With a plethora of draft picks, the Boston Celtics will have one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. Here is a breakdown of their core young players, examining their summer production and their level of opportunity entering the 2015-16 season.
Marcus Smart, Guard, Drafted 6th in 2014
Despite a scare when Smart crashed to the floor and screamed in pain, the second-year guard managed to escape with only dislocated fingers. Smart was one of the premier players this summer, displaying progression as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Bounce passes also became more of a regular thing for Smart, and he appeared to be quicker making passing reads. He did a good job of changing speeds and got to the free throw line five times per game, where he hit at 83.6 percent.
Though Smart is a bull on the drive, he doesn't have the speed to get to the hole at will, so he'll need to incorporate an in-between game. He worked on his floater this summer and looked smooth on his two attempts. If he hits his floater consistently, it'll be a new weapon that makes him even harder to stop.
Smart clearly feel comfortable pulling up and shooting in the pick-and-roll, but he struggled hitting off the dribble. He shot just 28.2 percent from three, but he was effective off the catch, flaunting his confident, quick release. It's not a necessity at this stage of his career, but it would be a huge boost to his efficiency if he were able to improve off the bounce.
Perhaps the best development this summer is Smart's leadership. As expected, he was a bloodthirsty monster on the defensive end, making life a living hell for opponents, and that attitude invigorated his teammates. He was also more vocal off the bench, taking on a leadership role. Though Smart is only 21-years-old, in many ways is one of the leaders of this young Celtics team.
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Terry Rozier, Guard, Drafted 16th in 2015
Danny Ainge's selection of Rozier made Celtics fans roll their eyes - "another combo guard?" But the product of Louisville's play this summer helped squash the doubters, as he showcased his potential as a two-way threat.
Rozier mostly played zone at Louisville, but did a solid job defending pick-and-rolls and containing ball handlers. He forced turnovers by playing high intensity defense that'll allow him to win the trust of coaches on the practice floor. Overall, Rozier did a solid job running the point. On a few occasions he snaked to the middle and accurately kicked passes out to the perimeter, a positive development at this stage.
However, when assessing Boston's loaded roster it's difficult to see Rozier playing consistent minutes for the Celtics this season. But it's realistic to expect him to play a Phil Pressey type of role, where he comes off the bench and plays with energy, but it would probably be more useful for him to play heavy minutes in the D-League, where he can work on his weaknesses.
Rozier looked comfortable shooting off the catch from three-point range, a promising sign for him as a combo guard. And while he did show his clutch gene by hitting multiple jaw-dropping clutch shots, he still did have some wild, off-target misses from mid-range. Playing with the Maine Red Claws would allow him to get live shooting reps, instead of sitting and watching from Boston's bench.
More importantly, Rozier needs to make significant strides as a finisher around the basket. With his explosive first step and top-end speed, he's capable of achieving deep penetration, but he still has trouble finishing, especially with his off-hand. Though this is a concern, it's possible his lack of production isn't due to "touch," which is something players just have or don't have. It's probably his technique, which coaches should be able to fix as he gains experience in live action.
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James Young, Wing, Drafted 17th in 2014
The Young Hype Train went off the rails after the second-year guard from Kentucky struggled, shooting just 22.7 percent on 22 three-point attempts. But Young does have a smooth stroke, so he might just be in his own head. At times he appeared visibly frustrated on the court and his defensive intensity faltered.
Many athletes speak with team psychologists before games and on off-days to help them improve focus and manage stress, which could be helpful for Young, if he is experiencing any anxiety. One effective nerve-calming technique commonly used is visualization, which is something Doug McDermott has credited for his success.
Young did make subtle improvements as a defender. At times he did a good job of reading screens and moving his feet to stick to his man. His added bulk also helped him man-to-man situations. But other times he fell asleep or failed to put his hand up to contest shots on closeouts. His progress is encouraging, but he still is a minus-defender overall when matched against NBA level competition.
It's important to keep in mind that Young is just 19-years-old, a baby by NBA standards. But the opportunity clock ticks just as fast for him as it does for every other player, and he was unable to reveal his supposed progression.
Opportunities for Young could be few and far between with so much depth ahead of him, unless he has an epiphany before training camp begins. Brad Stevens will likely play the players ready to contribute to winning, and Young isn't quite there yet. That's to be expected from a raw 19-year-old, but it also means it'll be another year bouncing between Boston and Maine.
R.J. Hunter, Guard, Drafted 28th in 2015
The Celtics couldn't have asked for much more from Hunter this summer. He excelled as a shooter, passer, and was active defensively. After admittedly battling nerves his first two games in Utah, Hunter knocked down 14 of his last 22 three-point attempts, showcasing his flamethrower stroke. Each game the Celtics used Hunter in more varied play types, running him off screens and in the pick-and-roll. A highly cerebral player, Hunter picked up team concepts quickly and is ahead of the curve.
Compared to his last season at Georgia State, Hunter appears to have improved as a ball handler, but he still needs to get quicker. He likes to use his off-hand to hold off defenders, but that may be less effective against pros, or he'll get called for offensive fouls. But he did draw a team-high 43 fouls, hitting 83.7 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, both from getting to the lane and tossing up floaters, and by pump faking and leaning into jumping defenders.
It wasn't surprising to those who watched him closely at Georgia State, but Hunter did show off his passing ability, much to the delight of unsuspecting fans. He has very good vision and each game he made at least one on-target pass that you'd expect from a point guard, not a player with the reputation of a sharpshooter. He has excellent court awareness and is someone that could someday be a point guard, provided he improves as a ball handler.
Hunter's defense was solid. He did well playing off-ball, closing out on defenders, and rarely allowing his man to attempt open looks. He must to get better at reading off-ball screens, as he got caught a few times. Hunter's pick-and-roll defense was also better than expected, mostly due to his long arms, which he used to poke at the ball and cause turnovers. As expected, he does need to get stronger in order to prevent ball handlers from driving at his chest and drawing fouls, but that is something that should come in time.
The Celtics ranked 27th in three-point shooting last season and Hunter could receive an early season opportunity for minutes, if he solidifies himself ahead of Young on the depth chart. He is a smart player with a lights out shot from outside. If he carries his momentum into the preseason and takes advantage of his opportunities, Stevens might have no other choice than to play him.
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Jordan Mickey, Big, Drafted 33rd in 2015
Mickey signed a four-year deal worth $5 million, one of the most lucrative rookie contracts for a second-round pick in NBA history. Locking Mickey up is a wise move for the Celtics, though could be unlikely to earn many minutes as a rookie. He's behind five other bigs, so he could be busy swatting shots away in Maine.
The LSU big man averaged 2.4 blocks per game, demonstrating good timing and instincts using his long 7'3" wingspan. He has good quickness and could resemble the future of modern NBA centers that are lean, able to defend on the perimeter, and block shots.
As great as Mickey looked this summer, he still needs to make strides in his game to be relied on consistently. Though he averaged 7.9 rebounds per game, he did miss some box outs he shouldn't have, and he still has a habit of falling for pump fakes or jab steps. Veterans might be able to juke him out of his shoes, so gaining experience in the guard-heavy D-League would be advantageous for him.
Offensively, Mickey was solid. He's a very good screener for his age and looked like a threat rim rolling. However, he struggled on the pop shooting from mid-range. This will be the key for him panning out to be just a role player, or an every day starter. The Celtics should work closely with Mickey to improve his consistency, as well as his mechanics.
As the 33rd pick in the draft, the Celtics couldn't have gotten more from Mickey this summer. He's a good all-around prospect and there's a possibility he ends up being the best NBA player from their class of four players, because of his two-way potential and rim protection.
Later this week on CelticsBlog the six players unlikely to earn a spot on this year's 15-man roster will be assessed, including Marcus Thornton, Malcolm Miller, and Jonathan Holmes.
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