Chris Wright has been playing consistently well for Maine, and may earn himself a chance in the NBA this season. - Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
The Maine Red Claws, Boston's D-League affiliate, is loaded with players who have been near the top of big boards all season long. With a long season just barely beginning for Boston, it's time to take a look at some of the prospects performing well in Maine.
With Fab Melo's phenomenal triple-double performance on Saturday night, a lot of focus has shifted to some of the prospects the Celtics have in Maine. On Sunday, the Red Claws traveled to Boston to work out with the Celtics and for the Celtics staff, an opportunity that surely gave the talented Red Claws roster a chance to turn heads.
The Celtics are suffering from a number of problems so far this season, and while a trade is the most desired source of a solution for most Boston fans, the prospects in Maine are rich and deserve to be looked at seriously. A number of Red Claw players have been playing extremely well this season and appear poised to get a shot in the NBA at some point this season.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward has spent the majority of his young career in the D-League. Wright began the year in Toronto's training camp in September, but he failed to make the roster and ultimately elected to sign with the Red Claws at the beginning of November.
Wright has consistently been near the top of the 'Big Board' this season, averaging 16.3 points per game, 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and shooting 50 percent from the field. His game has expanded since going undrafted in 2011, and his work has been evident on the court this season. While his range is not superb from beyond the arc, it's an area of his game that Wright has noticeably worked on, and something that could help him earn a spot in the league if he can continue rebounding well, show growth defensively and develop into a bit of a stretch power forward.
After being cut by the Washington Wizards, it would be easy to understand why Shelvin Mack might be frustrated. Drafted in 2011 as the 34th pick overall by Washington, he didn't fare well at all. Mack played in 64 games last season and averaged 3.6 points, 2 assists in 12 minutes per game. He was waived in late October by the Wizards but then was drafted 4th overall by the Red Claws in the D-League Draft.
He reported to Maine and has excelled as the starting point guard for the Red Claws. Before Saturday, Mack was averaging a little over 20 points per game on 47 percent shooting, including 42.6 percent from distance. In addition, Mack has been exceptional in setting up his teammates, averaging over seven assists on the season and 10 assists per game over his last three outings.
Shelvin has had a bit of a turnover problem, which is something he has to get under control if he wants to leave a mark at the next level, but his performance this season has assuredly gone a long way in assuring an NBA team that he's ready for a second chance.
The Celtics lack a true back-up point guard this season. Is that Boston's foremost concern? Absolutely not. But should the frontcourt issues begin to take care of itself, it will be interesting to see if Boston considers giving Mack a 10-day contract considering Maine runs similar systems (if not the same). A solid back-up at the point position would go a long way in helping out Boston's second unit if the Barbosa/Terry combination ends up not producing anything worthwhile.
UPDATE: All of the above is true. Also, the Wizards are reportedly going to sign Mack again, per reports. So congratulations to him. Good to see his hard work isn't going unnoticed.
A familiar name to Celtics fans, Downs has been performing pretty nicely for Maine this season. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward has been both efficient and consistent. Downs was averaging 18.7 points per game before Saturday to go along with almost eight rebounds, nearly four assists and a decent ability to hit from just about any area on the court.
He's awkward, he's lanky and in all honesty he may never have a long-term career in the NBA, but he has shown both in the preseason with Boston and this season with Maine that he can compete with a number of different types of players. He'll continue to get chances in Maine as the roster begins to make shift and change, and if he can stay the course and continue playing well he may find himself with an opportunity at a 10-day contract from teams later this year.
Joseph has been called up to the Celtics numerous times this season, and his most recent trip to Boston was supposed to be 'for the long run' according to Maine head coach Mike Taylor. However, the Celtics staff, having seen the struggles in Boston, told Joseph to continue playing for Maine as well as joining the Celtics for practice so that he can continue developing and to stay ready should he be needed down the road.
His performance on Saturday was terrible from the field (3-of-16), but before the game against Erie he was averaging over 20 points per game on 43 percent shooting. Joseph has been pulling down six rebounds per game, 3.3 of which come on the offensive glass. Perhaps what has made Joseph most effective on offense is his ability to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. He's been able to get to the line 39 times in seven games, shooting 34-of-39 in those opportunities.
Joseph probably isn't the type of player that Boston will be able to use in a trade scenario, or at least his name has not come up much at all, so his development in the D-League is vital in order for Boston to get its fair worth out of the pick used to select Kris. The fact that Boston is committed to keeping him involved in both the Celtics practices as well as Maine's games shows enough to know Doc Rivers and others see something he could bring to the table. Whether that chance comes this season remains to be seen, but he is certainly helping his case.
Melo exploded for a triple-double on Saturday night and finally started to look very comfortable on both ends of the floor for Maine. Melo scored 15 points, had 16 rebounds (8 on the offensive glass, 8 on the defensive glass) and recorded a NBA Development League record 14 blocks. And that number isn't greatly inflated by a generous stat keeper. Melo was contesting everything at the rim and did a great job of rotating, helping when necessary and keeping the Erie bigs mostly at bay.
Before Saturday, Melo was averaging 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. In a season where Boston is struggling mightily on the glass and on defense, a string of consistent performances similar to what he displayed on Saturday and he could find himself in the NBA a lot sooner than many people predicted. He's still raw, he's still learning and the speed of the NBA game could be an issue, but his development defensively and on offense -- most notably a pretty little baby hook -- could end up becoming the cheap alternative for Boston's frontcourt woes.
Most of these players won't sniff the Celtics rotation this year, but given that Maine is Boston's D-League affiliate, it's worth keeping track of the team's best performers. NBA teams are allowed to sign any D-League player to contracts, unless the player's draft rights are owned by another team. The usual length is a 10-day contract which can be renewed once after the first term. After the second 10-day contract, NBA teams are required to either let the player go or sign him for the remainder of the season.
Joseph and Melo are the most likely options for Boston given that they are technically Celtics players because of contract/draft rights. However, Wright, Mack and Downs are performing well and if they don't earn a shot with Boston some time this season, then they could earn a spot elsewhere in the NBA later on down the road.