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Romeo Langford’s jump shot is still under construction

Despite preseason excitement, the Celtics rookie’s jumper still looks suspect.

2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images

There is no annual tradition more ridiculous than NBA preseason. Half the league has cut 20 pounds, the other half packed on 20 pounds of muscle. Every young player is primed for a breakout, every veteran has added a new wrinkle to his game, and every player who couldn’t shoot has spent the summer transforming themselves into Stephen Curry.

For the Celtics, rookie guard/wing Romeo Langford appears to be the resident shot-rebuilder with videos circulating from training camp delivering hope the lottery pick has already corrected his most glaring weakness.

The issue for Langford, like for just about everyone who’s transformed his shot but Blake Griffin, nothing’s actually changed.

Let’s go back over two years to the summer after Langford’s junior season of high school, also known as AAU season:

If you’ve seen Langford shoot before, what you should notice are familiar issues. He brings the ball across to the left side of his face, sets the ball on his forehead, bends his wrist an extreme amount, flares his right elbow, and flexes his elbow well beyond 90 degrees. It can be easier to see in still shots:

Additionally, you should see he had an inconsistent base, as his feet are basically glued together in the second image, and guide hand interference with his off-hand thumb pointing forward after flicking the ball in the final one. The results were predictably bad. In thirteen AAU games, Langford shot 25% on sixty-eight 3-point attempts.

Let’s move on to Romeo’s lone season at Indiana, where it seems important to address two distinct segments. First, examples from before the Celtics rook injured his thumb:

I see some signs of positive projection here, particularly when he hops into the movement attempt at the 12-second mark (and base consistency appears better), but the shot is fundamentally the same. The glaring flaws—set point, wrist flex, elbow flare, guide hand interference—remain. Now, let’s move to a post-injury example:

It’s...the same. I understand why people like to use the thumb injury as an excuse for Langford’s shooting woes—27.2% on 125 3-point attempts—in college. It’s nice to think there was an elite prospect hiding in plain sight, that the Celtics really pulled one over on the league (well, they did, but that was with the 22nd pick and Grant Williams, not the 14th), but reality is that Langford’s jumper was always a major problem at lower levels.

Now, a summer removed from Langford’s selection, Celtics fans are starved for progress, for evidence that he’s grown beyond those ugly AAU and college numbers. After all, this was the only action shot of their lottery pick C’s fans had gotten their hands on all summer:

On Monday, Langford boasted he’d made progress since the rather goofy image had circulated in early July, and on Tuesday, video finally emerged:

The problem: nothing’s really changed. As you’ll see below, Romeo still sets the ball on the left side of his forehead, and he still flicks the ball with his left thumb:

I find the thumb-flicking to be especially discouraging, because we know the Celtics explicitly focused on fixing that with the goofy ping pong paddle set up. Beyond that, Langford himself seems to know:

These are two stills from the same shot. In the first, Langford’s left thumb clearly points forward after flicking the ball. In the second, he moves his hand back to the position a guide hand should be in, not interfering with the shot, as the ping pong paddle attempted to drill into him. He knows what the Celtics want of him, but he hasn’t been able to retrain his body to listen.

Of course, we don’t have meaningful percentages for these practice reps, but we do have some results to consider:

In these practice attempts, Langford is missing both left and right, as his form is derailed by the internal instability of an interfering thumb and flared elbow. A shooter with sound mechanics--absent those horizontal forces--should miss almost exclusively long or short.

From the recent videos, I see the same exact mechanics Langford’s employed for the last two-plus years across three levels of competition and through significant thumb injury, not a transformed sharpshooter.

I know fans want Langford to be fixed and ready for stardom, but he’s simply not there yet. My advice would be not to freak out, though. Langford ranked 12th on my pre-draft board in spite of his shooting deficiencies. The strength, size, intelligence, and touch that made Langford the Celtics top selection in the 2019 NBA Draft are all still there.

But it’s going to take time. My expectation has long been that Year One will be light on NBA minutes for Langford. It might seem a bit unusual for the team’s lottery pick to be shelved as the 22nd and possibly 33rd picks in the same draft play major roles for the team, but I won’t be worrying about it. The Celtics drafted two of the best players in college basketball in Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards who both played three years at Tennessee and Purdue respectively. In Langford, they have more of a project.

Both Romeo Langford and his shot will take time, and for their sakes, neither should be made out to be more than they are now. But give them the time they need and deserve and they could coalesce into one heck of a player.

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