The birth of a modern Celtics folk hero is an interesting thing. For Luigi Datome, it was tied to his love of coffee and his effectiveness as a long-range marksman. For Brian Scalabrine, it was an indefatigable dedication to being a team player and for making as much of a difference as he could every second of the game, whether it was on the court or on the bench.
Jordan Mickey is well on his way to becoming a Boston folk hero, despite the fact that he has played a total of 57 minutes of NBA basketball.
The shot-blocking power forward out of Louisiana State University has developed a cult following, as the #FreeMickey movement grew consistently throughout the regular season. His recipe for capturing the imaginations of armchair GMs is rather well-grounded. Start with a solid pre-draft scouting report and a first-round-caliber contract, despite being a second round pick. Mix in a clearly recognizable talent (blocking shots) that is sorely needed on the team. Finish with a D-League All-Star selection. Bake in the oven for one regular season.
It's true--Jordan Mickey has shown, whenever given the opportunity, that he could be a difference-maker in an area that has plagued this team since the departure of Kevin Garnett. He is locked up next year at $1.2 million, and for the next two years at the same price with a team option. Additionally, he has improved during his time in the Developmental League, as outlined in this great piece from Kevin O'Connor.
However, it's also true that he plays a position that was intensely over-crowded all season. It's true that he hasn't proven that he can have the same level of effectiveness in the big leagues that he has had in the minors. It's true that we still haven't seen him on the court for a cumulative hour of playing time, or even for truly meaningful minutes.
As a result, we don't really know what we have in Jordan Mickey. Without a consolidation of talent in the front court, he may not overcome the glut of bigs that have blocked his path to playing time. If he does get meaningful minutes, he may not be able to produce as well as we might hope.
However, I wouldn't bet on his inability to achieve lasting NBA success.
Unlike some of his young teammates, Jordan Mickey has demonstrated improvement throughout his rookie season. When he did receive minutes, he took full advantage of those opportunities. Per 36 minutes, Mickey is averaging 13.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and a staggering 6.9 blocks. Clearly, those numbers are not sustainable in larger sample sizes, but they speak to the young man's willingness to follow one of Brad Stevens's core tenets: be ready.
This offseason promises to be transformative for the Boston Celtics, given their crowded roster and their embarrassingly plentiful selection of draft picks. However, put my money down on the young shot-blocking enigma building his cult following in a Celtics uniform for years to come.
Perhaps this year we'll see what we really have in Jordan Mickey.