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Marcus Smart could be much better if he just stops taking so many 3-pointers 10.29.14 at 7:15 am ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart’s shooting was a topic of many discussions during the preseason, to the point that it has begun to steal the spotlight from exactly what kind of player Danny Ainge and the Celtics may have acquired in Smart.

Smart is a premier defender and an elite athlete who may be much more talented on the offensive side of the ball than we give him credit for. We still need to see Smart play alongside Rajon Rondo, but so far Smart is the one who has been keeping himself from being far more efficient.

Ben Rohrbach wrote a well-researched piece earlier in the preseason that focused primarily on Smart’s poor 3-point shooting — something that Smart should try to stay away from early in his career. As Ben points out in his piece, Rondo and Avery Bradley both have significantly improved their shooting in one way or another since the beginning of their careers. So as a long-term goal, Smart never should give up on developing a shot from downtown in the NBA. But now is not the time to pretend to have one already.

Three-point shooting is something that Smart should be working on — and has been working on daily behind closed doors. But if he plays to his strengths, Smart can be far more efficient than we saw overall in the preseason. He did give us glimpses, though, and they looked mighty good.

The best example of what Smart is capable of came in the preseason finale against the Nets. Smart only played 16 minutes, but he dropped 16 points to go along with his four assists and two steals. The important part is that Smart shot 5-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-3 in the paint and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. The numbers can’t get any more efficient than that, but they can grow in volume. Smart rarely attempts 2-point field goals. So much so that he only attempted two per game in preseason action.

Are you ready for this? Smart attempted 7.5 field goals per game in the preseason and 5.5 of them were 3-pointers! This is a 25 percent 3-point shooter we’re talking about who attempted a league-leading 44 3-pointers in the preseason (and made just 11, if you’re not good at math).

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Rajon Rondo upgrades himself to having an 83 percent chance of playing Wednesday night 10.28.14 at 1:50 pm ET
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With the Celtics‘€™ season-opener rapidly approaching, the question still remains — will Rajon Rondo be ready to play in Wednesday’s first game of the year?

It’€™s clear that Rondo has been improving, but he still can’€™t resist poking some fun at the media in the process. At Monday’s practice, Rondo gave himself a 79 percent chance of playing against the Nets on Wednesday. Then on Tuesday according to reports, Rondo told Brad Stevens he had upgraded himself to having an 83 percent chance of playing.

Rondo went on to say that he doesn’€™t like being called a game-time decision and he will decide whether or not he plays just a few hours before the game begins when he wakes up from his nap around 4:30 on Wednesday.

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Rajon Rondo gives himself 79 percent chance to play Wednesday 10.27.14 at 1:48 pm ET
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All preseason long Brad Stevens has been unwilling to place a percentage on the chances that his star point guard, Rajon Rondo, will be available on opening night. Rondo is just over four weeks into his recovery from surgery on a broken left hand, but he seems to be way ahead of schedule despite the coach’s hesitancy to announce his return.

“There’s a lot of ifs there,” Stevens said regarding Rondo’s status prior to Monday’s practice. “I’d still say he’s somewhere in the realm of questionable, but it certainly looks like all signs have been moving forward.”

If you know Rondo, then you know he is a much more of a precise type of guy.

So what percentage would Rondo place on himself to play on opening night? “Probably 79 [percent] right now,” he concluded Monday.

Obviously, Rondo was asked to expand on his answer: “I feel good, it’s just that contact is a completely different thing if I land on it.” Rondo went on to explain that he has only been through one practice with contact so far, but has not landed on or been hit on the hand. Rondo did admit that he had gotten it tangled up in a jersey, however, it caused him no pain or issues.

“He was good on Friday,” Stevens said of the lone contact practice that Rondo referred to. “He’ll go full again [on Monday], then I think he’s going to re-see the doctors [on Tuesday], maybe Wednesday morning.

“It’s going to be about how he feels,” Stevens ultimately offered. “So if he goes through the next couple of days without pain and feels really good and the doctors give him clearance, then he’ll be good to go.”

So what could Rondo’s minutes look like on Wednesday?

“If he were to play as early as this week then I would probably play him in shorter stints, but still play him quite a bit,” said Stevens. “Obviously you want him to get a flow and rhythm, but when we’re talking about five- or six-minute stints, that’s plenty of time.”

On Rondo’s overall minutes per game, Stevens said: “I think we’ll probably play it as is once he’s ready to play. Again, it has not been a conditioning issue because he’s been able to run the whole time.”

It’s still too early to jump to any conclusions and rule Rondo a go for Wednesday, but his status clearly looks much more optimistic than anticipated. The original prognosis of 6-8 weeks suggested that Rondo would miss between 4-10 regular-season games, so simply the fact that he has a chance of playing in the first game is impressive.

Seventy-nine percent is a high number, though — and it seems to be getting higher every day. Without being overly optimistic, it feels like there’s a great chance we hear Rondo’s name announced when it’s time for the starting lineups on Wednesday night.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Read More: Brad Stevens, Rajon Rondo,
Why you should care about Wednesday’s Celtics win: Marcus Smart had his best game, Jared Sullinger can rebound 10.22.14 at 10:09 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics wrapped up the preseason with a 100-86 victory over the Nets at the TD Garden on Wednesday night (check out the box score here). Brooklyn rested its starters, while Rajon Rondo was out once again with a broken left hand for the Celtics.

Brad Stevens only played starters Jeff Green and Avery Bradley in the first quarter, while Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger shined in their final tune up before the regular season.

Here are other reasons why you should have cared about the Celtics‘ preseason finale:

Marcus Smart had a very strong showing back in the starting point guard role

Smart opened up the game by swishing a 3-pointer out of the corner, which was nice for Celtics fans to see since shooting is one of his biggest weaknesses. However, Smart did a much better job of slashing through the lane than he has in previous games. He was able to connect on three layups in traffic, while also going 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Attacking the basket might be Smart’€™s biggest strength, so it was certainly positive to see him do so efficiently before the preseason came to an end.

Smart never saw the floor in the second half, but the damage was done. He racked up 16 points in just 15 minutes of action, adding four assists, a rebound and two steals. Perhaps most importantly, he did it on 5-for-8 shooting from the field — all three of his misses coming from downtown. Good things happen when Smart gets into the paint.

Jared Sullinger was a beast on the boards once again

Sullinger is a very good scorer, but he is a phenomenal rebounder. After ripping down 19 boards on Sunday, Sullinger grabbed 13 in the first half alone Wednesday. He finished the game with what is becoming a classic Sullinger stat line — 15 points and 17 rebounds. Sullinger did so while shooting 7-for-10 from the field in 26 minutes of action.

James Young returned from a hamstring injury

Young hurt his hamstring while warming up for the first preseason game, but kept that information to himself and ended up by playing in the game. Young posted 10 points in his debut, but then has missed each preseason contest since. He also didn’t play in a summer league game following a car crash.

The rookie wasted no time Wednesday, nailing a 3-pointer on his first possession in the game. He finished with just five points and four rebounds, but keep in mind it was just his second professional game. Young has plenty of room to grow this season.

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Read More: Brooklyn Nets, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo
Celtics practice notes: Rajon Rondo improves, Jeff Green returns, rotation starts coming together 10.14.14 at 2:01 pm ET
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The Celtics kicked off the preseason with a busy stretch of four games in just six nights. They since have had an off day, then practice resumed on Monday and Tuesday in Waltham leading up to Wednesday’s game against the Raptors in Maine.

Here are some notes from prior to Tuesday’s practice.

Rajon Rondo shows improvement

Rondo has been on the court shooting the ball prior to each preseason game, which is a very good sign. He also has been doing ball handling with his broken left hand (with a brace on it). All signs point to Rondo being right on schedule in his recovery, if not ahead of schedule.

“We’ve increased his conditioning within workouts,” Brad Stevens said. “So what we’ve done is, the last couple of days, we’ve actually worked him out with a couple of other guys early in a small group. And then he’ll do all of the non-contact stuff in our workout, which [Tuesday] will be most of the workout. So that’ll be good. He’s getting there, it’s just a matter of he can’t be involved in contact.”

Jeff Green returns from calf injury

Green has been practicing this week, and Stevens indicated he will be in shape to play against Toronto.

“Yeah, he’ll play [Wednesday],” Stevens said. “That’ll be part of his conditioning.”

With the emergence of Evan Turner so far this preseason, Stevens would like to find ways to get Turner and Green on the court at the same time now that Green is back. It’s something Turner sees going well.

“I think Jeff and I have a good rapport,” Turner said. “It’s all about communication, and once again, [Green] is our go-to-guy. I just want to play, so whatever he wants I’m going to do.”

Turner expressed confidence that he and Green will be able to play off one another.

“We attempted to,” he said with a laugh. “We played together before he got hurt, too, so I think clearly he will have to get re-acclimated because he hasn’t played in the last couple of weeks, but it should be fine.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Evan Turner, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo
Rebuild Spotlight: Who could we see shipped out this season? 10.09.14 at 10:03 pm ET
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With two preseason games in the books, the Celtics are off to a somewhat impressive 2-0 start. Let’s not overreact to a couple of dress rehearsals, but Danny Ainge has veterans who could be valuable contributors on contending teams — something the Celtics will not be this season no matter how many preseason victories they accumulate.

Obviously, the ideal move for the future would be to bring in a star to go alongside Rajon Rondo and Boston’s young core. The problem is that a player like that doesn’t exist on the trade market this season, at least for the moment. Anything is possible, but with the current drought of available star power not expected to change, the Celtics might need to continue shedding veteran contracts for assets of sorts. Digging deeper into the youth movement might sound like a long haul, but it could prove to be the faster path to return to contention.

Last year Ainge shipped Jordan Crawford off to the Warriors and Courtney Lee to the Grizzlies — both trades currently seem to be working in Boston’s favor for one reason or another. The Crawford deal was successful because they traded an overachieving player and brought back assets in the form of draft picks. Ainge has some players who fit the bill for that type of trade.

Outside of Rondo (who will be the topic of the final Rebuild Spotlight feature), the Celtics have three expiring contracts that could make sense to move. Ainge likely will let Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million expire in Boston this season, but if his salary is needed to complete a larger trade he would gladly be shipped out. However, Brandon Bass ($6.9 million) and Marcus Thornton ($8.6 million) could be valuable contributors off the bench for a team that feels they are in the mix.

Both players already are providing a spark off the bench in limited minutes in Boston, what’s to say they can’t do that elsewhere? We already know what Bass has been during his time in Boston, and Thornton is averaging 13 points in just 17 minutes per game in his first two stints in green. Just last year the Nets added Thornton at the deadline to try to give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the help they needed in Brooklyn. It proved to be too little, but the point is: Why wouldn’t a team want to do that this season now that he and Bass are in the final year of their contracts? They are perfect rental players.

While Bass and Thornton are good candidates to be moved for future assets, the Celtics also have some Courtney Lee-style trade pieces. Lee had multiple years left on his contract when he was sent packing for Jerryd Bayless, who arrived on the last year of his deal. The whole idea of the trade was that Lee would not be worth paying in the future, so Ainge brought in Bayless, who only had to be paid until the end of last season.

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Why you should care about Monday’s Celtics game: Marcus Smart, James Young debut; Evan Turner shines 10.06.14 at 10:29 pm ET
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As if the start of basketball season starting up wasn’t reason enough for you to care about the Celtics‘ preseason opener on Monday night, then Marcus Smart and James Young making their NBA debuts — and leading the Celtics to an easy 98-78 victory over the 76ers — should be. (See the box score here.)

Smart spoke before the game about being nervous: “Of course, [there’s] always nerves,” he said. “First game at a different level, there’s always going to be nerves, but [I’ve] just got to figure out how to calm them down.”

His nerves were evident as he finished with just two points (0-8 FGs). Despite not shooting the ball particularly well, his effort on both ends of the floor was unmatched. He played lockdown defense on each and every possession coming up with three steals in the process. Although his shots weren’t falling, Smart did a good job running the offense, particularly leading the fast break. He ended up with six assists in his 27 minutes.

Young began the game cold, and his nerves were perhaps most evident when he missed his first two free throws just moments after stepping onto the floor. But he picked up the slack in the second half and was able to finish in double figures with 10 points on 3-8 shooting. Young was just 1-5 from 3-point land, but had several unlucky bounces off the iron.

OTHER REASONS YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT MONDAY’S GAME

Evan Turner shined while playing multiple positions.

In the absence of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, Turner was exactly what the Celtics needed to fill both roles. Turner started the game at small forward and started the second half at point guard for Brad Stevens, yet was the C’s best player regardless of position. Turner flirted with a triple-double in his 31 minutes, posting 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six assists.

Jared Sullinger still is a rebounding machine.

Sullinger got the start at power forward and was his usual self in terms of crashing the glass. Like much of the team, Sullinger did not shoot the ball well (4-15 FGs) but he still found ways to be effective. Sullinger ripped down 13 boards and still managed to score 10 points.

There still are some veterans who can score.

Not many people came into this season excited about Brandon Bass or Marcus Thornton, but they can both still fill it up. Bass finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in just over 19 minutes of action, while Thornton scored 14 in only 14 minutes off the bench. Bass and Thornton don’t figure to be a big part of the future in Boston, but with both of their contracts expiring at season’s end, their strong play makes them both viable trade candidates.

The Celtics will take on the Knicks in Hartford on Wednesday night.

Read More: Evan Turner, James Young, Marcus Smart,
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