Last Call for James Young

James Young has struggled during his first two seasons in the NBA. Entering his third season, Young is at a crossroads. It's time to either begin living up to his potential, or face the possibility that he won't be in the NBA much longer.

It’s now or never for James Young. The 21-year-old swingman is entering his third year in the NBA, and he hasn’t provided much of a meaningful contribution to the Boston Celtics thus far.

The future seemed bright when Young was selected 17th overall by the Celtics out of Kentucky during the 2014 NBA Draft, but he has struggled ever since. He has failed to earn consistent playing time and has spent a lot of his time in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws.

The hype for Young is a far below what it was when Bill Simmons was seen pumping his fist, elated with the Celtics decision to take him in the draft.

James Young’s career numbers from his first two seasons reflect the sentiment that he has struggled to develop since he was drafted. 2.2 points, 0.3 assists, 0.9 rebounds per game (60 appearances, 8.9 minutes per game) on 34.1 FG%, 25 3P%, and 52 FT%.

Labeled a potential big time scorer by scouts, he has obviously disappointed compared to his expectations. His inability to generate consistent offense, paired with a struggle to understand defensive rotations has made it hard for him to earn more than garbage time minutes for a Celtics squad that is trying to compete for a championship.

Fortunately, Young believes things are about to change. Here’s what he had to say according to Marc D’Amico of

“I’m playing well so far, so I’m not worrying about the final roster spot. Just going out here and playing my game. I’m grabbing boards, I’m making the right plays and I’m just knocking down shots. Those are the main things, and things have been clicking so far.” 

Now, I’m aware that we’ve been hearing positive updates for the past two summers regarding the improvement of Young. Last year, Young supposedly gained 15 pounds of muscle, added three inches to his vertical jump, and had been working hard on defense. As you can see, those improvements did not lead to a very successful sophomore campaign for the young wing.

However, I finally believe that Young is showing some signs of life after treading some tough waters throughout his first two years in the league. During Boston’s preseason opening 92-89 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers, Young provided an impact off the bench.

He finished the game with 7 points on 3-3 shooting (1-3 FTs) and also logged 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 turnover during his 15 minutes on the court. Young has scored 7 points or more in a regular-season game only 5 times, so his scoring and efficiency were both pluses during his performance.

In the second preseason game against Charlotte, Young reverted back to some of his old struggles with defense. He allowed a few backdoor cuts that are simply unacceptable if he wants to make this roster. He finished the game with 5 points on 1-3 shooting (2-2 FTs), while also recording 6 rebounds (!) and one block over 17 minutes. His ability to be inconsistent has always been consistent. We see one solid performance out of Young and then one poor one, he has to have more good days than bad if he’s going to earn the 15th roster spot.

Knowledge of the Celtics offensive and defensive system was one of the main areas Young has struggled with during his short career. Often, he was out of position defensively, which led to easy buckets for opposing team. On offense, he struggled to learn plays and sometimes ran the wrong sets which led to bad shot attempts by himself or his teammates. This year, he is finally completely confident in his knowledge of the system, even if that knowledge wasn’t as evident on Thursday night.

“I know the system very well now. I know what I’ve got to do offensively, defensively. I know all of our plays like the back of my hand. I know what the coach is looking for defensively.”.

“Last year I thought I knew it, but coming off of different plays I didn’t know certain sets when I thought I did. I was miscommunicating some of the calls on defense, and really just not focused. I put a lot of focus into my game this year and I’ve just been growing and maturing.”

It’s encouraging to hear, and it was one of the things that stood out to me during the preseason game. On his first basket, Young curled perfectly off a Jonas Jerebko screen and Terry Rozier fed him near the top of the key. Then, he made a hard dribble and attacked the basket, using a beautiful reverse move to prevent a good contest from Nerlens Noel. His instinctiveness to go right at the basket was something I wasn’t used to seeing and was a sign that he feels more confident in what he’s doing on the court.

James Young isn’t the only one who’s talked about his improvement. Jae Crowder also had some positive things to say. Crowder seems to be seeing Young’s aggressiveness pick up.

“He’s aggressive, I can’t say that he was aggressive the other years that I played with him. He’s more aggressive and he’s trying to make stuff happen on the court, both ends of the court.”

“That comes with knowing what to do, not being indecisive, and he’s learning at a high rate right now and he’s being very aggressive.”

It’s actually safe to say that James Young has played some pretty good basketball so far during training camp, and at least in one of the preseason games. In my opinion, he’s the best option among the trio of players (James Young, RJ Hunter, and Ben Bentil) who are vying for the 15th spot on the roster. We’ll have to see if he continues to show positive signs of development as we get deeper and deeper into the preseason.

Crazily, Young is still younger than both Hunter and Bentil, and he’s in his third season! Hunter is in his second season and is 22, while Bentil is a rookie and turned 21 in March, Young turned 21 in August. That’s just a testament to how young Young actually was when the Celtics decided to draft him.

James Young also has been showing the most ability during his time on the court. Against Philadelphia and Charlotte, Bentil didn’t record any playing time and RJ Hunter has only played 18 total minutes. Hunter is averaging 1.5 points, 1 assist, 0.5 steals, and 2 turnovers after the first two preseason games, his struggles on defense are arguably worse than Young’s.

To even say that the 17th pick from two years ago is fighting for his NBA life just goes to show how much Young has underperformed going into this year. Regardless, the expectations for his career have gone down drastically. At this point fans would be happy to see him become even a role player, most believe his career in Boston will be done after this season via a trade or Danny Ainge likely deciding not to exercise the fourth-year option on his contract.

Even though he has disappointed in the past, the early returns on James Young during the preseason have been a little more optimistic. He is absolutely the best option for the 15th roster spot, and if his improvements are for real, who knows, maybe he could turn his career around. Everyone always loves a good comeback story. JY, you’re on the clock.

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