Twenty-six seconds into the second half of last week’s preseason game against the 76ers, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla made a surprisingly quick substitution. After the first play, he sent Lamar Stevens to the scorer’s table to take out Dalano Banton.
As Banton walked back to the bench, Mazzulla had some words to say to him. He wasn’t happy.
On the previous play, Banton didn’t dive on a loose ball, which resulted in a jump ball and an extra 76ers possession. Mazzulla used the opportunity as a teaching moment to emphasize to the new Celtics guard the importance of playing hard. While the substitution was unusual, Banton felt it was warranted.
“I can’t say it was surprising,” Banton told the Herald. “I feel like it was deserving.”
To his credit, Banton processed the moment well. When he re-entered the game later in the third quarter, he played with energy. Mazzulla later praised Banton’s reception to a difficult moment.
“He has a chance to be a really good player in this league, and I just love the mentality that he brought to being coached and then responding,” Mazzulla said. “That’s super important, and thankful that he allowed me to coach him.”
Banton was grateful for how Mazzulla coached him in that moment.
“I appreciate Joe and how he coaches me,” Banton said. “I just feel like he holds me to a high expectation, to a high standard to be able to play hard and play for every possession. Make every possession count. So, whether that’s diving on a loose ball or running to the corner, I feel like I need to do that 100 percent when I’m on the floor, and that’s what’s going to help me be successful. …
“It’s a good feeling as well. You never want to get subbed out of the game, but to go back in and try to do what your coach is asking of you and try to make up for it. So, it’s never something to hang your head on. He always preaches, ‘You can have a bad moment. It’s just how long you stay in that moment.’”
For Banton, it was a good reminder of the consistent effort that will be required of him in order to fill a role on this championship-ready Celtics team. At 6-foot-9, Banton possesses a unique skill set on both ends. He can play point guard. He can fill some backup wing minutes. He’s a long, versatile defender. He flashed his scoring ability with a 20-point effort against the Knicks last week. He’s earned some minutes alongside the Celtics’ regulars during the preseason. The team clearly thinks highly of him.
But nothing is guaranteed. The 23-year-old’s contract is partially guaranteed. The Celtics have high-end talent with a clear top six, and there’s a real fight for playing time behind them. In Tuesday’s preseason win over the Knicks, which seemed to be a full dress rehearsal, Mazzulla’s rotation behind those six included Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet. Banton didn’t appear until the fourth quarter, when the starters rested. His role is unclear at this point, but getting on the floor starts with consistent effort on both ends.
“It’s something that I know I need to do,” Banton said.
Banton played the first two seasons of his career with the Raptors, where playing time was inconsistent. The guard – who went to high school in Massachusetts at the MacDuffie School in Granby and Redemption Christian Academy in Northfield – joined the Celtics this offseason with an eye on being part of something greater as part of a historic franchise.
“You come in, you feel the history,” Banton said. “It feels like you have to work hard. It feels like you know what was here before you, so you have to take pride in being a Celtic. It’s not just an organization, you have to really live it.”
Banton, a Toronto native, said he initially thought about playing for Team Canada at the FIBA World Cup before he realized it was more important to get to Boston early to get acclimated with his new team. He arrived shortly after summer league in July when he started working out at the facility with several other Celtics players who passed through over the summer.
“It was definitely a priority to get here early,” Banton said.
Banton certainly hopes that extra work will pay off for him. What does he think he can add to the Celtics?
“Being versatile, being able to switch on defense, playing aggressive, playing hard, playing with pace,” Banton said. “How hard I play is going to get me on the floor, and being able to guard, taking some of the pressure off these guys. Just being able to put my best foot forward every day.”
With a valuable teaching moment along the way.
“I learned my lesson,” Banton said. “I’ll dive on every loose ball from here on out.”