Guerschon Yabusele, who Boston drafted with the 16th pick in the 2016 Draft, made his NBA preseason debut last night against the Houston Rockets. Well… sort of. Instead of debuting with the Celtics, Yabusele played for the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he will spend the 2016-17 season. When the Celtics drafted Yabusele, the plan was for the 20-year-old to be an overseas stash this year, gain some experience and seasoning, and then possibly come to Boston for the 2017-18 season.
After looking solid over the course of eight Summer League games in both Utah and Las Vegas, this was the first chance to see Yabusele against top-tier NBA talent. The initial impressions were more good than bad in an up-and-down performance. The good news is that he looks like an NBA player. The bad impression—or the possibly more accurate “expected” impression—is that he’s at least a year away, possibly two. His overall stat line was solid enough: 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor and 6-of-9 from the FT line, 12 rebounds (5 offensive) and, most impressively, a game-high 44 minutes played.
On the good front, Yabusele showed enough athleticism to keep up with NBA players. He’s built a bit like Jared Sullinger, but he seems a little quicker and moves more fluidly. He also showed good short-area quickness on defense by moving his feet well. This enabled him to stay in front of his man, especially on switches. He switched out on to Patrick Beverley and James Harden a handful of times and was able to hold his own. He was also good at showing on the screen and recovering back to his man. For a player of his size, this is going to be a key attribute for him to show. He had a bit of tough cover with Ryan Anderson, one of the league’s better stretch 4s, but was able to make Anderson work and closed out well on him. This made Anderson have to play off the bounce, and Yabusele was able to stay in front of him, forcing Anderson into some tough shots over the course of a 5-of-15 shooting night.
On offense, Yabusele’s game was a bit of a mixed bag. He did a nice job getting to the offensive boards. He grabbed five offensive rebounds and was in position for several more had the shot missed. He did a nice job of sliding in between defenders and then putting his body on them to keep them from the ball.
As a scorer, he hit several mid-range jumpers from about 15-20 feet. He was also good at putting the ball on the floor for one or two dribbles and getting to the basket. He finished through contact a couple of times, creating and-1 opportunities. In addition, he did a nice job as a ball mover and screener. Without knowing exactly how the Sharks offense was supposed to run, it looked like Yabusele was making the correct read on most plays.
On the flip side, he looked a little lost at times on defense. When he was involved in the play, he was fine. Off the ball however, he lost track of his man a few times. This led to a couple of easy baskets for K.J. McDaniels off alley-oops. He also lost Anderson on a few plays and couldn’t get his body on him to keep him off the offensive glass.
On offense, his jumper from behind the arc was either short or long, as he missed all five attempts. His shot was flat without much arc on it. This could have been a result of playing 44 of 48 minutes, but it’s something to monitor going forward. He was also a little sloppy with the ball at times. He threw one pass into the seats and had two live-ball turnovers where he tried to spin, but the guard dug down and picked his pocket.
Overall, Yabusele looked like he belonged, much as he did in Summer League. The encouraging thing is that this competition was against professional players. He held his own on both ends. His fitness level over all 44 minutes played was good, and he only looked visibly tired late in the second half. A season in China may not do much for his overall development, especially given the lack of concern for defense in the CBA, but it should do a lot for his confidence as a young player. Monitoring his and Ante Zizic’s progress this year should become a habit for diehard Celtics fans.