If the Boston Celtics are serious about winning games and making the playoffs, then James Young should not be in their primary rotation for the remainder of the season.
Despite receiving minutes alongside a blossoming bench unit, Young has a minus-14 Net Rating since the All-Star Break, which is the worst of the team's top nine players in the rotation. If Boston's second platoon is to The Beatles, then James Young is to Ringo Starr, because the rookie is certainly the weakest link of an otherwise stellar squad.
Young has the potential to be a knockdown three-point shooter, but the product of Kentucky has hit just 11 of his 48 three-point attempts this season, and is just 15.4 percent from downtown in the last six games. Young is not producing in the area he supposedly excels the most, and he isn't making up for it elsewhere.
It's understandable that the Celtics want to give developmental minutes to the 19-year-old first-round draft pick, but what if it comes at the cost of a playoff seed? Young has only averaged 14.5 minutes in the last six games, but his performance on both ends of the floor suggests that those minutes would be better off being distributed elsewhere.
Since Boston is one of six teams battling for just two playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference, every remaining game is a must-win, and now is not the time to be experimenting with a rookie.
Young is getting hosed defensively
With Young not producing offensively, you'd expect him to be making an impact elsewhere, but that is not the case. Young's jittery defense has cost the Celtics on multiple occasions, as teams have occasionally made it a priority to attack the rookie.
That's because statistically Young is one of the worst defenders in the entire league. 397 players have played a minimum of 70 defensive possessions, according to Synergy Sports, and Young's rankings are not for the faint-hearted:
Young is in an abysmal percentile in four of the main stats categories, which illuminates his struggles on the defensive end. Opponents are scoring a massive 1.069 points per possession when defended by Young, which is drastically more than Boston's second-worst player (Isaiah Thomas, 1.019), according to Synergy.
SportVU data allows us to look even more closely at his production since the All-Star break, and he still hasn't improved statistically. In the last six games Young is allowing his assignment to shoot 53.6 percent from the field, which is 8.7 percent worse than the league average. And of the 22 rookie guards or wings to play in at least 20 games, Young ranks 16th in Defensive Box Score Plus-Minus, which is new metric created by Daniel Myers. No matter the statistic used, Young's numbers aren't encouraging.
Young sticks out like a sore thumb on film
Despite the stats, film study does show that Young has actually improved since he was a human turnstile at Kentucky and there is no doubt at 6-foot-7 with an 84-inch wingspan he has the potential to be a versatile defender. But as of March 2015 Young looks like a deer in the headlights when faced with one-on-one situations, and off-ball he runs around like a chicken with its head cut off -- and that's all that should matter for a team amidst a heated playoff race.
Young's footwork in both man-to-man situations against Lance Stephenson and Archie Goodwin is embarrassing. Stephenson's off-ball movement had Young's head spinning and things only got worse when Lance danced to the middle of the floor, spun, and put Young on his back.
But Stephenson is a skilled one-on-one player, so, many Celtics fans will forgive Young for that error, but the results were the same in a rudimentary situation against Goodwin. It looked like Goodwin was waiting for an off-ball action to occur when Young inexplicably changed to an off-balance stance, which Goodwin appropriately reacted to by driving the lane for a layup.
Plays like this are precisely why since the break opponents are attempting 35.7 percent of their field goal attempts within six feet of the rim, according to SportVU, because Young lacks the fundamentals to contain even average players like Goodwin, never mind accomplished veterans like Stephenson.
Young's footwork also gives him trouble on closeouts, like on the first play when he closes the gap on Goodwin and gets put on ice skates due to his lack of a steady base. On the second play there is a lot more going wrong other than Young's individual defense, but he still made a few glaring mistakes.
To start, Young actually makes the right decision to come down and help on the rolling big man, since Gerald Henderson is not a threatening three-point shooter. But it all falls apart when he tiptoes back to the perimeter with no understanding of proper closeout technique, which gives Henderson the space to drive and kick it back out to Mo Williams for an open shot. Williams missed, but Young didn't bother to box out, which allowed an offensive rebound to occur.
One of Young's most grotesque defensive warts at Kentucky was his inability to fight through screens. It was difficult to tell if it was a matter of effort or intelligence (or both), but more worrisome is that the issue has persisted in the NBA.
In the first clip Young is supposed to switch, but he is slow to adjust, which leaves Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a wide-open jumper. Young gets there late to contest the shot and he fails to put his hand in his face; as Mark Jackson says: "hand down...man down!" Young contests just 32.7 percent of shot opportunities, which ranks him 142nd of 151 qualifying NBA wings, according to a measure by Vantage Sports called Contest+, which measures shots a player blocks, alters, or contests.
And on the following play Young looks more like a moth flying straight into a light bulb than he does an NBA-level defender. By kamikazing straight into the screen, instead of stepping around it, Young gave a fringe NBA player in Alexey Shved just enough breathing room to glide all the way to the rim.
The Final 25
With Kelly Olynyk close to returning to action, somebody's minutes will have to be sliced. It might take a handful of games for Olynyk to get back his rhythm, but once he does the player with the most to lose should be James Young.
The Celtics won't always be able to play as small as they have in the past week, so Olynyk's presence will provide a much-needed boost in the size department. Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder could essentially "shift" positions, which would allow Olynyk to play center.
Since Boston's bigs play like guards offensively (with most of the ball movement focused on the perimeter), it shouldn't be much of a problem for Crowder or Jerebko to slide over and take on Young's typical role (stand in the corner and facilitate). Both players have proven to be far superior spot up shooters and are clearly more adept at driving closeouts, making them obvious choices for a team looking to make the playoffs.
You play to win the game, and giving Young extended minutes in the second half suggests that the Celtics have one foot in the playoff hunt and the other foot in the lottery. Danny Ainge made it clear to the Boston Globe that getting Young more minutes is a goal, but Brad Stevens seems completely focused on making the playoffs.
And it's not rocket science to understand that Young has been a sieve on defense and has offered close-to-nothing offensively, so it wouldn't be too shocking if the call for him to play, despite the playoff race, is coming from upstairs, and not from the coaching staff.
Stevens shouldn't refuse to give Young minutes, but he just that he can't hand them out like candy. Young has played in the second half of close games, which really shouldn't happen unless again unless he shows in the first half that is capable of hitting shots.
Stevens could continue to use Young for 6-to-7 minutes in the first half, but it'd probably be better for the Celtics to get him consistent playing time by assigning him back to the Maine Red Claws, where he can continue to expand on his skills while receiving over 30 minutes per game. Considering that Maine is one of the best teams in the D-League and Young could get playoff experience with them, he might even benefit at that level more than he is in the NBA anyway.
There are only 25 games remaining this season, so it's time for the Celtics to choose whether to go all in for the playoffs by shortening the rotation and limiting Young's playing time, or if they'd like to play both sides by gift wrapping minutes to a rookie with potential that isn't presently helping them win games.
With a Celtics roster that plays a gritty, determined, and downright lovable style of basketball, and a young coach that has his players believing that they can be great, it's clear that the more advantageous choice is to make every move it takes to leap into the unpredictable Eastern Conference playoffs.
Maybe the Boston Celtics even have a little Cinderella in them.