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Pritchard’s a pro, Madar shows potential in first Summer League game

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First, second, and third year players all took part in the first game in Vegas.

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

Come for Yam Madar, stay to see the growth of the Boston Celtics young contingent.

After a season devoid of Summer League, the kids are back and looking to earn regular-season rotation minutes. Playing in expanded roles, now’s the time to witness what Boston’s youthful bench rotation can do when given the opportunity.

Game 1 is in the history books, and we’re left with more questions than answers.

Payton Pritchard was easily the best player on the floor. The Oregon product displayed an improved pick-and-roll game with a keen eye for the correct pass, with a large portion of them being entry passes to cutters or post-ups.

As a sophomore, Pritchard is one of the more senior players on the team, and in his minutes against the Atlanta Hawks, he displayed a level of poise you would expect from a veteran. Summer League head coach Joe Mazzulla was impressed with how Pritchard controlled the game by consistently making the right decisions. “Payton’s a great competitor and great player and makes people better. I thought he did a great job controlling the game,” Mazzulla said.

As CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith pointed out during the game, Pritchard has surpassed the need for Summer League reps and would be better served resting before the start of training camp.

A one-and-done Summer League might be in the cards for Pritchard, especially considering the other ball handlers that need reps. Yes, one of those ball handlers is a second-round pick from the 2020 NBA Draft who lit up the Israeli league last year. You may have heard of him? His name’s Yam Madar.

Madar was a whirlwind in his first stint off the bench, turning the game on its head with a mixture of intense on-ball pressure and early offense. Picking guys up in a one-man full-court press, making layups, jump shots, and floaters. Madar displayed a wide array of offensive skills and then coupled that with solid defensive decisions.

“He turned it around for us with his energy, and he hit some tough shots. But also his defense, his hands on balls,” Pritchard said of Madar’s debut.

Madar was clearly delighted to have finally made his leap to the NBA ranks and spoke about how he felt after the game. “It’s amazing, and it’s a dream come true. Being on that floor, wearing a Celtics jersey, it’s a blessing for my family and me.”

Beyond the rookie and sophomore guards, other Celtics roster members were on display, both of whom put in Jekyll and Hyde performances. On a stage like Summer League, the likes of Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford should be dominating games, showing that the gap between Summer League and NBA rosters is a vast one.

Yet, neither wing managed to put their stamp on the proceedings, but both provided flashes of the play we saw from them last season. In Romeo Langford, the Celtics have a player they hope to turn into an additional ball-handler, which would be fine if they put the ball in his hands more during this game. Langford started the contest well, probing the defense and hitting a nice dribble-drive pass, but reverted to his role as a supplementary piece as the game wore on.

When a player hits a game-winning shot, a lot of their misgivings are forgiven. However, a player like Langford, who is fighting for a prominent bench role next season, needs to show more as a cutter and ball handler.

Pritchard also weighed in on some potential next steps for the Indiana native. “Romeo is a really smart player; he can do a lot of things. But I think a big step for his growth this year is him developing a three-point shot and being confident in it is going to expand his game. He has the ability to pass, drive, and do his defense and stuff. Once that three-ball keeps coming like at the end of the game, it’s going to be a problem.”

On the other hand, Nesmith was aggressive with his offense and defense, but he failed to find his shooting range. As mentioned on today’s CelticsPod, it would also benefit him to curl off screens or lift from the corner, as that’s the role he will play throughout the season. Of course, part of Summer League is expanding your game and showing aspects of play that coaches and front offices will seldom see, but there’s value in doubling down on your skillset and honing your craft ready for when the real games begin.

Neither Nesmith nor Langford was terrible, but their impact left far too much to be desired for second and third-year players. Then there was a Carsen Edwards shooting masterclass which is par for the course at this point in his career; he must be closing in on a Summer League record at this point!

Overall, the Celtics Summer-League roster showed moments of both offensive and defensive skill. There were times when the Celtics put the clamps on defense, and they fought for every second to keep the game within touching distance during the second and third quarter. With the talent on the roster, the team will only improve as they become familiar with one another and their legs get used to competitive basketball again.

Joe Mazzulla spoke about the benefits of Summer League and what the team had been working on during their one-week training camp leading up to the tournament. “Points of emphasis for each guy, personal development for each guy. I thought our guys 1-through-12 did a great job of playing together, and they played hard,” Mazzulla said.

We also saw this year’s second-round draft prospect Juhann Begarin who looked how you would expect: raw. Begarin is athletically gifted, but still needs another year or two before embarking on his NBA journey.

For a Summer League game, the contest against the Atlanta Hawks was a competitive one, which posed many questions for the Celtics and only aid in their development. But as Yam Madar put it, “my expectation was to win the game, and at the end of the day, we did it as a team.” It’s just not many of us expected that game to be so closely fought.