Nothing went as planned for Romeo Langford. The rookie entered the NBA nursing a thumb injury sustained during his only season at Indiana, undergoing surgery to rectify the issue, and then re-learning to shoot using a ping-pong paddle over the summer.
All of the necessary rehabilitation on that hand injury caused Langford to miss Summer League. The young wing returned for the preseason but then pulled his groin, and back to the treatment table he went. Langford had to re-learn habits. For a professional athlete, practices generate success. Re-learning on the fly can become a burden - it causes a sense of frustration, slowing chipping away at self-belief.
Langford showed commendable mental fortitude to overcome those early stumbling blocks, eventually earning some NBA minutes following a successful spell in the G-League with the Maine Red Claws.
The juxtaposition between Langford’s expected skill set and what he displayed was captivating. Here was a walking high school legend in the basketball mecca of Indiana, known for his transcendent scoring ability when driving the lane - yet, for Boston, it was his defensive intensity that won plaudits.
Brad Stevens displayed a level of trust in Langford that’s seldom seen from him with a rookie, justified by Langford spending some time guarding LeBron James. To be clear, Langford didn’t display otherwordly defensive IQ, and his positioning wasn’t perfect either. Instead, the Indiana Hoosiers alumn impressed with his intensity, consistently making himself tough to beat while displaying active hands.
Despite Langford’s exploits on the defensive end, he still found himself floating in and out of the rotation. Unfortunately, injuries again played a part in Langford’s exposure to regular playing time. With Gordon Hayward injured, Stevens thrust Langford into the rotation. Once the former All-Star returned to action, the rookie found himself riding the bench again.
Notching just 32 games this season (with two as a starter), the 6’4’’ rookie never got going, which limited his ability to display his scoring prowess. Attempting just 2.5 shots a game, it’s hard to make a lasting impression, especially when there isn’t enough sample size to display your full offensive arsenal.
“He’s a good player. I know that nobody knows that yet in Boston and hasn’t seen him, but the two games we played against Miami that we won, we scored 56 points in the paint in the last three quarters of one of the games and 60 points in the paint in another one. That’s Romeo’s strength: scoring in the paint. And he didn’t really get a chance to show much of that during this year.” - Danny Ainge
Should Langford wish to become a threat in the paint as Danny Ainge alluded to, he will need to improve when finishing through contact - something which the rookie clearly tried to avoid in his maiden season.
The season ended with yet another injury for the Indiana native, where season-ending surgery was required to rectify the issue. Rookie years rarely go as expected. From adjusting to the jump in quality, traveling, and living under a microscope, there’s a lot to get used to very quickly.
An off-season of recuperation, followed by improving his strength and conditioning, should be enough to ensure Langford proves all the doubters wrong next year. For now, though, we will look back at Langford’s NBA debut as a missed opportunity and look to the future with cautious optimism.