Young Celtics make most of scouting reports

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Young Celtics make most of scouting reports

Boston Celtics rookies JaJuan Johnson and ETwaun Moore dont know exactly what to expect each game, other than at this point in the season, they will be playing increased minutes as their veteran teammates rest before the playoffs.

With the postseason starting this weekend, teams around the league have been putting abbreviated lineups on the court to cut back on their starters minutes and try to heal and prevent injuries.

In Friday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett got the night off for rest while Rajon Rondo (back), Ray Allen (ankle), and Mickael Pietrus (knee) were out with injuries. Moore played nearly 19 minutes and Johnson played 15. Both are averaging less than eight minutes per game this season.

Other teams are in the same situation. Tuesdays upcoming opponent, the Miami Heat, has been resting Chris Bosh and LeBron James recently and Dwyane Wade (finger) has been limited as of late. On Sunday, rookie Norris Cole got just his second start of the season and played over 37 minutes for the Heat.

But then there are games like Friday when the Hawks went with their starters. These rookies have little certainty of who they will see on the court. Preparing for the unexpected poses challenges, especially for young players with limited experience. Moore has played in 36 games while Johnson has appeared in 34 this season.

You just prepare for everyone that plays your position because theres a chance you could play against all of them, said Moore. Youve just got to look over the scouting report every game.

Scouting reports, packets of stats, facts, and details about the opposing team distributed to every player, are integral to the rookies preparation this season as they give athletes more in-depth breakdowns of their opponents. The players receive the reports in advance of the game, sometimes the previous day or, in other cases, hours beforehand depending on the schedule.

One piece of information both Johnson and Moore look for are their opponents tendencies. These points help them anticipate the competitions plan of attack.

Is there a certain way they like to drag or which hand they like to use? Johnson said. Stuff like that I really try to remember and then the other things kind of fall into place.

The scouting reports can serve as supplements to the game film players watch on the opposing team. As the rookies are learning about others in the league, these reports allow them to zone in on particular players who may not frequently appear on game tape, especially at this point in the season when more and more reserves who have seen limited playing time off the bench are on the court to spell minutes.

I like a mixture of both because when you watch the game tape, its more generalization of what everybody can do on the team, Johnson explained. Its not just your position. When you at the scouting report, you can choose which person you want to look at and focus on.

In some instances, going up against an experienced opponent is actually easier for the rookies. Even if they have never faced the veteran before, they have studied his game as they made their own ways to the pros.

When youre playing against the starters, you know their tendencies, said Moore. You know dont know the tendencies when youre playing against some of the other guys sometimes and itll be a surprise.

Echoed Johnson, I think its easier to play against players youre used to seeing because you grow up watching certain players or watching their film. Its harder to get film on players who really dont play, so you dont know what to expect.

At this point in the season, any lineup on the court could be a surprise. But with their scouting reports, the rookies can better expect the unexpected.

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.

 

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”