Celtics hoping elite preseason defense (led by Isaiah Thomas?) carries into regular season

The Celtics had the 12th best defense in the NBA last season, and you can expect them to improve this year.  Via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, Jae Crowder said:
“I think it’s going to go up,” Crowder said of that defensive rating. “We have the core to get better. We have a little rim protection now with Amir, we have David Lee, who can guard on pick-and-rolls. Guys really know how to play on the defensive end. I think we can grow."

Although I'm not the type of person who puts a lot of stock into preseason stats, it's hard not to be encouraged by the fact that the Celtics had the NBA's second highest defensive rating on their way to a 6-1 record in their seven exhibition games.

Most everyone would agree that the Celtics got better at both ends of the floor this season, but defensive effort remains the staple for this young team. Guys like Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley can really be difference makers with their harassment of opposing ball handlers and their ability to contest shots.

The Celtics' premier defensive player in the preseason though? Isaiah Thomas. The 5'9" guard, who's known mostly for his scoring, led the C's with a 80.8 defensive rating.
Is Isaiah Thomas the leader of the Celtics' defense? Of course not. Again, preseason stats should be taken lightly. But for someone who has often been considered a defensive liability, this can be looked at as a significant step in the right direction. Playing defense in the NBA when you're under six feet can't be easy, but one thing Isaiah has never lacked is effort. If he remains persistent in making his defense a priority, we should continue to see steady growth in that facet of his game.

The Celtics were also tenth in offensive rating in the preseason, which resulted in an 11.6 efficiency differential, good for second in the NBA behind Oklahoma City.

Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour 

Photo Credit: Mark Duncan/AP via TulsaWorld