season.
When desperate, guys took matters into their own hands. Incorporating iso-ball — which, oftentimes, left the Celtics offense stagnant and led to contested shots and off-balanced attempts.
Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens understood better than anyone that a change was in order. Boston needed to reel in vets who could help whip the ball from side to side; encourage a well-balanced approach that would keep the offense in flux and lead to more open looks.
Ime Udoka: Celtics ‘Too Unselfish’ in Preseason Debut
“They were trying to be too unselfish. I had to tell them in the first two timeouts to take the shots when they’re there,” Udoka said after Monday’s win. “You know guys who have been aggressive their whole career were passing up open shots and might have listened to me too much in trying to be unselfish and pass up those shots. So, we told them to be aggressive; even if you’re missing. Dennis and some of those guys started moving and passing up some shots. We talked to them about that, especially at halftime, (we) said let them fly.
“This is what the preseason is for: get your legs and when you get the open shot take it.”
The Celtics shot at a 35% percent clip on 14-of-40 attempts from behind the 3-point arc, Monday night at TD Garden. It wasn’t the most impressive display of shooting, however, the number of open looks Boston had against the Magic was encouraging.
Guys like Jaylen Brown (4-of-12), Payton Pritchard (3-of-6), and Aaron Nesmith (2-of-3) let it fly most, for Boston. They also had a plethora of open looks to do so — which raises the question of which Celtics shooter will be reaping the benefits of these open looks?
Which Celtics Player Will Shoot Their Shot?
Josh Richardson, who the Celtics are hoping will reprise a role reminiscent of his early days with the Miami Heat, hasn’t shot above a 45% clip from deep since 2016. Still, he’s a candidate to becoming one of Boston’s most reliable shooters, this season, despite his slow start — two points on 1-of-8 from the floor, including 0-of-2 from 3 — against the Magic, Monday.
For a third-year guard still trying to find his footing in the NBA, Romeo Langford’s game-winning 3-pointer, coupled with a strong showing in Summer League, offers hope that he can piece his game together, this season. His role with the team remains unknown.
Nesmith, on the other hand, may have a better chance at filling that void due to his athletic build and progression as a young perimeter defender. He should be in line for more playing time in contrast to Romeo and if the sophomore point guard in Pritchard can find consistency in his outside touch; he could crystallize a final spot in Udoka’s rotation, this season.
Ime has options but which player will actually rise to the occasion?