Summer league games shouldn't be overlooked. It's not the playoffs and it's not even a regular season game that counts against your record. You might even say they're worth less than pre-season games where teams try to at least gel together, development some chemistry, and figure out rotations. Most of the players that are playing this week in Orlando and next week in Vegas won't even see the inside of a NBA locker room next season, let alone the court. On the surface, summer leagues look like showcases for newly-drafted rookies and young players trying to break into the NBA, but if you dig a little deeper, there are other motives at play.
If you saw yesterday's game against the Thunder, you saw the Celtics' 2012 rookie class live up to their billing: Jared Sullinger was a beast in the paint, Fab Melo was seven feet tall and still a project, and Kris Joseph can score the ball. Those were all great signs for a fan base and a front office hoping to find some immediate contributors from last month's draft. There's also the 2011 rookies, JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore, the pair affectionately known as Purduo. Unfortunately, their freshman campaigns in the NBA were marred by a shortened training camp and spotty minutes during the regular season. They've shown flashes of brilliance (JJJ in a Sunday matinee against the Bulls and E'Twaun in a huge comeback win in Orlando), but for all intents and purposes, this is their true rookie season. Even though they're technically 2nd year pros, they're still expected to compete in summer leagues and they're going to have to show Danny that they belong on the team, especially Moore who's on a non-guaranteed contract.
But as Chris Forsberg at ESPNBoston.com points out, there might be other games afoot:
OPTION 2: SIGN-AND-TRADE
Of the nine players officially under contract for next season, three are rookies who cannot immediately be dealt. Three others are starters (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley) that the Celtics would have no interest moving. What's left is a combination of summer leaguers JaJuan Johnson, E`Twaun Moore, and Sean Williams. All combined, the three provide $2.8 million in salary. But the question becomes 1) Are the Celtics willing to part with any combination of them? and 2) Would another want them considering their limited roles?
So, if Johnson and Moore (and Williams, to some extent) want to make a good impression and stay in Boston, it might be a double-edged sword. The better they play and the more they stand out over the next two weeks, the more attractive they are to other teams. It's the unfortunate catch-22 of a young NBA player that hasn't broken out yet. With the moratorium on signing free agents just hours away, I figured Tyrone Lue would give all three players a good run this afternoon in Orlando.
You can really see E`Twaun Moore maybe trying a little too hard to make an impact. He's fearless going into the teeth of the defense and shooting that little floater, but I'd love to see him drop it down to a big rather than try to score. I'm not even sure E`Twaun believes he can make it in this league as a scorer. If he's going to be successful this season, he's going to have to be one of those players that takes what the defense is giving him. How much of him forcing it in summer league is a product of his non-guaranteed contract? What I do love about him is his demeanor. When the game got close in the fourth quarter, he was a calming force. He wasn't flustered when he got double-teamed and shut down Brooklyn's best player, Marshon Brooks. If Danny has to choose between a vet-minimum back up guard or E`Twaun, I'd like to see Moore get a shot.
JaJuan Johnson played much better playing off the ball and in pick-and-pops. With the defense keying on Sullinger, he made some nice cuts into the paint. Most of his points came off his elbow jumper, but he's far from Garnett comparisons right now. All things considered, I'm still on the JJJ train. His length, athleticism, and mid-range will be valuable around the veterans. If he sees time on the floor this season, he's going to be playing with Rondo, Pierce, Garnett, Green, and Terry, meaning players that will get him shots. If he can pick up the defensive rotations, that could earn him 7-10 minutes early in the year.
What Jared Sullinger lacks in height, he makes up for in boxing out and wing span. I'm always very wary about bubble butts but Sullinger is calming my fears. He struggled a little bit with his own offense, but was very good finding cutters and passing out of the low and high post. At halftime, Doc talked to Rick Kamla and Dennis Scott and specifically pointed out his passing:
Doc on Sullinger: "What I liked yesterday, the points I could care less, but he can really pass the basketball. He knows how to play."— Boston Celtics (@celtics) July 10, 2012
In the Celtics offense, bigs will be in play making positions with the ball at the free throw line extended. With Garnett and Bass, that usually meant a 15-foot jumper or passing to a cutter, but Sullinger also has the ability to put the ball on the ground and bulldoze his way to the rim. That will be a nice added dimension. I wouldn't be surprised if he's playing meaningful minutes on day one.
Because of Fab Melo's background in Syracuse's vaunted zone defense, it looks like he tends to over compensate on man-to-man D and sticks too closely to his man. He'll be better with Garnett barking at him, but in the last two games, he's been late a lot on helping off his man and protecting the rim. He did show some nice instincts on offense with a nice pass out of the low post and looks like a pretty decent pick setter.
Second day in a row where Kris Joseph has impressed me. He's not bigger than anybody, stronger than anybody, or faster than anybody, but like Sullinger, he can play. He seems to always been in the right spot and can finish from all angles at the rim. Let's not forget that he was Syracuse's leading scorer last season on a team that featured Dion Waiters, the Cleveland Cavaliers pick at #4.
For what it's worth, Dionte Christmas (yesterday) and Jonathan Gibson (today) have been impressive. If the Celtics don't give them camp invites, they'll be in someone's training camp in October.
Oh, and the Celtics won 82-73.
Winning— Fab Melo (@Fabpmelo) July 10, 2012