James Young was part of a historic freshman class at the University of Kentucky, and he went through growing pains along with his blue-chip teammates before leading Big Blue Nation to the NCAA title game.
After paying his dues for one year in Lexington, Kentucky, Young decided to take his talents to the NBA. It was a decision that became justified, as the Boston Celtics selected Young at No. 17 overall in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft:
The Celtics, who already drafted Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick earlier in the draft, are mapping out their road to recovery. The iconic franchise has a chance to rebuild their core and while Rajon Rondo's future with the franchise is in question, Celtics fans have to be excited with what Boston has done in the draft thus far.
A lot of the chemistry issues Kentucky endured this past season can be attributed to a bunch of different superstars trying to mesh together after dominating at the high school level. Once everything clicked, though, all the players involved were able to show off their unique skills and styles of play.
For Young, his calling card is his offensive versatility and the immense upside he can still reach as a prospect. He won't turn 19 until August, which makes his natural gifts and prototypical physical tools all the more ideal for his NBA future.
Kentucky coach John Calipari had nothing but positive things to say when Young made his intentions for the draft known, per the Associated Press' Gary B. Graves:
From Day 1, the NBA people who came to our practices in the preseason raved about him.He's done everything we've asked of him all season, investing himself in his brothers for the betterment of the team, and I think we all saw the end result in the tournament and Final Four. Whatever team drafts James is not only getting a superb athlete, they are getting the ultimate teammate.
According to Advocate sports editor Larry Vaught, Young measured at 6'6.75" and had a seven-foot wingspan at the predraft combine, further emphasizing how daunting of a matchup he is at the 3 position. Thanks to his shooting prowess from the outside, though, Young can function as a 2-guard in the NBA in certain situations and could elevate over anyone in the league.
That doesn't come along too often, and it has to have the Celtics enthused about drafting Young when they did. The swingman also wants to prove himself as a ball-handler, per NBA.com's Adam Zagoria:
Young shot just under 35 percent on 5.9 attempts per game from beyond the arc as a freshman, but if he can get that jumper down a bit more consistently, he will be even more dangerous moving forward. ESPN's Bomani Jones criticized Young's shot selection, as the prodigy sometimes appeared perplexed as to what to do with all his talent:
In addition to brilliant, albeit streaky shooting at this early stage of his career, the ability Young has to take opponents off the dribble and finish with authority at the rim makes his ceiling seemingly limitless as a scorer.
Had he stayed an extra year or two at Kentucky, there's a strong chance Young could have developed to the point of becoming an instant NBA starter. Instead, he will have to integrate his way into a rotation and try to establish himself as an energy guy off the bench—something Young is fully capable of doing.
One good sign is that Young saved his best basketball for the NCAA tournament, where he and his Kentucky teammates all rose to the occasion after a disappointing regular season. That suggests Young can turn it on when needed, but he has to continue being his characteristic, attacking mindset at the NBA level. Otherwise, he will be riding the pine for his first year or two as a pro.
If a more willing effort is put forth on the defensive end, that should only accelerate both Young's development and the number of minutes he sees as a rookie. Young is by no means a finished product, but that's what makes him so exciting. The Celtics could wind up getting an absolute steal based on Young's perennial NBA All-Star potential.