The Boston Celtics announced three signings this week - Daniel Theis, Guerschon Yabusele, who were both expected, and then Shane Larkin, who spent the last year in Europe. He may not be a headlining free agent, but he could find a spot on the roster with the Celtics having limited ball-handlers on their post-Avery Bradley roster.
Larkin was drafted 18th overall in 2013 coming off a season where he averaged 14.5 points per game for an exciting and competitive Miami Hurricanes team that went 29-7 and finished first in the ACC. Larkin was last seen in the NBA playing 22 minutes per game for the 21-61 Nets, topping off an uneventful third year as a pro. Why is it that Danny Ainge picked up on him with so many free agent guards, who are still in the NBA, available? Combing through Larkin’s stats makes it hard to build a case for him, through no fault of his own of course, as not many players could emerge from a Knicks-then-Nets stint with much to brag about it. Is that too harsh? I mean, look at Derrick Rose. Sure, he shot the ball too much, and, sure, he got hurt again, but has a former MVP ever had so much trouble finding a job after having a productive season?
At any rate, Larkin’s highlights show some promise:
If you ignore the scoreboard, there’s some familiarity in watching an undersized guard find lanes to the basket and splash pull-up threes from all over. Highlights only tell one side of the story, but Larkin clearly has a decent basketball IQ if he can come up with so many steals as well as the kind of toughness a city like Boston can appreciate as Larkin slashes and absorbs contact on the way to the basket. Yet, Larkin’s best attribute might be something I haven’t seen emphasized by video highlights - his passing. Larkin averaged 4.4 assists per game in Brooklyn in 22 minutes. Marcus Smart, a much-improved distributor with far better passing targets, averaged 4.6 assists in 30 minutes last season.
Based on limited information, I have no doubts that Larkin is a capable, shooter, passer, and defender. Should we be worried that he spent a year in Europe after failing to sign on with a team last summer? Maybe, but it’s not totally unusual for a player to spend a year overseas and come back. It’s a timeline most Celtics fans will be familiar with if you’ve been following the team long enough to remember Gerald Green’s first stint in Boston. Green showed enough promise early on to be a high-upside piece in the trade for Kevin Garnett, yet he found himself playing in Russia two years later.
Going into training camp, the Celtics have three established ball-handlers in Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier. While Jabari Bird may still remain in the mix for a roster spot (with Kadeem Allen already signed on a two-way), Larkin could prove to be someone who can fill in the role as an NBA-ready player instead of another youth project, and while the Celtics already have a logjam of young players vying for NBA experience, the guard position could become a little too thin in the event of an injury.
Oh, and we still don’t know how well Isaiah Thomas is recovering from a hip injury. Might be something worth keeping an eye on.
One last thing to consider about Larkin is his size. Yes, the Celtics caught lightning in a bottle by taking a chance at on giving a pint-sized guard big minutes, and yes, it the chance of pulling the same stunt again is infinitesimal, but, I think that helps Larkin’s case. He won’t bring the same caliber of shooting that Thomas does, but there’s no reason the Celtics can’t succeed with a bench lineup that mirrors their new starting lineup – one small guard surrounded by lengthy, versatile players. Or, Brad Stevens could pair him with Smart and have them badger second-string guards, which could stifle the offense of most bench units. Team chemistry is one of the best ways to earn playing time, so let’s see if Larkin can find himself a pick-and-roll partner in the preseason.