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Celtics Training Camp Notebook Through Two Weeks

The Celtics finished their second week of training camp and first three preseason games with only a glimpse of new stars Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porziņģis playing alongside Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The latter two sat on Monday and Wednesday, with a strange three games in four days effectively creating two camps. Boston returns to play one week before the opener with another game against the Knicks, who could rest on the front half of a back-to-back, and the Hornets in Charlotte on Thursday.

Here’s what stands out to me so far from watching camp and practice:

  • Sam Cassell looks like an asset for Jayson Tatum, standing by his side for every minute of practice, sitting on the bench with him while Tatum rested the last two games and challenging him to play physically in the post during shooting sessions at Boston’s facility. Tatum called Cassell the loudest person he’s ever met, louder than Grant Williams, while Joe Mazzulla said their partnership happened naturally. Cassell also worked with developing point guard Dalano Banton this week, and will spend time with Jaylen Brown as the team’s star wings continue to develop their playmaking.
  • “I just asked if that’s what (Tatum) wanted. My first couple of years in the league, Sam worked with (Tyrese) Maxey and he had the same shooting time as our guys, so I was always able to observe what Sam was doing pre-game with Maxey and with some of the other players,” Mazzulla said. “Just during the hiring process, talking to Sam, talking to Doc (Rivers) about what Doc relied on Sam for and what he was able to do, it just made the most sense. Sam’s been through every situation in the game as well, and he’s worked with players on the court and off the court … as much as he’s working with Jayson, we need him to have one-on-one conversations with Jaylen … Sam’s just been around a long time, and he’s been relied upon by really good coaches to navigate the roster because of all the experience … it was very simple, (Doc said), if you don’t hire him, somebody else will … it was a no-brainer.”
  • Jaylen Brown looked visibly ripped, working again with Tony Dobbins shirtless after practice, spending time in the weight room with trainers and he recently posted some of his core work. A social media video of him dribbling lefty awkwardly caused a stir, and probably some reckoning on the social staff. He struggled to make dump-off passes out of the lane in the opener against Philadelphia, and all eyes will fall on his ball-handling after a playoff low point in Game 7 against Miami. His promise to hone in on the defensive end intrigues me though, and Mazzulla said nobody holds Brown to a higher standard than himself. He might have to adjust more than anyone to the incoming stars, but Porziņģis’ presence should help his reads.
  • Could Jrue Holiday come off the bench? Zach Lowe, Tim Bontemps and Jake Fischer all mentioned it in podcast appearances, so my eyebrow’s up, but Mazzulla already teased the team will start multiple units to begin games and sounds like he’s preparing some players who typically start games to remain flexible. Al Horford expressed a willingness to do so for the first time this week, and said others are too. Holiday hadn’t discussed his role after he started in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Derrick White will prove the easiest to bench, notably amicable with any role or minute allotment. That might cause Mazzulla to lean in that direction more often than not, but another dominant defensive effort against Philadelphia showed his upside playing confident and empowered with the starting group. White started 70 games last season.
  • Luke Kornet still looks like the backup center when Boston starts Horford and Porziņģis, and it’s worth acknowledging he’s teaming up with new second unit players who are vying for minutes and roster spots. Kornet’s central role with the bus one boys, who often won their minutes and almost beat the Bucks at full strength still maintains confidence in him. Mazzulla has praised his work on both ends, despite only 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks across losing minutes in all three games. Check his assists — three in each of the last two games — and you’ll see why he’s still a shoo-in to play some. It’s hard to assess how much Neemias Queta closed the gap with strong showings in the last two games. Mazzulla said he earned more minutes this week, but the seven-footer who dominated the G-League one year played against similar back of the bench competition. He plays more fluidly than I expected, but fouled often — five times in 14 minutes at New York.
  • Mazzulla likes Banton, and the Knicks game showed why. He can defend wings, has played in numerous defensive systems and primarily runs point guard on offense. The shooting doesn’t look great, 2-for-9 through three games, but his acclimation to the team’s screening game over eight weeks in Boston during the summer sets him up well to receive a chance. He’s my frontrunner among newcomers for early backup wing minutes behind Sam Hauser, who’s still the best bet to play off the bench behind Brown and Tatum.
  • Lamar Stevens and his trainer Henry Woo Jr. feel good about the training camp invite’s ability to make the roster after the Jrue Holiday trade. Stevens told me he’s even capable of playing some small ball center for the Celtics, and his five three-point attempts at New York became his career high.
  • Holiday looks awesome shooting after practice while Charles Lee, his former assistant in Milwaukee who’s now Boston’s associate head coach, has challenged him through those sessions. Holiday’s challenging week, going from Milwaukee to Portland to Boston in two trades, reminds me of White’s difficult acclimation to Boston in 2022. Will Holiday have a similar adjustment to his new Celtics role?
  • Jordan Walsh sounds Maine-bound in November, despite his efforts impressing veterans like Horford.
  • What a bummer for Jay Scrubb, who tore his ACL last week and will likely be waived from his two-way deal. D.J. Steward, who’s been with the team throughout camp, is a potential candidate to step into his spot.
  • I’ve loved listening to Porziņģis talk about his past, admitting some ignorance during the early days of his NBA career. He already sacrificed some in his extension, and challenge his Celtics teammates to do so on the court. His shot blows me away, a lightning-quick release, and he’s all of 7-3 with arms that stretch on forever. Mazzulla and Horford lauded his defense this week, and his entry into Boston’s offense happened seamlessly in his first two games. If healthy, he looks like he’s going to have a ginormous season.

Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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