One big criticism of Doc Rivers among many Celtics fans is that he's never been one to play the young guys and develop them. That may be so, but over the past four seasons, you can't really blame him.
The Celtics were built to win now, and well, rookies usually aren't a big part of the "winning now" mentality, especially the ones drafted in the later stages.
That notion was never more apparent last year when the C's drafted 19-year-old Avery Bradley. Bradley, one of the highest rated high school prospects entering college, had a solid year at Texas during his freshman season. Nevertheless, he opted to enter the draft, and ended up going 19th overall.
But Ainge drafted the injured-at-the-time guard for much further down the line production, admitting yesterday that he didn't have high hopes for his rookie campaign.
"No, we did not think that he would [contribute] because he was hurt and very young and didn't play the position before," Ainge said. "So we didn't have much expectations for Avery last year. I hoped that he would have played more than he did last year but it just didn't work out that way. But we did not have high expectations for Avery last year."
Flash forward to the 2011 NBA Draft and we could be looking at a somewhat different situation. Sure, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are still rookies and very young, but they come into the league both already older than Bradley, and maybe with an even greater level of competition under their belt (four years at a Division I school versus one year at a Division I school and an NBA year spent mostly on the bench).
Bradley didn't play in NBA games often, just 31 of them. And when he did play, he averaged just five minutes per game.
That's not to say that both Boilermakers are already ahead of Bradley, because they aren't, and it will take an amazing showing by Moore to move ahead of Bradley on the depth chart, assuming Ainge sees them at the same position. But Ainge does have higher expectations for Johnson and Moore going into their rookie season than he did for Bradley.
"Yeah, first of all they're four-year college players, both of them," he said. "Avery was 19 and injured when we drafted him and we knew that he would miss training camp."
Johnson is a guy who certainly can help this season. He's not a Jeremy Tyler, who more than likely would have been buried on the bench all season. Johnson is a smart player on and off the court (received his degree from Purdue - no easy task) and that, along with his athleticism (dude can jump through the roof) and willingness to play defense, could translate to the NBA game sooner than others.
Moore has only played at shooting guard, but Ainge noted that he could handle the ball as well - and his scoring is no secret.
"E'Twaun's another versatile scorer," Ainge told CSNNE. "He's a terrific scorer with the deep ball but he also has a lot of other scoring abilities. Taking it to the hole, getting to the free throw line. He's a versatile scorer, he's a four-year kid, he's been well coached, plays terrific defense."
Those are all things you want to hear about the 55th pick in the Draft, but Ainge still has his eye on Bradley, saying yesterday, "We think Avery will contribute a lot this year."
It will be interesting to see how Bradley fares in his sophomore season, ridden of injuries that won't prevent him from getting started with the team right away. Ainge drafted Bradley with a vision of his talent to come, and we could start to see it this season with an increased role off the bench.
"I think the draft is always a futures thing," Ainge said. "There are not really many rookies that come in and contribute to championship caliber teams, so we know that going in."
No longer a rookie, it's time for Bradley to step up his game and step into a bigger role. As for Johnson and Moore, well, we'll just have to wait and see how it unfolds.