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James Young may be in line for bigger role than expected

James Young won a roster spot: where does he go from here?

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been following our coverage of the preseason and summer league, you probably got the idea that James Young was by far the most likely Celtic to go. The fact that he made the team is still a bit shocking, but it’s also a testament to the work he put in.

When he was drafted, we all pointed to his youth and said we needed to be ‘patient’, but none of us did. While Marcus Smart came in looking like a first-team defender, Young was an immature 19-year-old who scoffed at the idea of being in the D-league. After not alerting the team of a possible calf injury during his first preseason, (another sign of his immaturity), Young never got much of a chance to prove himself again, and has been up and down from Boston to Maine ever since. It seems like so long ago, but it’s only been two years.

In that time Young has grown from the immature 19-year-old to a hungry 21-year-old who saw his NBA career pushed to the brink. “I was too comfortable. Too satisfied being where I was... I needed a kick in the face,” Young told Celtics reporter Scott Souza. He wasn’t perfect at all during the preseason, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but he has time.

The guy who he just beat out for a spot, (pour one out for R.J.), was two years older than him. He’s also younger than rookie Demetrius Jackson, and only a year older than the promising Jaylen Brown. All that to say: while we may have not expected Young to be here, there’s sound logic for why he survived the final cut. The most telling sign of his growth may have come from Ainge’s comments to Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, “He earned this by his play, day in and day out, and he just has to keep earning. He was given a lot as a kid, with a lot of promise and lot of potential...he had to come out and win a spot with some good competition, and he did.” Now coming into his third year, the next chapter of Young’s career starts with another question: How does he get on an NBA rotation?

D-League?

It makes sense that since Young was the ‘last person’ to make the team, he may be subjected to the Maine-and-back dance he’s gone through the past two seasons. Though that may very well be his future, the Celtics may opt to keep him on board for practical reasons. First, unless you think Green is going to be a long-term answer, (he’s not), it may be beneficial to really start throwing Young into NBA games to see if his improvements translate. The Celtics waived another first-round pick because they saw something in Young that made him worth the risk. Though he’s still too young to make any sweeping generalizations on, he’s not too young, (I can’t help it), to begin to really start thinking about giving him the opportunity to implement himself in the rotation. With the Celtics setting up to make a big push for another max player, the impending RFA of Olynyk, and the future lotto pick coming our way, it’s not clear just how much cap, if any, the Celtics will have left over to help with their second unit. In that sense, having a 6-foot-7 forward with two-way potential who is under 23 may be worth the time invested in him if he is destined for a big role. It may not seem clear now, but imagine a world with no Green, Jerebko, Johnson, Zeller, or Olynyk. If it means getting Blake Griffin, the team is better. But, like Griffin’s current team has learned, benches matter, and not having at least an average one can hurt when it comes to the demanding regular season. Knowing of this potential trouble looming ahead, it may make sense for the Celtics to start developing their plan with the guys who they can keep like Young. However, he still will have to earn those minutes.

How does Young get on the court?

The Celtics have a living rotation right now of Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Horford, and Johnson with Smart, Rozier, Jerebko, and Olynyk shaping out the reserves. We also know that guys like Jaylen Brown, and Gerald Green figure to get in the mix, though we don’t specifically know where just yet. A closer look at the wing positions (also known as the shooting guard and small forward, or 2 and 3) show a depth chart of Bradley and a combination of Rozier and Green making up the shooting guard minutes with Crowder with some combination of Brown and Green making up the small forward spot.

If Young wants to get on the court, his next hurdle will be proving that he’s a more reliable option that 30-year-old vet Gerald Green. Green was brought to Boston and kept on the roster for his reputation as a ‘microwave scorer’. Isaiah Thomas has called him a “professional scorer”, Stevens has described his abilities as “scary”, and despite an injury-riddled and lackluster preseason, Ainge still opted to keep him over his first-round pick last year.

Though some around Celtics nation weren’t too happy about it, the logic is clear. The Celtics are a team trying to win, and with a second unit filled with young guys still finding themselves, the need for a veteran with a consistent NBA skill took precedent over another development project. With all that being said, Green is not a lock to get consistent minutes.

Although Jaylen Brown will be after Green’s minutes as well, one thing that Green can do that Brown can’t is shoot from distance. Young on the other hand, doesn’t have that deficiency. Green may be the more confident player now, but Young has youth and promise on his side, along with a uncanny ability to rebound the basketball. While Green has already established himself as a scorer who can’t defend, Young has shown promise on both ends and has already spent two years in the Celtics system.

Boston has already shown a reluctance to play guys who can’t bring it on the defensive end. If Green has shown anything during his time in the NBA, it’s been his inability to be a plus defender. In his nine NBA seasons, Green never had a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus. If Young can show that 40% average from three that he had in the D-League, (with over five attempts per game) and some of that newfound aggression, he may find himself getting minutes that none of us saw coming. It’s not time to get excited about Young by any stretch, but it may be time to start realizing the potential impact he could have on this season.

*A previous version of this article stated that James Young had a choice in whether to join the D-League due to his veteran status (2 years or more in the league). Young would not officially gain this status until the conclusion of this season, making him still eligible to be sent to the D-League unilaterally.