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Which young Celtics player will make the biggest impact this year? (CelticsBlog roundtable)

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The NBA is a whole different ballgame than Summer League

NBA: Summer League-Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

This week the CelticsBlog staff is going to weigh in together on various topics. Please feel free to expand on these topics and give your own opinions in the comments below.

The Boston Celtics Summer League team rolled right to the Final game (and then got rolled). But can the team translate that success to the NBA level? For the purposes of this discussion we’re going to focus on players that are still on their rookie deals (and haven’t yet signed extensions). Who do you think is going to have the biggest positive impact on the team this year? (Candidates to consider include Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Bruno Fernando, Carsen Edwards, and Sam Hauser)

Daniel Poarch

Aaron Nesmith has the clearest path to minutes on this roster, and you could make the case he has the highest individual ceiling, as well. There just aren’t many other players on this roster who can replicate the kind of off-ball threat he provides offensively, and if he can continue to learn and grow on the other end of the court, lanky wing defenders are something that never goes out of style. Payton Pritchard still might be the more NBA-ready of the duo, but right now, Boston’s guard room is a little more crowded, and due to his size and position, he lacks Nesmith’s defensive upside. Pritchard is a solid rotation player, but if everything goes right, Nesmith could make a case to start before the end of the season. That makes the Green Bean the pick, for me.

Drew Doxy

I’ll go out on a limb here and say Payton Pritchard. It wasn’t a stretch to say early on in the season that behind the Jays and Smart, Pritchard was the fourth or fifth best player on the team before Kemba Walker made his return to the lineup. He was a steady hand, a catch-and-shoot threat, and an energetic burst off the bench. He has amplified all of those traits after his showing in Summer League. Although his impact in the playoffs wasn’t tremendous, that’s not really fair to judge him on because the Nets weren’t a good matchup for him. I think he’ll really be a force that benefits from Dennis Schröder’s drive-and-kick prowess this year.

Rich Jensen

If we get a mostly healthy year from Romeo Langford, I think that’s our guy. Reggie Lewis ended up on the C’s roster because he went to the draft combine with a bad case of the flu. He looked terrible, but Red drafted him because of the mental toughness he showed by doing that. Langford is the same way: He deferred surgery to play a full season for the Hoosiers, and that showed me something of how he approaches the game. If—and it’s a big if—he can stay healthy, he’s got an attitude that suits this team perfectly.

Keith Smith

It’s gotta be Aaron Nesmith. Payton Pritchard is caught a bit in a minutes crunch in the backcourt now, even if he’ll play alongside both Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder plenty. Who knows if Romeo Langford will ever be healthy? So, I’m saying it’s Nesmith.

The Vanderbilt product looked very good in Summer League, and not just as a shooter. He was scoring at all three levels off the dribble. And his shot looks great too. If he hustles like he did as a rookie and defends better, he’ll get a lot of minutes on the wing.

And this might be cheating, but it feels like Robert Williams might finally have that full-scale breakout season we’ve been waiting on. He’s just gotta stay healthy to make it happen.

Michael Pearce

This is the easiest question for sure, it’s Nesmith! He looked elite in Summer League, proving he’ll make an impact as a rotation player behind Tatum and Brown. We saw his energy all last season, and that tenacious motor could even propel him into becoming the starting two guard this year.

Pritchard also looks to take a leap, but Nesmith has much more room to climb, as Keith already detailed.

Adam Spinella

I’m rocking with Pritchard, more due to the steady hand he showed as a rookie. My gut tells me that as a first year coach, Ime Udoka will want to rely on guys he can trust within that second unit instead of tinkering with his rotation every night. Pritchard won’t amaze with many jaw dropping moments, but he plays hard, shoots it well and is reliable

Bobby Manning

I’ll lean Payton Pritchard over Aaron Nesmith here. Romeo Langford won’t be a popular answer, but if Ime Udoka shares an ounce of similarity to Brad Stevens then Langford’s defensive floor will provide an easy route to him getting minutes in many matchups. That’s where Pritchard and Nesmith seek improvement in to fully round out their games. Pritchard’s on-ball abilities remain strong, but size will always be an issue. Celtics coaches like what they saw from Nesmith defensively overall in Las Vegas. Other times, he still opened up his hips and allowed lanes to the basket, not gaining the full benefit of his strong physique and length. This team needs Nesmith the most for his two-way potential and spacing, though Pritchard’s long-distance shot continues to be perhaps the most reliable on the team. He shot as well as anyone in the league from three in catch-and-shoot situations as a rookie. With increased defensive presences around him and the ability to potentially help him out across lineups, the Celtics may be able to sneak Pritchard on the floor a bit more this season and with his fellow back court running mates all suspect shooters he gains a clear advantage. This team needs spacing badly and Pritchard has shown every time we’ve seen him that he can provide it, with others now available to handle playmaking responsibilities that PP still needs to improve with.

Greg Cassoli

Not a lot to add from what my esteemed colleagues have already covered, but I’m inclined to say Nesmith. Assuming the Celtics want to move away from playing multiple centers at the same time, there are lots of minutes available on the wing. Nesmith has flashed the potential to step up into a meaningful role, and there will be no shortage of opportunities to do so.

Adam Taylor

My heart tells me Romeo Langford, but my mind is telling me Aaron Nesmith. And in this instance, I’m going with my mind. Nesmith will add valuable spacing to whichever unit he plays on, has shown glimpses of three level scoring potential, and hustles his butt off on defense. I think he’s slightly ahead of Romeo in the battle for minutes, in large part due to his availability, and if he can be judicial with his shot selection he will be a huge rotation piece throughout the season.

Jeremy Stevens

Well, I guess everyone already wrote that it’ll be Nesmith and, yeah, I agree. For one, there’s a non-zero chance he lands in the starting lineup at some point. As I’ve written many times, he reminds me of a mini-Fournier and I’m hopeful his improved shooting can offset some defensive issues. Since he’s only in year 2, it would also be too early to rule out his defense going through serious improvement as well. There’s virtually no reason to start Pritchard ahead of Marcus and Dennis, Romeo isn’t ready, Grant is behind multiple bigs on the depth chart, and Carsen won’t be in the rotation at all. My best guess is Richardson starts ahead of Nesmith on the depth chart, but the range of difficult shots Nesmith can hit is a boon for the Celtics’ offense if it translates to real basketball outside of messy summer league games. I have no doubts that Pritchard is a solid basketball player, but I’m not confident in his ceiling being much higher than “reliable backup”, while Nesmith has a real opportunity to be a starter on a competitive team.

Honorable mention of course goes to Romeo Langford, who still does not get credit for his defense.

Jeff Clark

I too will say Nesmith but in order to be different I’m going to use this space to advocate once again for some patience with Grant Williams. Maybe he’ll ultimately be a too-small-big but I think he’s best suited to play on a good defensive team. He’s your typical glue guy and when everything is already unhinged there’s no amount of glue that will keep it together. Let’s see what he does with the occasional power forward minutes before we write him off for good.