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Checking in on Celtics draft-and-stash Juhann Begarin

The 45th pick in last year’s draft is currently playing in the top tier French league.

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Summer League is a distant memory at this point. Five games crammed into a small window, with developmentally raw opposition. Yet for Juhann Begarin, those two weeks in Las Vegas began a new chapter in his career, one where the level of talent he faced took a sharp upturn. He wasn’t offered a contract with the Celtics this season and instead, returned overseas for a draft-and-stash year abroad.

Since returning to France, Begarin has played in the "Jeep Elite," the nation's top-tier basketball league. European basketball has promotion and relegation like soccer, and Paris Basketball achieved promotion to their new league courtesy of finishing second in the LNB Pro B last season. Begarin is now playing against a higher level European competition and is showing he belongs at that level.

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The Jeep Elite isn't teeming with former NBA talent like some other league around Europe, but it has recognizable names throughout. Former New York Knicks big man Kyle O'Quinn is a teammate of Begarin, while Mike James, who was impressive for the Brooklyn Nets last season, is one of the better guards in the league. Other notable names are Victor Wembanyama, who many consider a potential lottery pick in the 2023 draft, and Kostas Antetokounmpo. All this to say, the Jeep Elite is a respectable league that boasts a decent level of player.

Begarin, the 45th pick in the 2021 NBA draft, returned to France after some impressive moments for the Summer Celtics and has started 6-of-7 games for Paris Basketball to begin the season. Let's take a look at what Begarin has shown during the opening weeks of the French basketball season.

Everything begins with pace with Begarin. The 19-year-old guard has a serious set of jets and is consistently the first player up and down the court; couple that with his tireless motor, and you have controlled chaos whenever he checks into the game. If his speed wasn't enough, Begarin is already 6'5" and an eager rebounder, as he looks to pressure the rim with coast-to-coast opportunities whenever possible.

It's the quick change of pace that allows Begarin to blow by his man while forcing defenders into unfavorable situations where they're back peddling while trying to contain his drive. Of course, at 19-years-old, operating at breakneck speeds, there are times the possession doesn't go as well as the one shown above, but more often than not, Begarin is a bucket when he's allowed a runway to build momentum.

When teams do manage to build a wall, Begarin reacts accordingly, often finding a cutter for a quick shovel pass or dump-off. However, the young guard would be better served looking to pass before he gets deep into the paint. Otherwise, possessions often break down like the one above. That minor adjustment on when to pass is something Begarin will need to develop if he's going to harness his speed into an NBA-ready weapon.

Timing the pass is one thing, but successfully completing it is another, and here is one of Begarin's most significant challenges as he continues to develop. After seven games, the guard averages an anemic 0.7 assists per game but turns the ball over 1.6 times per contest. Begarin's struggles aren't just in the open court either; he's also prone to poor decision-making as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and when looking to drive and kick.

Begarin's primary issue as a creator is that he wants to play fast and doesn't allow plays to develop before pulling the trigger on his passes. If you re-watch the video, you will also see how he tries to finesse his defender by not looking towards the roller until the ball leaves his hands. Not looking where you're about to pass is rarely going to succeed, so Begarin will need to improve his patience and ability to read the floor if he wishes to enhance his facilitation skills.

Here's another example of Begarin playing at his own pace and failing to recognize his teammate's positioning on the floor. That can be the only explanation for him throwing a lob pass towards the strong-side dunker spot where an undersized guard is situated.

Begarin may be raw in his ability to read the floor and control the game's pace, but his electric bursts of speed do cause defenses problems. In recent games, the Celtics have done similar to penetrate the paint from the wing, force the defensive rotation, and then hit the weakside corner for an easy three, usually courtesy of a hammer screen. Begarin has shown an ability to set up weakside shooters in a similar manner, which at a minimum, bodes well for fitting into the Celtics current offensive structure.

Opposing defenses put a lot of stock into slowing the young guard down during half-court sets, primarily due to the pressure he puts on the rim and how he can create for himself off the dribble.

While Begarin's handle is still loose, and his lateral quickness is a work in progress, the 19-year-old's ability to turn the corner and explode towards the rim can strike fear into the heart of a defense - especially when it comes off the dribble like in the above clip.

A common buzzword in NBA circles at the moment is "rim pressure," a player's ability to consistently get to the rim to generate accessible scoring opportunities, either for themselves or others. When a player provides rim pressure, defenses scramble to close driving lanes, which open the types of passes that Begarin is hitting. However, a few highlight dunks aren't enough to earn that type of cache with a defense; you need to be a consistent threat with the ball in your hands, and that's Begarin's calling card on offense.

Begarin has also shown that he can be a rim threat without the ball in his hands, which has allowed Paris Basketball to utilize him similarly to how the Golden State Warriors have used Gary Payton III in recent weeks.

With incredible athleticism and impressive size for his age and position, teams are often unassuming when Begarin gets set free with an off-ball screen. Still, the outcome usually belongs on a highlight reel somewhere.

Having such great speed is only a weapon when used correctly, such as in the two plays shown above. But, as with most young players trying to find their role within a professional setting, Begarin is prone to moments of tunnel vision.

Being the fastest and possibly strongest on the floor doesn't guarantee an easy road to the rim, especially when you're trying to go 1-on-5. We've seen players of all ages make mistakes such as the one above, calling their own number and trying to will themselves to a bucket. Sure, it's fun when it works, but it doesn't constitute consistent winning basketball and is an area Begarin will need to keep working on in the coming months and years.

So far, we’ve only looked at Begarin’s offense, mainly because that’s where the lion's share of faults and excitement both reside and because of the impact your teammates have on defense success. Yet, there’s reason to be optimistic about Begarin’s defensive ability, too.

Similar to his offensive approach, Begarin relies on his speed and strength to provide ball pressure on the perimeter and has a good knack for navigating through screens to avoid the need to switch. Furthermore, it’s rare to see Begarin get beat off the dribble over his first seven games, as his ability to recover and get back on his man's hip further strengthened his impact as a defender.

Another impressive aspect of this clip is how quickly Begarin switches onto the ball-handler when the hand-off is initiated, thus forcing the turnover before he gets out on the break. There’s an eagerness and aggressiveness to Begarin’s defense that can speed up an offense and force them into mistakes.

According to Instat’s tracking data, Begarin primarily defends shooters who like to fire directly off the catch, but he puts in work as a help defender, too. Watch how the young guard is digging on the ball-handler attempting to force a pick-up before scrambling out to the perimeter to contest a catch-and-shoot three.

Overall, Begarin has displayed an improved ability to get to the rim and has started to flash some playmaking chops when he’s allowing the play to unfold. However, his 35% three-point shooting numbers remains a weakness. He’s operating on a small sample size, and it’s too early to ascertain if he’s improved that area of his game, or if he’s riding some momentum, but here’s a clip of his shooting form if you wish to look for yourself.

It’s only been seven games, so there’s a bunch more basketball to be played, but it would seem that the Celtics have a prospect who could carve out a role for himself in the NBA over the next few years. Outside of Begarin’s ability to penetrate and occasionally make reads, he projects to be a solid off-ball weapon too, which he will need to continue working on if he wishes to make the leap stateside next season. Defensively, we’re seeing much of what was on show during Summer League, a high-motor, eagerness to impress, and some on-ball upside as both the point-of-attack or secondary defender.

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