And for good reason. There are too many factors that can play into the success or failure of a preseason game that have no bearing on the games that actually count. Still, what we can do is keep watching and note some particular points of interest from one game and see if any pattern emerges.
Last night, there were quite a few moments worth discussing:
Not only were the Celtic point guards pressuring the ball like crazy last night, but that pressure was paying dividends. You could easily chalk it up to the pointguards’ hunger for real, organized basketball but in time this might end up being a new Celtics’ strategy. Rajon Rondo was exceptional at applying on-ball pressure as Philadelphia’s ball handlers haplessly tried to push the ball up the floor.
The pressure was not the only noticeable addition to Rondo’s game. When the camera first panned to Rondo bringing the ball up the court, the image prompted my girlfriend to exclaim, “He looks big!” And it’s true. Rondo’s arms look substantially larger than they did last year. Aside from feeling totally emasculated by Rajon Rondo (nothing new), this transition may be the most interesting part of a player’s progression through his NBA career. The transition to which I am referring is the one from stringy, deer-in-headlights, rookie to completely grizzled veteran. Rondo made the official jump last year from “flashes of brilliance” to outright star but he still did not look like a guy who had been around the block. Last night, Rondo did not just look like he had been around the block- he looked like he owned it.
Perhaps what exuded this “grizzled veteran” persona even more than the perceived added strength was the way Rondo displayed his confidence. Usually, Rondo does not lack confidence when it comes to throwing a crosscourt pass and trusting in his teammates to know what to do with it. Last night’s confidence was different. In the third quarter, there were at least three instances where Rondo took it upon himself to post-up Jrue Holiday. This facet of Rondo’s game was always mentioned in passing but had never become a reality. The results were mixed but again, we cannot really derive anything definitive out of preseason performances. I am eager to see if the Rondo post-up finds its way into the playbook- especially against the East’s little guys like Holiday, Jameer Nelson, and Darren Collison.
I was wrong about Semih Erden. I have previously referred to the Celtics new man in the middle as a “world-class stiff”. Let me rephrase. Semih Erden is a “world-class” stiff.
He is still a stiff, but the guy knows how to play basketball. Erden may have trouble getting off the floor but he plays well with a team, has great hands, and finds himself at the right spots on the court at the right time. Erden was also very efficient from the floor last night, going 3-for-3 and shooting well from the line (7-for-8). Unlike most centers, let alone ones that are new to America, Erden does not look tentative and his teammates seem to like him on the court.
There is not a whole lot more the Celtics could ask of their fourth-string center.
Unfortunately, people do not really start tabulating numbers until the regular season but from the naked eye, the game looked fast. From top to bottom, first string to third, the Celtics looked like they wanted to run. A lot of that running could be due to the lack of time this Celtics team, as currently constructed, has spent feeling each other out. After all, when in doubt, run! Still, it was nice to see the young guys motor up and down the court in the fourth quarter of a blowout.
It will be interesting to see if the Celtics continue to dictate this pace through the preseason and into the games where they start keeping score.
Odds and Ends
Lots of people are high on Stephane Lasme right now and rightly so. Lasme is incredibly athletic and is known to be a force on the defensive end. Unfortunately, there is no track record I can point to that would suggest he would be successful guarding small forwards. Lasme was an undersized center at UMASS, snagging rebounds and blocking shots next to another skilled big man, Rashaun Freeman, who played power forward. I cannot wait to see if he gets any time defending small forwards before Doc Rivers makes a decision on the last guy standing.
Those that are high on Lasme right now are equally as low on Von Wafer. We have yet to read about Wafer returning to his 2008-2009 Houston Rockets’ form. Wafer’s performance last night also did not do anything to make fans more confident in the belief that Wafer will regain it.
The battle for the final roster spot is always back and forth, so it will be really interesting to hear what everyone has to say if Wafer starts lighting it up.
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Tonight, the Celtics do it all over again with the New Jersey Nets. Hopefully, we can start determining whether some of what we saw last night is here to stay or just the meaningless bouncing of balls.