The Boston Celtics probably felt like they robbed a bank on draft night when University of Kentucky freshman James Young fell in their lap at No. 17.
In many ways, he’s exactly the type of prospect they need: a budding wing (Young was the second-youngest player in his draft class and won’t celebrate his 19th birthday until August 16) brimming with offensive potential and an outside jump shot.
Even if Young doesn’t become an All-Star or even hang on as a solid contributor in Boston’s rotation, the rationale behind selecting him is faultless. The Celtics aren’t in a position to win meaningful basketball games right now; their eyes are set on the future. It won’t be a decade before Young hits his prime, and he won’t even be 23 years old before he’s up for a contract extension.
But what should the Celtics expect from Young in his rookie season?
Here’s an interview Young did with The Courier-Journal’s Kyle Tucker, talking about what he needs to know heading into his rookie season and what the organization has already said it would like him to work on:
They have a lot of faith in me, so I've just been working out… I'm about to start working out these next few days. It's just progressing. Before I got in the [car] accident, I was really working on my footwork and stuff like that, working on my right hand. That's what they wanted to see improve, so that's what I've been working on. …
Just knowing my role and getting that connection with the guys. I don't really know anybody right now, just a couple of guys from the summer league team. So just going out there and I guess just getting that connection with everybody.
Young's new team is in desperate need of shooting and offense. They need players who can take the ball off the dribble, get to the free-throw line, finish in transition and space the floor. There’s an outside chance Young checks all those boxes as a 19-year-old, but Boston will likely only ask him to focus on that last one.
What the Celtics need right away is anyone who can help make their offense tolerable. They finished last season as one of just four teams that couldn’t muster at least one point per possession (the other three were the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic).
Boston also shot 33.3 percent from behind the three-point line; only two teams were less accurate (the Detroit Pistons and Sixers). Here’s where Young’s heavenly left-handed stroke could play a part.
Young shot just 34.9 percent from beyond the arc in his one season at Kentucky, but with nearly six attempts per game, he made the fifth-most threes in the entire SEC and was the second-most prolific three-point shooting freshman in Kentucky’s illustrious history.
The relatively low shooting percentage didn’t deter Danny Ainge’s admiration, either. Here’s what Boston’s general manager said after the team selected Young back in June, as transcribed by WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia.
He was a good shooter all throughout his high school life. He didn’t shoot the ball as well this year as he has in the past but he shot the ball great in the NCAA tournament. We know he’s a good shooter. He’s got a good athletic body, good size, good length for a small forward and we think he’s a prototypical small forward.
As highlighted in his DraftExpress scouting video, Young’s height and long arms allow him to rise up over small defenders to get good looks at the rim. He has experience spotting up as opposed to taking more difficult shots off the dribble and was especially dangerous in transition.
On the Celtics, a team that should look to run as much as possible next season, Young’s catch-and-shoot accuracy could become a major weapon—especially when he’s on the floor beside Rajon Rondo, one of the best distributors in league history.
Young will most likely spend his rookie season fighting Evan Turner and Gerald Wallace for playing time as Jeff Green's backup, but he could also see some time at shooting guard. Even though Boston's roster isn't exactly stacked with talent, they're deep on the wing, and it'll be tough for Young to crack the rotation.
Expectations should be low for his rookie season; it'll be very difficult for Young to carve out a role if everyone else stays healthy. But for Boston, that's fine. He's a project who'll go through severe growing pains. Anything positive should be seen as a huge plus.