It may only have been Day 1 for the Boston Celtics, but already this season feels considerably different than the last.
That’s because the Celtics tightened their pre-existing bond throughout Tuesday’s opening day of practice, whereas last year at this time, they were just learning each other’s names.
Twelve players return from last year’s team that reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Rookies Brad Wanamaker and Robert Williams stand as the lone additions.
Boston were at the other end of the spectrum at the start of last year’s training camp, when 11 of the 15 players were fresh faces to the franchise.
The stark contrast in continuity is already making a difference.
“I think just being comfortable with everybody, knowing the staff, knowing the players, knowing the defensive system, what we’re trying to accomplish,” Gordon Hayward said of the first day of practice, his first since October 16 last year. “All of that stuff is a lot easier this go-around.”
That collective ease has already pushed the Celtics miles ahead of normalcy.
Day 1 of training camp in the NBA typically consists of the installation of only chunks of the offensive and defensive systems, particularly for a team that has significant roster turnover from the season before.
Tuesday in Boston, however, Brad Stevens was able to install what Kyrie Irving candidly described as “a [expletive]-ton”.
Stevens explained his day of installation in a bit more G-rated fashion.
“We put in a ton this morning, and with the amount of guys we have back, I think that was appropriate,” he said, “because they can pick up some of the things we did last year, and some of the new tweaks that we’re doing they picked up pretty fast.”
Realistically, this wasn’t as much ‘picking it up’ as it was ‘recalling’ from a season ago. These players have already executed this system at a high level; even Hayward learned most of the system prior to his opening-night injury.
The roster’s familiarity with the system led to a dramatic shift of the opening sessions of training camp.
“We don’t really have to spend as much time teaching just the basics. We kind of know where our spots are,” stated Irving. “It’s just figuring out the continuity on the offensive end.”
That, folks, where the real excitement around this team lies – with the offense.
A year ago, Stevens and his staff preached defense, defense, and more defense. That led to Boston leading the league in defensive rating with a mark of 101.5.
The offensive end didn’t keep pace, however, as the Celtics ranked just 18th in the league with an offensive rating of 105.3.
Now, with Irving and Hayward back in the fold after their recoveries from injury, and with the growth of the young players around them, the Celtics appear to be primed for an explosion at the offensive end.
“[Defense is] our identity. We have a lot of players that make a lot of plays on the defensive end,” Irving said. “But offensively, we’re going to surprise a lot of teams too, just based on our spacing and our lineups.”
There was no such talk following the first day of practice a year ago. That day could be explained more so as a feeling-out process for a brand-new team, with minimalistic comments made to the media.
This year? This year is different.
The Celtics hit the ground running Tuesday morning, and they’re already miles ahead of most of their competition. They don’t plan on stopping until mid-June.
By Marc D’ Amico for Celtics.com