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What to watch for on Celtics’ opening night

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Well, Boston Celtics fans, the long wait is finally over: the Celtics will take the floor against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night and open up their 2016-17 NBA season.

It was an exciting summer in Beantown.

Boston landed Al Horford, made a serious push for Kevin Durant and was involved in incessant trade rumors that had C’s radio programs and forums buzzing for months.

Now, the new-look Celtics finally get to show their stuff for real.

There are high expectations surrounding Boston heading into this season, so let’s examine some things to watch for on opening night that could have implications for the rest of the way.

Al Horford’s Role in the Offense

When the C’s signed Horford, everyone knew they had improved. The question is, how much?

It will be very interesting to see what role Horford plays in the offense from day one. While he is not a top-tier scorer, he is a guy who can spread the floor and represent a reliable option for four quarters.

The big man had a very efficient preseason and, as expected, opened up the Celtics’ offense with his ability to knock down the triple.

Will Isaiah Thomas involve Horford in a large number of pick-and-pop sets? It seems likely.

Due to Horford’s range, defenses will have to respect the possibility of Thomas dishing the ball back out, so opposing bigs can no longer shadow him as he tries to get to the basket.

Expect to see Horford launch some treys against the Nets, and expect to see him do that for the entire year.

Isaiah Thomas’ Shot Selection

Last season, due to a dearth of supporting talent offensively, Thomas essentially had to force the issue at times, leading to a lot of bad looks and inefficient attempts. Now, things should be a bit different.

With Horford in the fold and a probable improvement from other players on the roster, Thomas should no longer have to will the offense all by himself.

This should result in better shots for Thomas, so expect him to be more judicious with his field-goal attempts.

We’ll get a good idea on opening night of just how aggressive Thomas is going to be in finding his shot this season.

As a bonus, Thomas should have fresher legs late in games due to the fact he will not have to work as hard for points and probably won’t be taking as many shots, to begin with.

Window of Opportunity for Terry Rozier

Second-year guard Terry Rozier was already slated to have a larger role this year months ago.

Against Brooklyn, that role could be even greater.

Marcus Smart is dealing with a sprained ankle and might not be able to play in the Celtics’ first game.

Enter Rozier, who was thrown into a baptism by fire during last year’s playoffs when he was thrust into action due to Avery Bradley’s hamstring injury.

Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) and Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin, right, go after the ball in the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With Smart down, Rozier is the next man up and based on what we saw during the preseason, he may be ready to take a big leap.

Rozier was absolutely brilliant during exhibition play, displaying the ability to attack the rim with impunity and also take good care of the basketball.

He also showed the best point guard skills on the team out of anyone not named Isaiah Thomas.

To be fair, the Nets are not exactly what one would call a firm barometer of competition, but it will definitely be intriguing to watch how Rozier handles himself should he get big minutes.

Jaylen Brown’s Minutes

Rookie wing Jaylen Brown may be very talented, but he is certainly behind the 8-ball in terms of his place on the depth chart.

The Celtics are stocked with guards and wings, meaning that playing time may be difficult to come by for Brown at junctures of the season.

However, due to his versatility and his capability of playing the 4 in ultra-small lineups, Brown will see opportunities.

But how many opportunities will he see?

We might get a general idea on opening night.

Now, just to be clear, there are a couple of variables here.

First of all, the Nets may very well be the worst team in the league, so Brown may see more minutes against them than he will against teams like the Cavaliers or the Raptors.

Second, if Smart is out, then Brown’s role is likely to increase.

Still, how Brad Stevens uses Brown may be a gauge against Brooklyn may be a gauge on how he plans on using him in the long run.

One thing is for sure, though: if this game turns out to be a blowout, expect big minutes for Jaylen.

The Big Man Rotation

Again, this is another area that will certainly fluctuate after Boston’s first couple of weeks of the season, the reason being that Kelly Olynyk is likely out until mid-November.

However, we will get to see some things shape out here.

For example, just how much primacy will Tyler Zeller have in Stevens’ rotation?

Zeller spent most of the last season in the doghouse, and with Horford now in tow, it seems like that won’t change in 2016-17.

What about Jonas Jerebko? How much priority will he receive as the backup small-ball 4?

Second-year big man Jordan Mickey was very impressive in the preseason. Will he see any minutes? Or will he be relegated to D-League duties with occasional NBA cameos again?

The C’s have a lot of depth up front. It will be very interesting to monitor how Stevens allocates the playing time.

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