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First game of Summer League: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Heat

My first 10 Takeaways following the Celtics Summer League loss to the Miami Heat.

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - Miami Heat v Boston Celtics Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

I’ve been nervous about writing this. As many of you now know, Keith Smith’s time with CelticsBlog has come to an end. As one of the best cap experts that isn’t in an NBA front office, Keith has moved over to Spotrac, where he will assume a significant role in their league-wide coverage. I’ll be one of the first to tell you how hard Keith works and how this opportunity is the culmination of his work ethic, expertise, and positive attitude — I couldn’t be happier for him!

Keith’s opportunity had a knock-on effect. One of those effects was my being given the chance to take over writing the Takeaways after each game. I’m excited. I’m nervous. But most of all, I’m grateful. I consider this to be a huge opportunity and a serious show of faith from the CelticsBlog roster.

So, here it goes!

Ten takeaways from the Celtics' opening game of Summer League, which they lost 99-88 to the Miami Heat.

#1 Jordan Walsh can play offense

We have to start with Jordan Walsh, right? After a wild draft night which saw Brad Stevens move back in the draft multiple times. Boston finally settled on Jordan Walsh as their latest rookie addition. Walsh enters the NBA with a reputation for being a fierce defender with an exceptional wingspan for his size. Yet, it was Walsh’s offense that caught the eye on Saturday afternoon.

We got multiple looks at Walsh’s perimeter shooting just before the midway point in the first quarter. In this action, the Celtics went to a Joe Mazzulla staple action with a Spain PnR, where Walsh was the back screener and popper. JD Davison, a willing passer, found Walsh in space. Boom, a second three-point bucket to begin our overreactions to Walsh’s debut game.

Walsh also flashed some self-creation off the dribble during the third quarter when he pulled his dribble back to send his man chasing shadows before pulling up (and clanking the shot.)

It’s only one game, but there’s a chance Walsh has more to his skill set than just being a high-level defender.

#2 Jordan Walsh got reps as a ball-handler

Summer League is an opportunity for players to impress and show they belong at the NBA level. Yet, it’s also a place where a coaching staff can plug players into different roles to see how they handle new responsibilities and defensive coverages. In his Summer League debut, Walsh was given some opportunities to initiate the offense, both in the open court and in pick-and-roll action.

During his season at Arkansas, Walsh ran a total of 8 pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler and was seldom used as an initiator in the open court. So, to see the rookie wing handle the responsibility with poise is an encouraging sign for his future potential.

#3 Even TLC would want this Scrubb

Jay Scrubb came off the Celtics bench to provide a scoring punch in somewhat of a microwave role. Scrubb joined the Celtics Summer League roster after averaging 21.8 points per game in 28 appearances for the Lakeland Magic. Against Summer League competition, Scrubb looked like he could score at will.

Scrubb flashed a solid understanding of driving angles, body positioning, and control when attacking in traffic while also flashing the type of aggressiveness Boston was missing with their rim pressure last season.

Scrubb also displayed an understanding of what will endear him to the Celtics fanbase, hustling on defense and creating easy scoring opportunities for himself. If Scrubb can sustain this level of performance throughout Summer League, there may be a training camp invite with his name on it.

#4 Orlando Robinson was the best player on the floor

Without Orlando Robinson, the Miami Heat likely get mauled in Saturday’s game. The 22-year-old big man will be entering his second NBA season in October and flashed serious upside and improvement as he torched Boston’s defense time and time again. Still, Summer League is essentially G-League Lite — defense is often an afterthought.

Nevertheless, the Celtics would love to have a young project big man like Robinson on the roster.

#5 The Champagnie still hasn’t dropped

Justin Champagnie will be entering his third-NBA season later this year. At this point, the versatile forward should be handing out butt-whoopings in Summer League. Champagnie has had two years of NBA coaching and development. Yet, for large stretches of the game, the Brooklyn native looked like a passenger.

Champagnie did make an impact on the glass, but his 3-for-13 shooting and four turnovers left a lot to be desired. However, there was one moment that caught the eye — a well-timed cut that caught the defense napping and led to a nice dunk.

Champagnie’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season. Struggling against Summer League competition isn’t the best way to sell the front office and keep you around next year. Luckily, this was only the first game in Las Vegas, so, Champagnie has some more chances to shine.

#6 JD Davison’s ability to control the pace

After a season of developing and impressing with the Maine Celtics, JD Davison looked eager to show off his growth. From the opening tip to the closing whistle, the second-year guard’s ability to control the tempo of the game was on show.

Davison is a blur when he turns the jets on, allowing him to penetrate at will and create havoc when pushing the pace in transition.

The only thing holding Davison was his unwillingness, or inability, to embrace contact on his drives. Far too often, Davison got himself into the lane before looking for ways to go around the low man rather than looking to go through him.

For someone as quick and explosive as Davison, being able to finish through contact is a must. Once he figures out how to score on bigger, stronger opponents at this level, his game will reach a whole new level.

Talking of reaching new heights, Davison did display a solid pick-and-roll game, as he varied his speed to keep the defense guessing while creating scoring opportunities via penetration.

Davison ended the contest against Miami with 14 points and 11 assists. However, shooting 5-of-14 from the field is an example of why embracing contact on his drives will be the next big step for Davison to take.

#7 Azubuike is a willing yet ineffective screener

The same point I made about Champagnie rings true for Udoka Azubuike. After three years in the NBA, the 6’10’’ big should be dominating against the level of competition in Las Vegas. Instead, Azubuike had a difficult night. Miami crowded the paint and had Robinson waiting to contest around the rim, so we’re not going to focus on Azubuike’s struggles with the back to the basket. After all, there are other ways to impact the game.

For a big man, being a reliable screener is an essential skill to have. Azubuike did not show much upside when trying to create space for his teammates.

I lost count of how many times Azubuike went to set a screen for a teammate but ended up just being an obstacle for the defense to navigate. Rather than getting into his man, forcing contact, and making the defender work to close space, Azubuike sagged off, expecting the cutter to lead his man into the screen.

Yes, there is a time when guiding your defender into a screener is necessary, and oftentimes it can be advantageous. This is Summer League, though. Don’t rely on others understanding the game the way your NBA-seasoned teammates do. Set hard screens, spring guys free. Make an impact. Azubuike did none of those things.

#8 Running an NBA offense

We’ve already seen how the Celtics utilized a Spain PnR to spring Walsh free for a nice perimeter bucket. Boston’s coaching staff appeared to be keeping with their playbook from last season during their opening game against the Heat.

In the early moments of the first quarter, the Celtics went to a ‘Quick 77’ action for Davison, which ended up with some enjoyable ball movement and a corner-three finish guessed it... Jordan Walsh.

A quick action is an off-ball screen in transition for a player on the weakside wing to curl towards the ball-handler (usually to receive a pass around the top of the perimeter.) A 77 action is a double or stagger screen.

Again, Davison’s controlled pace and decision-making allow this play to tick over before Justin Bean makes a smart cut and intelligent read to find Walsh open on the weak side.

#9 Justin Bean(town)

Justin Bean is one of the more unknown members of the Celtics’ Summer League roster this year after going undrafted out of Utah State. Bean is a four-year collegiate veteran who joins the Celtics tournament roster after averaging 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in the Mountain West Conference.

Bean showed intelligent movement, hustle, and a perimeter shot that could continue to improve. Yet, it was his fake dribble hand-off action that caught my eye as he bids to show he can fill Grant Williams’ shoes.

Bean impressed throughout Boston’s game against Miami and showed the poise and control that you would expect from a four-year collegiate prospect. I liked what he had to offer and want to see him be a little more aggressive in the coming games.

#10 Jordan Walsh's defense

We started with some points on Jordan Walsh’s offense. It’s only right we end with a quick thought on his defense. I’m not going to deep dive his performance — there will be plenty of time for that during the dead of summer. Instead, I picked out a possession from early in the first quarter, which caught my eye.

Walsh starts this possession by trailing the action. Yet, the rookie wing somehow manages to deter the shot from Miami due to his rearview contest and the ground that his wingspan allows him to cover.

The Arkansas product then reads the pump fake before sliding his feet to cut off the driving lane and close any scoring angle, eventually forcing his man to abandon his offense and give up the rock.

It’s that level of defense that initially drew Brad Stevens to draft Walsh, and it looks like all the talk of his basketball IQ and ability to stay composed and balanced is all real. It’s going to be fun watching Walsh shut guys down over the next two weeks.

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