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The arrival: J.D. Davison flashes first round talent in Summer League

In the Celtics best game out in Vegas, the 53rd pick showed lottery potential.

2022 Las Vegas Summer League - Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

If you were just scanning Summer League box scores, J.D. Davison’s stat lines would tell the story of a work in progress.

10 (points) - 6 (rebounds) - 6 (assists) - 2 (steals) - 3 (blocks).

5-3-6-1-2.

5-4-9-0-0.

Davison is a stat stuffer in the same spirit as a young Rajon Rondo and like Rondo, it could take a year or two to see dividends on his investment. However, on Thursday afternoon in the Celtics’ Summer League regular season finale, we saw a fully actualized Davison, at least as Summer League is concerned. In a 108-91 blowout, the Celtics second round pick flashed first round production: 28 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, and a block.

“I like him. He has a great feel for the game,” assistant coach Damon Stoudamire said of the 53rd pick. “He has a nice pace. As with most young guards who come into the league, he needs to continue to improve on his jump shot. As he gets older, decision-making will get better, but I really look forward to being able to see his growth.”

Like many college standouts coming into the NBA, there’s a tendency to lean on their physical tools that carried them against less athletic competition in high school and college. Unfortunately, at the pro level, everybody is as strong and fast as they are. We’ve seen these growing pains in our small glimpse of Davison at Summer League. His finishing around the rim hasn’t been there. Angles that he was accustomed to getting are closed off and contested.

Davison has admitted to his struggles in his only season at Alabama and some of the same issues have surfaced at The Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavillion, but he’s said that the open floor of the NBA favors his quick game. Still, as Stoudamire suggested, he’ll need to dramatically improve his shooting if he wants to use his physical gifts to his full advantage. A reliable jumper will force defenders to play further up on him and that will afford him air space to get around them. For the Crimson Tide, he shot just a hair above 30% from behind the arc. Davison told The Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach that he’s been doing shooting workouts with former sharpshooter turned agent Mike Miller and it showed on Thursday night, hitting 4-of-6 from 3.

Against the Grizzlies, the most exciting showing of the afternoon was his ability to get downhill and find his teammates to the tune of ten assists against the Grizzlies. He’s second in the Summer League in assists at 7.8 per game. He’s coughed up twelve turnovers over four games, but you can see what made Davison such a promising prospect. Coupled with his commitment to be a dog on defense (six blocks and six steals so far in Vegas), the 19-year-old is still a project, but projects to be a prototypical drive-and-kick threat after some seasoning. He’ll start the 2022-2023 on a two-way contact and with the Celtics already five deep in the back court, he’ll have plenty of time to mature in Maine and in his moments learning from Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White.