One of the greatest assets that the Boston Celtics have going for them is their impressive depth. What they lack in star power they make up for with a roster loaded with talent capable of contributing. If one man goes down there will always be someone ready to step up without the team missing a beat. Depth is a key ingredient for navigating the grueling schedule of a long season, but there is one faction of this team that it isn't helping.
The Celtics added three rookies to their roster in first-round picks Terry Rozier (16th overall) and R.J. Hunter (28th), plus second-rounder Jordan Mickey. Teams hoping to contend generally don't rely heavily on the contributions of rookies picked outside the lottery. With head coach Brad Stevens acknowledging that he would prefer to stick to a 10-man rotation, it's going to be difficult for these young players to see much court time.
While every player wants to be able to contribute, this doesn't necessarily have to be considered a negative in the long run. Stevens is quick to point out that giving minutes to young players isn't the only way for them to develop.
"We don't gauge development in terms of minutes played here," Stevens told ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg at the beginning of training camp this month. "We gauge development in terms of what you are doing before practice, what you're doing after practice, how you're progressing during practice. And then when you get your minutes, how do you play when you get those minutes? There's a big difference in that."
Stevens went on to explain that this phase of their careers is all about growth, not about the minutes they are getting. However, if these young players are eager to get more playing time, there is a solution for that too.
The NBA's development league isn't just for fringe players that can't hang on to a roster spot. It provides the perfect opportunity for young players that need to see more time on the court but are currently blocked by veterans on their team's roster. The Celtics can take advantage of this by allowing their rookies to spend some time with the Maine Red Claws, the team's D-League affiliate.
Ask James Young how a stint in Maine can go a long way towards furthering your career. He entered the league as a raw 19-year old last year, but his time with the Red Claws helped him develop a stronger work ethic that has helped him make strides heading into camp this year. Now he's ready to compete for a rotation spot, despite being younger than the rookies drafted a year after he was.
This doesn't mean that these rookies aren't capable of contributing at the NBA level or that they should spend most of the season in Maine. There are benefits to keeping them in Boston as well, even if they spend most of that time glued to the bench. There is a learning curve to being an NBA player. Rookies need to adjust to certain aspects such as the travel schedule and media demands that may be new to them. Being around veterans that can show them how to carry themselves professionally, both on and off the court, is an experience that carries as much value to young players as playing time does.
That being said, these guys will need to play at some point. If there is no room in Boston's rotation then the D-League may be the best place for them to get that opportunity. The Celtics are going to need them eventually, as injuries and the grind of the season challenges their depth. These rookies will need to stay ready for when their number is called so that they can take advantage of any opportunity that comes that way. The D-League can help them prepare for those moments.
Rozier, Hunter and Mickey should all get a chance to shine at some point this season, but it may not happen right out of the gate. The Celtics should keep that shuttle bus ready, as it may need to make several trips back and forth to Maine this year.