BOSTON – The Celtics got off to a superb start in their preseason opener on Tuesday, cruising to a 124-91 win over Olimpia Milano in Italy during the first leg of the team's European exhibition tour.
The rout of a non-NBA opponent during the preseason is a feat that really isn't that impressive, but we did learn plenty in our first glimpse of live action by the new-look green. With that in mind, let's take a look at five observations from the contest that should have Boston fans feeling optimistic about this team's prospects.
1. The Celtics are avoiding taking midrange shots.
One of the biggest focuses Brad Stevens has mentioned heading into this season is pushing Boston's offense to become more efficient. One of the best ways to do that is by taking more high percentage field goal attempts. The analytics revolution in basketball has made quite clear in recent years that the midrange shot in basketball is not a good one in the long run. Not many guys can shoot it well, so you are costing yourself better looks from close range or a chance at more points (taking a three) by taking the long twos.
In game one of the preseason, the Celtics took this new focus to heart with their improved shot selection. Boston took 82 shots against Olimpia, but only nine of them came from midrange (16-23 feet). A major size advantage on the inside helped Boston pound it down low, but it's already becoming clear that layups and three-pointers are becoming the priority within the offense.
2. David Lee shows off passing ability
As he languished away on Golden State's bench for most of last season, it was easy to forget that David Lee has many tools at his disposal within his offensive skillset. Not only did we see some of his finishing ability (13 points) in his debut outing on Tuesday, Lee's passing prowess was on full display. Whether it was outlet passes off of rebounds or directing Boston's offense from the high post, the 31-year-old showed off the ability to excel within Stevens' pace-and-space offense. As long as he can hold his own on the defensive end, Lee looked like a good fit to help Boston's first unit create more offense.
3. Avery Bradley finds the corners
One of the biggest midrange shooting culprits on the Celtics roster last season was Bradley. He'd take plenty of handoffs and fire away from 20 feet or from three-point range at the top of the key. The veteran shooting guard is aiming to be more efficient though in 2015, and he got off to a fine start on Tuesday. Despite taking only six shots on the afternoon, Bradley sunk four 3-point shots, all of which were attempted from the corners.
The 24-year-old shot 39.5 percent on corner threes last season and talked about wanting to take more from that area this season. The early returns on the resolution looked promising in game one.
4. Jared Sullinger looks solid despite being towards tail end of big man depth chart
The big man has plenty to prove this season, but many fans wondered when he would get that chance early on in Italy. The 6-foot-8 forward did not see any action in the first quarter of Tuesday's win, but Sullinger did finally get off the pine in the second quarter and looked sharp in his limited minutes, posting 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 15 minutes against an overmatched Olimpia front line.
Stevens told us not to read too much into lineups at this stage of the preseason, but with all of the bigs looking solid in game one ahead of Sullinger, the former Ohio State star will have to keep producing to move up in the rotation.
5. R.J. Hunter looks ready to contribute
The Celtics have a sizable logjam in their backcourt, but the team still has a need for outside shooting. Hunter proved he could be a valuable asset in that department in game one. His stroke looked smooth on the perimeter, despite going just 1-of-3 from three-point range and scoring three points in 16 minutes. More notably, he played ahead of James Young in Stevens' rotation, a telltale sign he's been outplaying the second-year wing in training camp so far. Hunter will need to add some bulk and show discipline on defense, but his offensive feel should make him as a nice weapon for Stevens off the bench.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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