In most cases, two-way spots are used to keep hold of second-round picks, take flyers on young players, or develop untapped talent. For the Boston Celtics, the former two options have been the method of choice with guys like JD Davison, Mfiondu Kabengele, Sam Hauser, and Tacko Fall.
But Jay Scrubb, Boston’s latest two-way signee, could allow them to follow in the footsteps of the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors, who have used their two-way slots to cultivate win-now rotation pieces. Guys like Juan Toscano-Anderson, Anthony Lamb, Caleb Martin, and Max Strus all worked their way up the ranks following their stints as two-way players.
Scrubb is still only 22 years old, but he has the skillset to play a unique role for the Celtics. He could be an archetype of player that has blossomed into relevancy in recent years like Bruce Brown and Gary Payton II.
Throughout his entire career, Scrubb has been the guy. Whether it’s been in garbage time of NBA games, in the G League, or at John A. Logan College, the JUCO school he attended before entering the NBA Draft — Scrubb has always had the ball in his hands.
And at first glance, that could be a concern. On a Celtics team with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and heaps of other talent, Scrubb will seldom be the one making plays. But his experience driving to the hoop and utilizing his elite athleticism gives him a pathway to turn over a new leaf and develop into a particular (and valuable) player for Boston.
Entering the league, Brown and Payton had somewhat similar storylines. They didn’t stick with their first teams, found a new home where they played a different role, and ended up earning big-time paydays. It took Payton a couple of extra steps to that point, but in the end, they both went from standard guards to effectively undersized forwards who primarily play off the ball.
Brown and Payton largely make a living off cuts, setting screens, and playing the in-between game. Their athleticism allows them to make runs at the rim like a big but with the quickness of a guard.
Look at this play the Golden State Warriors drew up for Payton, as outlined by Anthony Slater of The Athletic. He fakes a screen, cuts to the basket, and gets an easy dunk.
The Warriors have added a new play for Gary Payton II when bigs guard him.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 8, 2021
-Payton comes up for fake ball screen, his defender is drawn toward Steph Curry double
-Payton spins into quick roll down the lane
-Curry passes it to the elbow
-Iguodala/Draymond lobs it over the top pic.twitter.com/orwoaW1dqE
And here, Brown is used as a screener with the Brooklyn Nets. Steve Jones Jr. of The Dunker Spot podcast details the play.
Bruce Brown having an impact as a roller. KD comes off the screen, Tucker over the top. KD snakes back middle which keeps Lopez engaged. As soon as he commits it's right to Brown rolling. pic.twitter.com/zhfcEDYvcv— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 20, 2021
As for the cutting ability of the two players, here’s a prime example from Payton (with a beautiful pass by Nemanja Bjelica).
What a pass by Nemanja Bjelica and what a cut by Gary Payton II. pic.twitter.com/MBIKwA9kMq— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 4, 2021
The same can be said about this play, as Brown and Nikola Jokic complete a gorgeous two-man game with a great cut and an even better pass.
yes give me all of the bruce brown/jokic pass and cut please. pic.twitter.com/i75T49nNPZ— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) December 21, 2022
Obviously, expecting Scrubb to step in and take on a role like this immediately is unrealistic. He’s young and has spent the majority of his career as a ball-dominant player. And he’s on a two-way contract.
But, as was the case with both Brown and Payton, Scrubb’s current skillset would not only help him move into a role like this but thrive in it. In the case of Brown and Payton, their playmaking ability and defensive versatility helped the transition. For Scrubb, he’d have to largely rely on athleticism and defensive timing.
During Summer League, Scrubb made his money by getting to the basket. His finishing at the rim was superb, and by the end of the event, he was getting a bit more comfortable playing off the ball. His ability to play through contact around the basket would only enhance his talent as a cutter.
Scrubb’s athleticism has always jumped off the page. He was a human highlight reel in college and averaged 22.2 points in the G League this past year. Scrubb would add a new layer to Boston’s offense as a lob threat off cuts and rolls.
His three-point shot has even shown signs of coming. Both Brown and Payton have turned into serviceable shooters on low volume, and that’s what Scrubb showed off during Summer League, shooting 40.0% on four attempts per game. And the quality of his shots will only improve once he is surrounded by NBA talent.
The defensive end is where Scrubb would need to really put in the work to make a living in this role. His athleticism has allowed him to be solid on the defensive end, but Brown and Payton are both plus defenders.
During Summer League this year, Scrubb showed signs of being effective on that end. He was constantly pestering the opponent and would often nab steals in transition using his quickness and timing, flipping them into easy buckets on the other end.
If Scrubb wants to earn enough minutes to establish himself as a new presence within the offense, he would have to prove that he’s not a liability on defense or, even better, that he can positively impact that side of the ball.
As things stand, the Celtics rotation is pretty set. They have a solid eight-man group with other guys on the fringe who could break out into more significant roles (Sam Hauser, Jordan Walsh, etc.). But with Scrubb’s unique skillset, Boston has an opportunity to add a new wrinkle to their gameplan on both sides of the ball.