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NBA Rookie Week: Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and Jordan Mickey grow in the shadows

For the first time in three years, the Celtics have benefited from a relatively consistent roster and a season without multiple injuries. That's put rookie development on hold, but they've been showing out in the D-League with flashes in the big league.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

Last summer, I got a chance to see the rookies in Vegas, and I was struck how each of them brought something different to the game, something that would separate them from the pack. Whether it was Mickey's ability to quickly react on defense, Rozier's speed off the dribble, or Hunter's outside shooting, they each had a skill they could rely on in the NBA.

But it's difficult to talk about the Celtics 2015 draft class. We just haven't seen them play that much. The team has thrived with continuity from last season and through a combination of depth and relative health, the rookies--and James Young--haven't had a chance to see the floor. There were stretches early in the season where R.J. Hunter was used to stretch the floor. Most recently, Jordan Mickey played some valuable time last week against the Jazz. Oddly enough, it's been Rozier, who was picked ahead of Hunter and Mickey, that hasn't found impactful playing time.

In the meantime, the rookies have been tearing up the D-League, particularly Mickey. Scouts have talked about the 6'8" LSU forward as the league's best young big man and last year's steal of the second round. He's averaged 17 and 10 on 51.8% shooting, but as advertised, it's been his defense that has turned heads, particularly those of opposing players after he sends their shots in the second row. Mickey is averaging a ridiculous 4.6 blocks per game. Sure, it's only 21 games in the D-League, but those are Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson rim-protecting numbers.

Rozier has been effective in Maine, too. He's averaging 19-6-8 in 14 games with two 29-point efforts under his belt. Not to make too much of D-League stats, but what's been impressive with Rozier and Mickey with the Red Claws is their ability to get to the line. Because of his aggressive game, Rozier averaging 6 FTAs per game. Many saw a lot of Dwyane Wade in Rozier's game coming out of Louisville, and he's delivered with that comp.

Hunter hasn't made the commute up north as much, and maybe that speaks to his below-average production. He's only shooting 30% from the three and has been prone to turnovers, but his reputation of knowing the game as a son of a coach has come through. He's averaging 2.1 steals in 32+ minutes per game.

For now, Rozier, Hunter, and Mickey are just a pretty formidable 3-on-3 team at the Waltham practice facility. You can imagine Rozier and Mickey running high pick-and-roll with Hunter camped out behind the arc. Rozier gets past his defender with Mickey's screen, but Mickey's defender retreats to protect the rim. Mickey flashes for the pass and receives the ball from Rozier. Hunter's defender sinks down to help, but it's too late.  Mickey is already hitting Hunter for the open 3.

The three haven't played that much together, but that ATO from last Wednesday's blowout of the Blazers struck me as a use of all their talents. Even though it's Jonas Jerebko that gets the flush, that set doesn't work without the right personnel: Rozier handling the ball and acting as a threat to drive, Hunter spreading the weak side and spacing the floor, and Mickey setting the pick and looking for a drop-off.  We'll probably have to wait until next season to see how they fit into the bigger puzzle, but for now, it's good to see them already working together as a team.

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