The National Basketball Association commenced its preseason game schedule on Oct. 5. The Boston Celtics have played three games­two against the Philadelphia 76ers and one against the New York Knicks. Since this is the preseason, this article will not dive deep into what causes the wins or losses in these matchups but will instead discuss some valuable takeaways for the Celtics going into the 2023-24 NBA season.

New faces in town: How Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday complement each other

Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis joined the Celtics as a part of the three-way trade involving former Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Given Porzingis’ history of injury and his diagnosis of  plantar fasciitis over the summer, his availability and lateral mobility were reasonable concerns for some Celtics fans. However, from what was presented last week in the preseason matchups, it seems like the Celtics front office and coaching staff have already taken care of the problem. 

The recent trade for Jrue Holiday, a five-time all-defensive team player, solidified the Celtics defense in an unique way while providing a lot of flexibility in potential lineups. Before the trade, Derrick White — ranking the first in both shots blocked and attempts contested last season amongst guards — was the projected starting point-guard for the Celtics. Adding Holiday enables head coach Joe Mazzulla to start White off the bench or put both White and Holiday as starters when necessary. If the Celtics are starting either one of White or Holiday alongside Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Porzingis, and Al Horford, White or Holiday — the primary defender of the guards — would be chasing the guard playing the pick-and-roll into Porzingis’ help with Horford helping the helper and protecting the rim, as exemplified by this possession.

When Mazzulla feels like having two defensive guards on the court, Holiday or White — with their sizes at 6’4” and 6’5” respectively — could perform Porzingis’ original defensive task by helping firsthand off the pick-and-roll, with Porzingis dropping into the paint and guarding the basket (as exemplified by this possession). Trading away Robert Williams III for Jrue Holiday not only brought the Celtics a better perimeter defense but also freed up Porzingis’ versatility to be both a helper off pick-and-roll actions and a backup rim protector. In comparison to Porzingis, Williams III is not as agile defensively, could not provide consistent scoring energy, and does not necessarily have a better availability in season. The Celtics ultimately brought in two better defenders this offseason who perfectly complement each other defensively and could potentially provide more scoring energy than the departed players. 

Hopeful expectations: Better shooting and potentially zone defense from the reserves

Moving onto the bench, the Celtics signed some great talents that could come in handy during the season. Three-point shooting is a big part of the Celtics’ game. Looking at the numbers from last season, they attempted 42.6 shots from above the three-point line per game, second only to the Golden State Warriors. In the preseason, the Celtics signed a four-year, $30-million contract extension with guard Payton Pritchard. Following the deal, Pritchard definitely showcased his worth, leading the entire squad in points per game with 21.3 and sinking 41.9% of the shots from the downtown in the preseason. 

Another highlight of the preseason as of now is Ukrainian shooter Svi Mykhailiuk’s outstanding display. In the two games played last week against the Sixers and the Knicks, Mykhailiuk scored 15 in both games while making six out of 11 three-point attempts. Although he is known as a spot-up shooter, he demonstrated his ability to shoot off dribbles, attack closeouts, and to even get up in the air for a put-back dunk during his Celtics debut. Eager to look for more scoring options and firepower from a distance, the Celtics could really use Mykhailiuk in the regular season.

In these preseason games, we also saw the Celtics going into a zone defense here and there, especially when the bench players are on the court. This is a very clever strategy given that most of the bigs on the team are nowhere near brilliant when it comes to defending isolations, particularly young players off the bench who lack NBA experience. Typically, perimeter defense would be of great concern in zone-defense settings, but the Celtics have two of the best perimeter defenders in the league–White and Holiday–on their roster in addition to the many bigger-size wings who could also play guard when necessary. Utilizing a zone-defense system could help the Celtics conceal their biggest disadvantage defensively. 

Personally, I had some doubts when the Celtics traded for Porzingis, but with the benefit of hindsight, the trade all makes sense now. The front office in Boston was trying to make something new happen and eventually, by trading for Holiday to complement Porzingis defensively, built new and possibly better overall lineups than the original ones. Celtics’ fans should be hopeful moving forward into the regular season and pay attention to potential rising stars including Pritchard and Mykhailiuk. It would be interesting to see how Mazzulla is going to strategize the coming games around this brand new roster!