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Casting call: a quiet offseason so far puts pressure on young Celtics to fill big roles

We’ll get our progress report this weekend at Summer League.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

You've seen the heist movie. There are the stars, the masterminds, and the confidence men. But there are also grease men, drivers, and muscle behind the con. With the addition of Enes Kanter, the Celtics have their Solid Seven vets they can count on and they'll look to fill out their rotation from a stable of your players looking to fill roles.

The Shooter: Some backstory first. Payton Pritchard averaged 5.5 assists in his senior year at Oregon with a usage rate of 28.2%. In his first season with the Celtics, his usage rate drastically dipped to 16.7% and subsequently, his assists dropped to 1.8 per game, too. This had nothing to do with him being a rookie of course.

Even considering how complete a player he is after four seasons at Oregon, Pritchard doesn’t have the speed and size to become an everyday NBA point guard. However, he was effective as a secondary attacker in Year 1. Because of his shooting, defenders have to close out hard to the three-point line and with that slight advantage, he’s really good at keeping his dribble drive alive and forcing a second and third defensive rotation.

The 23-year-old will slot in as a de-facto point guard on paper because of his size and ability to run a little pick-and-roll (particularly with a vertical threat like Robert Williams), but alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, his greatest asset is his range. He shot a sizzling 46.7% on catch-and-shoot threes last season and 41.1% overall.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Rock: My hope of hopes is that this is Grant Williams. Summer League head coach Joe Mazzulla seemed surprised that he wasn’t on the roster heading out to Vegas later this week, but confirmed that he’s stayed active and engaged this summer, working out in Boston and LA.

Williams is your classic tweener; he’s too small to consistently play against seven-footers, but savvy enough to give them problems as a three-point shooter (37.2% last season) and low center of gravity defender; he’s too slow to hang with quicker wings and guards, but he’s solid enough to anticipate plays on both sides of the ball.

He’s not the lockdown defender that 36-year-old P.J. Tucker and 31-year-old Draymond Green are, but the tools are there. They weren’t often on display last season because of some sophomore yips and a crowded front court, but players like Williams always figure it out.

The Wildcard: If you believed your pre-draft profiles, Aaron Nesmith would have been a shoe-in for that shooter role like the best friend of one of the leads of a romantic comedy. Instead, he showed an often reckless abandon on defense that elevated him from supporting role to scene stealer with his hustle plays.

I’m still not completely sold on Nesmith being a consistent contributor as part of the rotation. He made up for some early herky jerky play and funneled that nervous energy into death-defying dives for loose balls and chase down blocks. That will endear you to the fan base and beat back some of the missed draft night expectations.

There’s evidence that the game slowed down for the rookie as the year progressed. His monthly shooting splits from behind the arc went from 28.6% to 31.8% to 42.1% to 26.7% to 40.9% to 43.5%. On a night-to-night basis, his three-point shooting will keep Nesmith on the floor for 20 minutes a night. Game-to-game, it’s those winning plays that will earn him those curtain calls.

Utility man: There’s something about Romeo Langford. Admittedly, he’s played so sparingly over the last two seasons (50 regular season games and 11 in the postseason). Maybe it’s that: we know so little, so we expect more. Our daydreams fill the gap between promise and production, potential and points on the scoreboard.

And yet, I’m a Langford believer.

Part of it is pace. Romeo is a big kid at 6’4”, 216 pounds. He doesn’t have the athleticism of a Jaylen Brown or the polish of a Jayson Tatum, but things seemingly come easy for Langford. He plays at his own speed and lets the game come to him. It’s no wonder that Brad Stevens compared him to Evan Turner. And the pleasant is that in the shadows of practice and his rehab from two offseason surgeries, Langford became one of Boston’s best perimeter defenders.

Casting him as a microwave scorer off the bench is a little much. Part-time playmaker, part-time lockdown defender? Sure.

The important thing to remember in all this is that so much of it lives in the unknown. The 2019 draft class were largely underutilized for the last two seasons because of injury and lack of opportunity. Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard had their moments last year, but now have some intel on how their game fits in the NBA and the proper offseason to hone their skills.

The Celtics have their first Summer League game on Sunday at 4 pm (NBATV) and we’ll get a good luck at their progress.

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