BOSTON (CBS) – The Celtics returned stateside Friday after a successful European tour to kick off the 2015-16 preseason. The new-look roster beat Olimpia Milano and Real Madrid by a combined total of 48 points on Tuesday and Thursday, highlighted by impressive offensive outputs in both contests.
The competition will get a little more challenging in the coming days as Boston begins to face off with NBA teams in the Atlantic Division ahead of its regular season opener on October 28th. Still, we learned plenty about the Cs in their first live action of the exhibition season. Here are a few takeaways from the trip:
-- Jae Crowder made a solid case to start. A knee injury sidelined Evan Turner for the two preseason games abroad, opening the door for Crowder to earn some starting minutes at the wing. The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract with Boston this offseason, and he's already proving to be a valuable investment as a role player in the team's core. Paired up with a dynamic defensive backcourt in Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, Crowder brings another level of grittiness to Boston's identity.
His numbers were relatively modest (8.5 points per game), but his effect on the starters was undoubtedly positive as he finished with a plus/minus of +19 in both contests. Many expect Turner to still start, as long as he remains in a Celtic uniform, in order to separate his shot creation from Isaiah Thomas off the bench. However, Crowder's a big part of this team's future at the wing and he may be playing himself into a starting spot.
-- The Rookies can play. Get ready, Maine Red Claws fans: You are going to have a talented team at your disposal this year. That much is already clear after watching the trio of Terry Rozier, RJ Hunter, and Jordan Mickey overseas.
Hunter was probably the most impressive of the bunch, showing a wonderful feel for the game, especially in the pick-and-roll, on offense. His instincts on defense remained positive, as well. Rozier shook off a rough start on Tuesday to cap his trip with 14 points in 16 minutes on Thursday. He also displayed the athleticism that shot him into the first-round, while also hitting two-of-three attempts from downtown. Mickey was limited to mop-up duty in both games, but he did positive things on both sides of the ball, showing off his blocking and scoring ability.
Boston's depth means all three players will likely be relegated to Maine for parts of the year (assuming the veterans stay healthy). Still, the shades of promise are there, and Hunter especially could be of use to Brad Stevens if he proves himself to be a reliable option beyond the arc.
-- David Lee can do a little bit of everything. There is a reason that the Warriors gave Lee a max contract five years ago and it's the same reason the power forward was an All-Star a mere two years back: Lee is a major weapon on offense. The 31-year-old did not have much of an opportunity to show his skills coming off the bench in a guard-dominated offense for Golden State last year, but he's thrived at the starting power forward spot for Stevens. The Celtics don't have a lot of creators in the starting lineup and Lee has provided a nice balance of distributing and scoring in his first two games in green. 13 points, nine rebounds and 3.5 assists in just 21 minutes per game shows off the kind of versatility that Lee could provide if he beats out the remainder of Boston's frontcourt for big minutes.
The 6-foot-9 forward still has plenty of limitations (iffy defender, lack of 3-point shot), but he can produce more consistently than any of Boston's other bigs at the moment.
The Celtics return to practice in Waltham on Sunday before gearing up for their first NBA preseason game on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.
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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