After going 25-57 last year, the Celtics would have been foolish to draft for need with the sixth pick, and they didn’t. Boston grabbed Marcus Smart, one of the two best players available with Julius Randle and the only player among the two best players available who blew them away with his workout (Randle, you may recall, allegedly passed on a second workout with the Celtics for a GQ photo shoot). Smart makes a lot of sense for the Celtics, despite questions about his fit with the team. He’s fiery, incredibly competitive, strong as an ox, a solid defender and as tough as they come.
With the 17th pick, the Celtics could afford to make a more need-based pick. The Celtics needed a rim protector and wing scoring, and with no rim protectors available, they grabbed Kentucky freshman James Young. This is considerably more complicated.
There are lots of reasons to believe Young can be an effective NBA player, and if he pans out (remember this phrase, because we’ll come back to it), he could be a very good fit for the Celtics. Fans have long mourned Jeff Green’s lack of rebounding despite his length and athleticism, and Young used his size to snare rebounds at the college level. If Young can produce an average number of rebounds, that particular aspect of his game will be an undeniable upgrade.
But the Celtics mainly brought him in to score, and he has excelled — at times — in that role.
“He’s always been a scorer,” Brad Stevens said after Young was selected. “We felt he is a very undervalued scoring wing. We were surprised he was available.”
Young scored 20 or more points nine times as a freshman, as pointed out by DraftExpress, which might indicate a player who killed weak competition on some nights but struggled against better competition on others. It also may indicate a young player who is inconsistent because young players are inconsistent. After watching his shooting stroke, I’m inclined to believe it’s a combination of the two. Young struggles to create his own shot (he rarely got all the way to the rim, often opting to pull up for a jumpshot instead), but his stroke is fluid and enticing from 3-point range. Assuming that his point guard play is better in the pros, his looks may improve, forcing him to take fewer bad shots. With his excellent size and length, Young could be a very solid role player, capable of scoring in bunches and helping a team immensely on the offensive end.
But therein lies the problem. If Young doesn’t pan out, the Celtics have merely brought in a poor man’s Jeff Green…in a likely attempt to replace Jeff Green. Both players have nice strokes that don’t necessarily go in at a high rate. Green is a much better individual defender — Young is bad at both team and individual defense due to his low defensive IQ and his lack of lateral quickness.
Young also struggles when he is contested. According to DraftExpress, Young scored just 0.92 points per possession when he was contested, as opposed to 1.32 when he was open. This, of course, makes sense given that open shots are much easier, but it’s also concerning to see his production fall off that far. His handle is questionable, which may mean he’ll struggle to do anything besides straight line drives to the basket. Without some side-to-side movement on his drives, he’s unlikely to get to the line much. Again, comparing this aspect of his game to Jeff Green gives us some uncomfortable similarities.
But setting aside from his attributes on the basketball court, the Celtics took Young for another reason: He’s only 18. Other (arguably safer) picks were available to Boston at 17. Rodney Hood is a more established small forward. PJ Hairston is a more established 3-point shooter. But Young has shown enough production to be a valuable asset, and he has the potential to be better than both Hood and Hairston, as well as several players who were drafted ahead of him. Whether he reaches that potential remains to be seen, but Young certainly seems to think he can.
“I’d say Tracy McGrady,” Young told DraftExpress when asked for an NBA comparison. “I’m very athletic, scoring, coming off screens and attacking the basket.”
Well then, James. I doubt it, but I certainly hope so.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.