Summer league basketball often gets a negative reputation because it regularly features sloppy play, freewheeling, and bizarre lineup configurations. However, this summer the Boston Celtics provided fans with some of the most refined, articulate, and NBA-like action that I have seen in the summer league. Even though this fundamentally sound play only led the Celts to a 3-2 record, Jay Larranaga offered his team of young players a platform to perform and prove that they can play in the NBA.
High expectations for Olynyk
This summer Kelly Olynyk proved that he has everything in his toolbox on offense and was named to the all-tournament first team. The power forward out of Gonzaga averaged 18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game, with a 57.8 shooting percentage from the floor. With a perimeter jumper, an advanced low-post game, elite instincts, great passing ability, and a high motor, Kelly Olynyk has given Boston Celtics fans a reason to have great expectations for him this upcoming season.
Even though summer league accolades are no organization's ultimate goal for a player, the organization should be very impressed with their first round draft pick so far. Not enough can be said for the amount of versatility he displayed on offense. Gonzaga fans already knew about his large repertoire of post moves but it was a pleasant surprise for some C's fans. Whether it was a one-footed fadeaway, an up-and-under move, or even just a basic drop-step, Olynyk showed confidence and heaps of experience with his post-game. And how could you not notice him? Kelly "The Big KO" Olynyk sticks out immediately with his shoulder-length hair that flows in the air as he runs up and down the court.
Interestingly, the NBA could be a better fit for Olynyk when playing off the ball. In college basketball the paint is always clogged because there is no defensive three-second-violation call; whereas the NBA doesn't allow for that to happen, so lanes to cut to the basket are open. Olynyk took advantage of this rule and get easy baskets at the rim by displaying a high I.Q. when cutting towards the basket in transition or in the half court.
Kelly only shot 23.1 percent from beyond the arc but he is still in the process of adding that to his game. From just a couple feet in, Olynyk was drilling shots from mid-range, so it's only a matter of time before he is draining three-pointers if he continues to work hard this offseason.
Olynyk still has to improve on the defensive end of the floor. He got beat multiple times when defending on the perimeter, and he occasionally got out-muscled or out-leaped on the boards, but he never stops playing with a high motor, so the effort is there. Once he gains experience, he may be able to be an adequate player on the defensive end. Regardless, Olynyk has shown enough potential skills on offense for Boston Celtics fans to have sky-high expectations for him this season.
Jay Larranaga could be a head coach
Even before Brad Stevens was hired as the successor to Doc Rivers, longtime assistant Jay Larranaga was named the summer league head coach of the Celtics. In a move that seemed relatively insignificant, it could pay dividends for Jay, who will interview for the Philadelphia 76ers head coaching position.
CSNPhilly reports that Larranaga has a number of qualities Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie likes, "Larranaga is young, having turned 38 in January. He has head coaching experience not just in the D-league but also overseas. Larranaga spent two years coaching the Irish National team. And finally, he comes from good stock. His father, Jim, is the head basketball coach at the University of Miami."
The 76ers likely noticed that Larranaga had his summer league squad playing a fundamentally sound style and much of that chemistry could be contributed to his abilities as a coach. After only a couple of practices together, the C's were running basic sets on offense, hustling back on defense, and communicating amongst each other; all qualities that each and every coach would like to get out of their team.
If Philadelphia ends up hiring Jay Larranaga it will be a large loss for Brad Stevens and his staff; Larranaga most certainly would've made the transition from Doc to Brad a lot smoother. As a fan of the Boston Celtics, I hope the 76ers look elsewhere, but Jay has been around basketball for a long time and is completely deserving of the opportunity.
Pressey beats out Granger
Phil Pressey and Jayson Granger appeared to be battling each other for the backup point guard position throughout the summer league. Granger ended up showing average potential as a combo-guard, while Pressey looked the part of a high-energy backup point guard.
Heading into the summer, I knew virtually nothing about Granger other than his measurements and numbers playing in Spain's first tier league this past season. He was a mystery player and while I wasn't disappointed in him (he played good defense and was nifty at driving to the basket), it was unfortunate he didn't show many true point guard skills. Granger attempted far too many risky passes over the course of the week. Whether it was a cross-court lob or a pass into traffic, Granger didn't appear to have the skills needed to be a one-guard in the NBA.
But Phil Pressey was great. The 5'11" point-guard out of Missouri might be undersized but the style he plays makes him play a lot larger than he actually is. Pressey is extremely fast and consistently pushed the pace to get his teammates transition buckets. He only has an above-average shot but is adapt at making the correct decision in the screen game. When penetrating towards the rim, he shows exceptional vision and skill with no-look, dump-off, and perimeter passes. He sometimes leaves his feet too much and gets out of control, making him prone for turnovers, but over the course of the week his decision-making improved dramatically.
Where Pressey really shines is on the defensive end. Throughout the week he played press defense and was bothering each and every opposing point guard. Pressey averaged two steals per game but his impact was even greater. He took offenses out of their rhythm and was able to force low quality passes that ended up in a steal for a teammate. Phil Pressey will have to continue to work on his game but the future is promising for him.
Fab Melo improved...a little
Let me be totally honest: I'm not sure what to think of Fab Melo. When Melo was first drafted last year I was so unhappy about the selection because I didn't see much potential in the game. After the 2012 Summer League and his limited time in Boston, I was distraught. I thought to myself, "what a waste of a draft pick!" Yet, over the course of his D-League season with the Maine Red Claws, I saw signs of improvement. He developed a nice hook shot, moved a lot better on defense, and just looked a little bit more aware in general. My expectations were and still are fairly low, but I can't discount the fact that the man has made improvements.
You have to give credit to Fab Melo and the coaching staff in Maine for developing his hook shot. It looked silky smooth and while I don't have the exact statistics, I am willing to bet he shot at least 50 percent with the hook. He actually has really nice touch, which he also displayed at the free throw line. He shot only 63.6 percent from the line, but again that's a drastic improvement from his freshman year at Syracuse Orange (2010-2011), when he shot only 36 percent. Fab also seems to be moving a lot better on defense. He still looks like he's running around like a chicken with it's head cut off at times, but I believe he's actually becoming more and more aware of his surroundings. He played decent in the pick-and-roll and I have no qualms with his post-defense either. He still has a long way to go, but it's an improvement from last season. He's obviously able to block shots with his long arms and wide frame, and he'll get even better at it as he continues to improve on his off-ball and on-ball defense. I have to give him credit for the improvements.
On the other hand, Fab just doesn't box out on defense. For a guy that's 7-feet tall and over 250-pounds, you would think it'd be easy for him to put a body on his man and elevate for the rebound. I believe the major problem goes back to his lack of spatial awareness, not an unwillingness to box out. I went back and re-watched portions of games and I notice Fab takes a quick glance over his shoulder to find his man (this is good), but he follows that up with a whiff on the box out. Often times the man he plans on boxing out is able to get in front of him and acquire superior positioning for the rebound. It's extremely frustrating because this was an issue for him at Syracuse and last year in the D-League. Fab should be able to average ten rebounds a game in the NBA, but he probably wouldn't even average six if he played over 30 minutes.
When Fab receives the ball via a dump-off pass near the rim he doesn't go up strong enough, which is another problem that goes back to his college days. He got blocked countless times this past week for a number of reasons. First, he's too indecisive after he receives the pass. When he should go straight up, he sometimes brings the ball down or dribbles when really he just has to go up strong. Secondly, when he makes his move he often attempts a lay-up instead of a ferocious dunk. If Fab were to attempt the dunk, he'd have a much higher chance of drawing a foul or actually scoring. Lastly, Fab is far too slow when jumping. Melo isn't an exceptional athlete but he looks like he's moving in slow motion when he goes up to score. He needs to speed up his movements to increase his chances at success. I have a hard time pinpointing if this is a lack of ability or a weak mindset; either way, it needs to improve.
Colton Iverson has NBA talent
The 7-foot center out of Colorado State was drafted in the late second round by the Boston Celtics but had a very impressive run in the summer league. Iverson brought a lot of energy on the floor -- sometimes too much -- so he was always in foul trouble. But is that truly a bad thing for a reserve center? Iverson threw his body around and was dishing out bumps and bruises every game. He was a beast on the offensive boards (2.8 per game) and actually knows how to box out his opponents. Iverson's game should easily translate to the next level since the NBA lacks true centers and Iverson is certainly one of those.
Colton didn't exhibit many skills on the offensive end of the floor outside of his ability to crash the boards, but he was solid at finishing at the basket. He goes hard -- like he always does -- so he is able to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, where he showcased a pretty smooth release. He only shot 69.2 percent from the line, but his stroke could lead to better results in the future.
The Boston Celtics need a big, bruising center on the roster and I believe Colton Iverson is their man. Even though he likely doesn't have the potential to be a full time starter in the NBA, he could easily become a valuable contributor off of the bench as soon as this season.
Mitchell, Fells deserve a camp invite
Only point guard Phil Pressey has received an invite to training camp but I believe the Celtics could potentially bring in a few swingman to compete with Kris Joseph for a spot on the final roster. Two names to keep an eye on are forwards Courtney Fells and Tony Mitchell.
Before the summer league started I wrote that Tony Mitchell would probably dominate this past week because of his success in the Developmental League but I was wrong. Instead, Mitchell took on a responsibility of a role player, which completely contrasts his style of game in the D-League, where he won the Rookie of the Year after averaging 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Mitchell ended up showing that he can play off ball and was often the recipient of passes off of baseline cuts to the basket. He appeared to know when it was proper to make a cut or stay in the corner, a sign that he has a good grasp on how the game should be played. Mitchell's skill and effort on defense was also remarkable to watch. He played great man-to-man defense but also had a couple of weak side blocks when bringing the help defense, too. And as a forward, averaging 3.4 rebounds per game is quite impressive. He displayed good instincts when crashing the boards, finding the spot where the ball would bounce before it hit the rim.
Courtney Fells was a personal favorite of mine to watch this past week. His numbers on offense don't pop off the charts -- 7.2 points and a 37.1 field goal percentage -- but averaging 1.6 steals in only 20.6 minutes per game is extremely impressive. Fells is 6'6" with a tremendously long 7'1" wingspan; he has fantastic lateral speed and instincts as well. He can defend both guards and small forwards, giving him the versatility to become a potential defensive stopper. While Fells isn't much of an outside shooter, he is extremely athletic and knows how to finish strong at the rim.
There are no guarantees either of these players receive training camp invites from the Boston Celtics, but they did prove their potential value to an NBA team. Tony Mitchell will be playing with the New York Knicks in the Las Vegas Summer League, but it appears that Courtney Fells is done for the summer. If either player gets invited to training camp with the Boston Celtics, expect them to compete with Kris Joseph for a reserve spot on the roster.
Game Two vs. Detroit: Notes | Recap & Analysis
Game Three vs. Indiana: Notes | Recap & Analysis
Game Four vs. Houston: Notes | Recap & Analysis
Game Five vs. Orlando: Notes | Recap & Analysis