Romeo Langford plays some damn good defense for someone with only 35 games of NBA experience. It sounds obvious, but I’m not sure people are understanding how few games that is. For reference, Payton Pritchard has already played 46 career games, and it feels like he was drafted just yesterday. With last season being so elongated with the mid-year pandemic break, it feels like Romeo has been on the Celtics for quite a while now. The truth is, he’s barely played at all.
Boston’s off-ball defense has been a problem for them all season. On the ball, I think they’re pretty well covered at every position, but when teams force them into rotation, things get ugly. Similarly, Pritchard getting burned in the clip above is a play that would typically be hard to recover from even for a strong rim protector. To not foul on plays like this is nearly impossible with how NBA games all called today. You need perfect to jump perfectly straight up and maintain that position even while blocking the shot to avoid getting a whistle.
Nice work from Romeo Langford on the defensive end vs. Devonte' Graham: pic.twitter.com/6Jb20LwyIr— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) April 4, 2021
Romeo gets beat here, but the contest to Graham’s shot after mostly sticking to him without fouling is still pretty impressive. The first move Graham makes to separate himself from Romeo is absolutely foul bait - that quick arm motion (I can’t tell if it was a push-off or not) gets called all the time when the defender reacts to it by using their own arm to absorb the contact. Even in his limited opportunities, these aren’t the first flashes we’ve seen from Romeo. Before the Covid break last season, the Celtics trusted Romeo to cover skilled guards in short stints and he didn’t disappoint. With the roster once again semi-overhauled into a full blown youth movement, he should get a lot more chances as the season progresses.
This stat means basically nothing given the sample size, but at least it’s one way to quantify Romeo as a plus-defender in his first three games. Boston’s best defenders not named Robert Williams have slumped defensively as they work through injuries and illness, so the roster has been mostly devoid of defense for a few weeks. And that’s not a dig on the players, that’s just the reality of such a chaotic season.
On the other side, Romeo’s shooting mechanic appear much smoother compared to last season. Here’s a shot from last year for comparison:
I see two differences:
1) Romeo’s legs stay straighter now. His knees buckled in a bit before.
2) The follow-through is less of a quick fling and more of a smooth release.
I don’t think there’s an objectively correct way to shoot a basketball, or at least I don’t think the rules of “proper” form are as strict as some people make them out to be, but I do think simpler is better and less moving parts leads to more consistency. In other words, straighter legs equals more balance, right? More balance means better body control, and body control is everything.
Romeo connected on five out of 27 three-point attempts last season and he’s already hit three of six this season. He’s one for six on two-point attempts, but again, the sample sizes hardly mean anything. There are some tangible improvements to his game on both sides, and he happens to play the exact position the Celtics have been so desperate to add depth to all season.
Anyone who’s frustrated that Aaron Nesmith hasn’t had an impactful rookie season should be even more emphatic about Romeo consistently making winning plays 35 games into his career. I cannot stress this next part enough: Boston’s peak contention timeline is still a year or two down the road and every core piece is going to need some time to develop. The Celtics aren’t going to have cap space in the foreseeable future, making it especially important to give opportunity to home grown talent. Any calls to blow up a team of 20-25 year olds are certifiably insane and I won’t be entertaining any such buffoonery.