It could be anything. Shake the box and you might get a hint. Tear a bit of the gift wrap off and you’ll get an even better peek. That’s Romeo Langford.
The Celtics’ 2019 rookie class has generated plenty of buzz. Grant Williams could challenge Marcus Smart this season in winning plays and Tommy points. Carsen Edwards looks more like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate than rookie. Tacko Fall and Javonte Green have captured the imagination and early year enthusiasm of a fan base ready to turn the page on last season’s disappointment.
However, we really haven’t seen Romeo Langford. Outside of some brief video of Langford’s shooting as the training camp curtain was pulled back and photos of a table tennis paddle taped to his off hand this summer, Langford remains a mystery. At this point, intrigue might outweigh hype. A late lottery pick often doesn’t command the superlatives that a top-5 pick is showered with, but Langford is one of those high upside kids that could have easily been higher in the draft. CelticsBlog’s resident draft expert, Max Carlin, raved about Langford coming out of Indiana and ranked him 12th on his big board:
Langford’s an awesome on-ball defender with excellent physical tools (height, length, strength). I expect him to be a very plus on-ball wing defender with legitimate positional versatility.
As a slasher, Langford’s powerful. I’m concerned that he won too much with strength and not enough with his handle or explosion, but he should be strong even by NBA standards, and he knows how to apply that strength to dislodge defenders at the rim and create space to capitalize on his elite touch.
Strength and touch is a potent combination, and post offense could be yet another avenue for Langford to create for his team. It’s a throwback suggestion, but I believe Langford is a bit of a throwback player. I buy these sort of low-end star outcomes, where Langford can shoot off-the-dribble, destroy as a slasher, create in the post, wreak havoc on-ball defensively, and create events off-ball.
Brad Stevens has primed the pump, too. After missing all of Summer League as he recovered from a torn thumb ligament that hampered him at Indiana, Langford hasn’t played competitive basketball for nearly eight months. But from what he’s seen in informal workouts at The Auerbach Center and training camp, he’s been impressed with the fellow Indiana native. “Even when he’s playing open gym before the season, seemed to go in a little bit more when he was playing,” Stevens said. “He’s got touch, he knows how to score the ball. He’s a good player. The game comes really easy to him.”
Celtics fans have been intoxicated with comps like this before. The 6’6 guard/forward combo with a 6’11 wingspan has prototypical size that superstar wings have in the NBA. He’s got the potential to be a shot creator, shot maker, and maybe down the road, a playmaker. But then again, we’ve also been teased by guys like MarShon Brooks, James Young, Gerald Green, and Kedrick Brown.
Yesterday, the nineteen-year-old sounded pumped for his opportunity to show out in Orlando. “Really just excited to play finally. It’s my first time playing in a real game in a long time,” Langford said after practice. “I’m just ready to get out there. It’s going to be a real good time.”
Despite his perceived advanced ability to score, Langford is a bit behind the eight ball and potentially, the depth chart, too. Even if he makes a big impression in these final three games of preseason play, will it matter, at least in the immediate? He slots at the back of line behind Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Edwards, and Semi Ojeleye. The kid could be a mid-season call up from Maine, but you’d have to think that unless he sheds his rookie skin and turns into a mini-Mamba overnight, he’ll remain a project for Boston long term.
Like most first round picks, Langford is on a standard five-year deal. There’s no pressure on him to deliver right now. Williams and Edwards were both three-year college players and come in with NBA-ready bodies and skill sets to make an immediate impact. Even though he was drafted ahead of both of them, the expectations could be lower for Langford, partly because of his age and partly because of Jaylen Brown.
Right now, Brown is the de facto starting shooting guard who will most likely guard the opposing team’s best player and projects to be a third or fourth playmaking option. Even if he isn’t extended before the start of the season, it’s unlikely that Langford will make enough developmental leaps to make Brown expendable. The Celtics have the luxury to slow play his growth and play the long game. But then again, when you watch any highlight reel from IU, you can see why the state of Indiana named him Mr. Basketball in 2018. For now, live in moment and enjoy our first glimpse of Romeo. As Langford puts it, “it’s going to be a really good time.”