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Langford’s rocky start to NBA life is starting to turn a corner

If Romeo can discover ways to score, there is no telling how high the twenty-year-old’s ceiling will be

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

NBA life hasn’t been easy for Romeo Langford. An injured thumb forced him to miss out on Summer League. He had surgery and began rehabbing while the rest of his teammates got to work at training camp. By August, Langford was still being monitored by the Celtics training staff and just getting reintroduced to basketball activities. Two months before the start of the season, he wasn’t even taking contact and instead, had a ping pong paddle taped to his hand to fix a perceived defect in his shot.

The 14th pick has been undoubtedly working on a different timeline, partly afforded to him by the Celtics depth at his position. It’s that depth, which was a blessing early on, that has been a hindrance to him getting regular playing time. That timeline saw Romeo make his NBA debut against the Milwaukee Bucks on October 30th, playing a total of 14 seconds. Following his cameo against the Bucks, Romeo has had a myriad of injuries and split his time between the Red Claws and Celtics until mid-December.

Romeo got reintroduced into the lineup on December 18th against the Mavericks, totaling 5:12 of playing time. Romeo went scoreless, contributing only one assist. Defensively, however, he was impressive enough to earn another shot in the next game against Detroit just two nights later. Since then, Romeo has gone on to play 24 games for Boston out of a possible 37, eating into the minutes which were previously filled by fellow rookie Javonte Green.

Romeo totaled 17:55 vs. the Pistons, this time showing his versatility on the defensive side of the ball, especially when reading passing lanes.

Romeo was also showing signs of the on-ball scorer he’s projected to be, operating out of the pick-and-roll, scoring on floaters, and showing an ability to turn the corner.

While Romeo came into the league as a projected scoring machine, it’s been on the defensive end of the floor that he’s truly earned his minutes. Brad Stevens is a defense-first type of coach: if you can stay in front of your man, read passing lanes, and hit your switches consistently - he will find minutes for you.

Romeo’s been doing just that, defending some of the best the league has to offer. Take the most recent game against the Lakers. While on the floor, Romeo’s primary match up was against LeBron James. Romeo had the unenviable task of slowing down LeBron for 1:17 minutes of gameplay along with a further five partial plays, holding LeBron to 1-of-2 shooting and one assist.

Here, Romeo keeps in front of LeBron, forcing him into the middle of the paint.

Again, Romeo keeps in front of LeBron, but this time it’s a matter of strength. LeBron ends up with the bucket, but it’s contested.

It’s a minute sample size, but it does show the larger trust Stevens has in the rookie to defend one of the greatest players of all time in crunch time. The Celtics have enough depth across its roster that Langford guarding a player of LeBron’s caliber was more an acknowledgment of his ability than a matter of necessity.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics are holding opponents to 2.9 points per 100 possessions less with Romeo on the floor. Offensive rebounds for opposing teams also drop by 4.2 percent per 100 possessions and conversely, opponents free throw rate increases by seven attempts per 100. In essence, Langford must be getting the rookie whistle!

Offensively, Romeo has a similar impact, especially in the team’s reduction of turnovers. While on the floor, Romeo is helping the team turn the ball over just 2.6 percent less per 100 possessions, which is good for the 97th percentile among guards. The team’s efficiency differential increases by four points when Langford is on the floor, too.

Those numbers indicate Romeo’s impact playing within the system. So what about his numbers on offense? Unfortunately, they aren’t great, possibly due to his sporadic playing time, but most likely due to his low usage rating on that end of the floor.

A slasher needs to be incredibly proficient around the rim; it’s their bread-and-butter. Langford, however, is currently in just the fourth percentile for finishing up close, scoring only 41 percent of his attempts. When the defense collapses, Langford does favor either a floater or step-back jumper, both of which he is hitting respectably, posting 50 percent from between the line and the break.

Langford’s outside shooting is a prominent area that is need of improvement. From the corner, he is shooting an almost respectable 30 percent, but anywhere else, that efficiency plummets to 25 percent. He’s a 28 percent thee-point shooter which just won’t cut it in the modern NBA, particularly at his position.

Romeo came into the league with the unenviable task of earning a rotation spot on a team with one of the deepest wing rotations in the league. Despite a rocky start, Langford has begun to carve a path onto the floor with growing regularity. What comes next is the inevitable growing pains, as Romeo learns to score with consistency. If Romeo can discover ways to score and pair it with his already superb defense, there is no telling how high his ceiling will be.

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