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Dalano Banton a Surprise Addition to Celtics Backup Wing Battle

NEW YORK — Dalano Banton signed with the Celtics understanding zone and other defensive concepts Boston tried to implement through two preseason games, having played nearly every imaginable scheme in Toronto. He arrived to Boston eight weeks early to learn the offense, and when Joe Mazzulla sat his top-six rotation players in Monday’s second half of a back-to-back against the Knicks, Banton appeared that much further ahead of the competing newcomers.

“Toughness, physicality, IQ,” Mazzulla said, describing what he’s looking for from his backups. “Can you be tough, can you play physical, can you make the right play? And have an understanding of what your role is and what we need you to do. Those guys are open-minded to that and they’re doing a good job.”

Banton — a natural point guard — became an unlikely competitor for wing minutes in camp despite measuring in as at least 6-7. He scored 20 points on 8-for-19 shooting in a spot start next to Payton Pritchard against the Knicks, attacking early and often around screens, making quick decisions following catches and unloading five three-point attempts, though only hitting one. Pritchard’s 26-point outburst the prior night fittingly pushed Banton away from the ball, and with Jrue Holiday and Derrick White also in front of Banton, running the point doesn’t project to earn him many minutes anyway this year.

He turns 24 this season and while his 27.5% career three-point shooting puts him at a disadvantage against his wing competitors like Sam Hauser, who logged most of Boston’s backup forward minutes and remains a favorite in the building, Banton’s playmaking and defensive versatility add to the boxes he checks as a bench contributor. The Celtics signed Banton to a two-year, $4.2 million flier with a second-year team option after the Raptors, who drafted the Toronto native No. 46 overall out of Nebraska, effectively moved on after he failed to break the team’s rotation.

Nick Nurse, who coached him through his first two seasons in the league, didn’t grow to trust Banton and acknowledged both his progress and inconsistency before Nurse’s 76ers faced Banton’s Celtics on Sunday.

“Dalano has always shown some flashes,” he said. “He’s interesting at his 6-9 size and he’s been a point guard for most of his four years. His deal is just consistency. One night, he’s really good and like a lot of guys and young players in this league, there are nights where he really struggles. Being able to get the minutes and some opportunity to iron stuff out, that’s probably about it. He’s obviously also an improved shooter, didn’t have much of a shooting game in college from deep but he’s getting there. You can’t disrespect him anymore. Just some more opportunity and improved shooting probably.”

Banton received that extended opportunity one night later, transitioning from a modest five-point effort with three rebounds in 13 minutes against Philadelphia to the most intriguing performance among the Celtics’ array of wings in camp. Oshae Brissett missed shots (0-4 3PT), Lamar Stevens struggled to find spots offensively outside of clean-up baskets around the rim, Svi Mykhailiuk couldn’t stay in front of Donte DiVincenzo despite finishing 3-for-7 from three while Hauser fell to 3-for-16 from the field in the preseason. Jordan Walsh, who shouldn’t go unnoticed in this race, made a pair of transition buckets, grabbed six boards and recorded two steals atop the Boston zone in a late burst of energy.

While those players tried to get shots up and showcase their individual skills, all making enough of a case and signing secure enough deals to cement their spots on the roster, Banton slashed on the first play of the game and caught a pass underneath the rim, kicking to Pritchard for an open shot. He came around a Brissett screen, caught a pass and found Brissett for a corner three later in the first quarter. Then, Banton attacked, finishing right-handed in the pick-and-roll with Luke Kornet and twice driving to his left against Knicks center Mitchell Robinson.

“Even though I played point guard, I played off the ball with the Raptors,” Banton said. “I’m just trying to find ways to impact the game, whether that’s on or off the ball. I feel like when I do have the ball, just playing with pace, and it’s the same thing when I don’t have the ball. Running to the corners. Sprinting up-and-down the floor. Like I said, making the game easier for these guys. Running to the corner goes a long way for someone like J.T., when you have that spacing, or J.B. … whether these guys are playing next game, regardless, our jobs are the same. That’s just to fill the corners, run, space the floor and get these guys involved.”

Banton didn’t close the game without showing his own shortcomings, 5-for-11 less than desirable efficiency at the rim while he drove into multiple New York blocks. His almost plays, projectable to go a different way playing alongside Boston’s front line players piled up alongside those mistakes. He ran a nice give-and-go with Stevens and hit teammates with passes they couldn’t finish after. His flashy dunk attempt and steal-and-miss in transition recalled some of the frustration of his Raptors tenure. The aggressiveness displayed a confidence in his knowledge of the system. Results matter to Mazzulla in the preseason to some degree — that’s easy for you to say — he rebuked when a reporter claimed preseason wins and losses don’t matter. Banton couldn’t deliver a win.

Neemias Queta, J.D. Davison, Walsh and Banton, all players who logged quality minutes in the loss, will require some fine-tuning and chance to play extended minutes in the G-League given their ages and points in their development. None of the players who suited up for Monday’s preseason finale will factor significantly in Boston’s championship pursuit unless something goes significantly wrong. Yet Banton arrived with a vision for how he’d do it, if necessary, playing every position one through four, setting the right screens to create advantages and moving to the correct spacing on the floor. He not only speaks Mazzulla’s language, he executed it on Monday.

“He’s young. His length, he does a great job getting deflections,” Mazzulla said. “He does a great job rebounding out of his area. He does a good job crashing and he really understands the game. I think he’s a really smart player. We’re fortunate to be able to work with him and try to develop him.”


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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