Several writers here at CelticsBlog think that a franchise big man could be the key pick up to make this roster really click, but I tend to agree more with Wes and his theory that a "point forward" is the next big move for these Celtics. I don't necessarily agree that they have to be a "point," but I'm convinced that Ainge sees the landscape of the league and knows that the shooting guard/small forward position is the crux of the entire rebuild with small ball and wing play becoming a premium in today's NBA.
Consider what's already been put in place. Boston is already flush with perimeter defenders in Smart, Bradley, Rozier, and Crowder. Sure, an incoming scorer would have to carry his weight on the defensive end, but most of his energy could be spent on the other side of the court scoring the ball. In their bigs, the Celtics have a stable of stretch 4's and 5's that can spread the floor for an athletic wing player to take advantage of open lanes. A franchise big man would be a great luxury for the Celtics, but in lieu of that, Brad Stevens has created a system that caters to a player that can operate in space. It's an ideal landing spot for the Next Big Thing.
Who is that? Well, let's set aside any idea that Danny could lure LeBron or Durant to Boston or would take half measures to sign DeMar Derozan, Chandler Parsons, or Bradley Beal. Those are possibilities, but given the collective age of this team, Ainge should continue the youth movement, work the draft, and target stars-to-be. Boston currently has nine players on their rookie contracts and only the Sixers (24.4), Jazz (24.6), Bucks (24.9), and Magic (25.3), have a lower average age than these young Celtics (25.7).
It's not like Danny hasn't tried already. This summer, he attempted to cobble together enough picks for the chance to draft Justise Winslow and as Chad Ford puts it, they'll again look at the 2016 class as a chance to find that franchise small forward:
Boston will still be happy with a top-five pick in 2016, and as I pointed out, there will be talent -- especially at the small forward position, where the Celtics could use some help. I don't think the combination of Evan Turner, Jonas Jerebko, Jae Crowder and Perry Jones is the long-term answer (though I am excited to see what Brad Stevens could possibly get out of Jones). With Ingram, Pope and Bender all in that range, Boston should be able to land one of those guys.
And if the Nets are really really awful (or the lottery gods are in our favor), there's a chance they could land Ben Simmons or Jaylen Brown, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. That's a year away, there's a lot of basketball to be played, and well, the Next Big Thing could already be on the team.
When the Celtics invested their 17th pick in then 18-year-old James Young last summer, it was certainly a move not made for the immediate future or even the near future. Danny Ainge and company were thinking long, long term with the possibility that Young would only be 23 in the final year of his rookie contract and possibly nowhere near his full potential. It was the kind of investment that fans and GM's alike hate to make because the NBA moves so quickly and waiting five seasons for a player to pan out is an eternity in basketball years.
However, many experts felt that if Young had stayed at Kentucky for his sophomore season, he could have easily been a lottery pick in 2015. This DraftExpress scouting report isn't exactly a confidence builder for Celtics fans with excerpts like "does not possess tremendous speed or burst off the dribble" and "lack of focus and fundamentals are limiting factors at this stage," but the kid has a ton of upside.
But here's the thing, the Celtics haven't exactly been treating him like a lottery pick with a ton of upside.
So much of succeeding in the NBA is confidence and timing. Push too hard and you might burn out a young Joe Johnson and trade him. Push too little and you might miss the blossoming of Gerald Green. Put a player in the wrong role and you get the Evan Turner/Doug Collins debacle in Philly. But if you get the mix just right, you could produce a Tony Allen or Avery Bradley with the right guidance and role.
However, Young doesn't seem to have a single element to his game that separates himself from the pack. Allen and Bradley were dogged defenders coming into the league and could always fall back on that. He's not a lights out shooter from the perimeter or a train-off-the-tracks penetrator that can finish at the rim. Young is a gunslinger and gunslingers could be the hardest players to develop. Some guys come into the league ready. Paul Pierce was a scorer straight out of Kansas, but there are those that might need a little coddling along the way.
James Young spent most of his rookie season in Maine. Some of that has to do with Jeff Green starting the season with the Celtics and the trade for and emergence of Jae Crowder, but mainly, it's because Young just wasn't ready. At 19, the pro game just moved too fast and the players were just too big for the kid to handle. In the D-League, he did average 21.5 points for the Red Claws, shooting 44% from 3, 46% from the field, and averaging 3.8 FTA over 17 games for the Red Claws. He's a scorer and he showed that in bunches that included three 30+ point outings.
Detractors will point out that D-League numbers are just D-League numbers, but you have to dig deep into the box score to see the fingerprints of the Celtics' player development staff. At Kentucky, Young shot only 35% from the college 3-point line. That became a point of emphasis for Young in Maine. More times than not, Young took most of his shots from behind the arc. That's an obvious sign that the coaching staff made it a priority for Young to work on his range. We've seen that focus on development with Sullinger's and Smart's dramatic increase in 3's under Stevens as well.
So what's the next step in Young's development? He's put on much needed weight to his lanky frame and made a concerted effort to work harder on defense (effort that made him miss games this summer in Vegas due to a hip injury after diving for a loose ball). He'll start the season behind Evan Turner and newly re-signed Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko and could potentially lose minutes to sharper shooter R.J. Hunter, but I still think he could make an impact in the 2015-2016 season because he has a skill set that none of his teammates really have.
Systematically, Young is the type of player that the Celtics' are in dire need for: a wing player that can potentially finish off plays with his jumper or penetration and create for himself if needed. Ideally, teammates like Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, and Evan Turner will initially break down the defense and find Young with the D already compromised. Think Kawhi Leonard or Nicolas Batum lite.
But still, even that's shortsighted. Young has lottery-level talent and down the road, he could become a commanding scorer on the level of Pierce or Reggie Lewis. You just never know, but until then, Ainge and Stevens will bring him along slowly. Don't be fooled by the deliberate pace they take with Young, because it doesn't mean they've given up on him. On the contrary, they know a player like Young is difficult to manage. There are gunners in this league that have found success as instant offense off the bench (see Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams), but my guess is that the Celtics front office sees more in Young. What's important right now is that Young fills a role and succeeds in that role. With the rebuild in full effect, the opportunity is there.
Rumble, young man. Rumble.