Coming into the 2016 NBA summer league the Boston Celtics boasted the strongest roster in the field.
Most teams come into the summer sporting a second year player or two, their picks from the latest draft, and other cast-offs and misfits. The Celtics roster, however, consisted of four second year players (Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Jordan Mickey, and Marcus Thornton), a third year player (James Young, also a former first round choice), two first picks from the 2016 Draft (Jaylen Brown and Geurschon Yabusele), and three second round picks from the draft (Ben Bentil, Demetrious Jackson, and Abdel Nader). While most of these guys probably didn’t have as much to play for as a fringe player going through his third summer circuit, the difference in talent level between the Celtics and the other teams should have been enough to allow them to challenge for the Las Vegas crown.
But they ended up bowing out early, going 1-4 in Vegas competition after a strong 3-0 start in the Utah version of the summer league.
Of course, the records in these games don’t really matter. Most coaching staffs are just trying to get a feel for what a player may be able to bring to the team, whether it be on the main roster, the development league, or on the practice court.
As head coach of the Celtics Brad Stevens put it, “The games are second to small incremental advances every day”. Stats often take a back seat to less tangible things, like how comfortable a player feels in certain situations, or how well they communicate on the floor. If a player can shine in areas such as those, it may mean the difference between going home for the summer and getting an invite to a training camp.
The Celtics had players fall on both sides of the spectrum over the course of their 8 games, and for the players on the wrong end, that means different things depending on their status on the team.
For a guy like James Young, it could spell the end of his short career as a Celtic. Young was chosen 17th overall back in the 2014 draft, and came into the league with the reputation as a shooter. While his defense was a perceived weak point, it’s not hard to see how he could have fit in with the Celtics. Standing 6’6 with a long wingspan, Young, theoretically, possesses the type of versatility that Stevens covets.
In his 60 career games with the Celtics, Young hasn’t shown much promise. He has shot just 25% from three, and his defense has ranged from woefully negligent to completely nonexistent.
The one redeeming factor for him has been the fact that he, literally, is still very young.
He doesn’t turn 21 years old until August 16th, and for some, that youth provided a glimmer of hope when talking about his future, but after watching his play in the summer league, that small flicker of optimism may have been extinguished from the hearts of Celtics fans.
It would be unfair to expect a player to remove all of their faults at the age of twenty, no matter the level of competition. Still, it would have been nice to see Young come out and take charge this summer, establishing himself on the offense end and locking in down on defense. He should have been working hard to show coaches that he is at least a step above most of the players competing with and against him. Yet for the most part, it was hard to distinguish him from those players vying for roster spots.
At this point, it’s hard to see what Young might bring to an NBA roster, as he struggled mightily on both ends, for most of the contests. As I stated earlier, coaches want to see a certain level of comfort in the players as the summer progresses, and for Young, there weren’t too many times where he looked comfortable out there.
He was good when he got to spot up from beyond the arc (8-12 from deep in the Utah games), but other than that he looked like the same wiry kid who was drafted two seasons ago.
One of Young’s biggest issues is that he lacks the sort of craftiness often required to finish at the NBA level. He doesn’t drive to the basket often, but when he does, it usually ends up in a forced shot. One that has very little, if any, chance of being converted.
Because of his inability to finish, he ends up opting for more difficult shots, usually one dribble pull-ups, which he has not hit at a high rate.
Sadly for Young, his deficiencies on offense are only magnified by his lack of ability on the defensive end. It’s not uncommon for a 20 year old to be a bit behind on defense, but Young has had two seasons to adjust to the speed of the NBA game and to learn Boston’s scheme and rotations.
Despite all of this, he managed to look as lost as anyone on the team, and even compounded this with a lack of effort at times.
Here, Young gives help in a non-threatening situation and then does little more than trot back to his assignment.
On this play, he gives a half-hearted contest, rather than rushing to break the opponent’s rhythm.
It’d be one thing if Young’s problem was a simple matter of waning effort, but even when he’s engaged he is unable to establish a defensive presence.
Against the Jazz, Young was matched up with power forward Trey Lyles, which forced him to play the role of the big man in pick and roll defense. He does his job well enough here, not allowing the ball handler an easy path to the basket.
Afterword, he even makes an effort to close out to his original assignment, but that is where things go wrong. Young takes a two-footed jump at Lyles, effectively killing any sort of momentum he had, giving up a direct blow by.
This time, the effort is there, but the execution is not.
Effort can be ingrained into a player, however, and execution can improve with rigorous practice. One point of weakness that Young will have difficulty improving, though, would be his lack of foot speed. We hear about a player’s explosive first step on offense all the time, but we rarely, if ever, hear it talked about in regards to defense. In the case of James Young, his defensive first step leaves a lot to be desired, and it leaves him susceptible to getting blown by, no matter who he’s defending.
All players progress at different rates, and no one becomes the best version of themselves at the age of 20. After two years of sitting on the bench and playing in the D-League, it should have been expected that Young would come out strong this summer, and get his third season off to a good start. Instead, he seemed to dwindle the more games were played, and ended with summer league coach Jamie Young declaring that he “didn’t like the way he (James Young) played” in response to a question about his playing time.
The clock is ticking for Young in Boston, and with Ainge publicly stating that “it’s time” for him to show what he can do and earn his roster spot, the bell may toll on Young’s Celtic career before it ever truly gets started.