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Friday, 14 July 2017 13:27

Boston Celtics Expect to Be Short on Experience, High on Upside, for End of Bench Production

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The release of Jordan Mickey makes room for the team to sign Gordon Hayward. How will the rest of the roster shake out?

Part of what makes an NBA roster – and its construction – so fascinating is how the pieces ultimately all fit together (and in many cases, how they don’t).

Following the Brooklyn Heist of 2013, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics have spent the past four seasons building up their assets, and although they continue to build towards the future (evidenced in their recent trade of the No. 1 overall pick), the franchise is in better position to Win Now.

Celtics teams from 2014 – 2017 exuded many positive traits, however, one of the main takeaways ultimately came to be that they were perhaps too reliant on depth as opposed to high-end talent at the top.

The end of the bench has been filled with quality veterans and good locker room guys (think Brandon Bass, Jonas Jerebko, and Gerald Green).

The Gordon Hayward acquisition not only provides the Celtics with a valuable boost in on-court talent, it also indicates that the team’s back-end of the bench may be short on experience.

Here is a rundown on where some of the Celtics’ prospects stand (Jayson Tatum is not included, as his spot in Boston next season is firmly entrenched).

(Also, keep in mind that the newly implemented two-way contracts will not count against a team’s salary cap; expect the Celtics to utilize both two-way contracts this season. Visit 2 Ways & 10 Days for a primer on the NBA’s interesting new addition.)

Guaranteed Celtics In 2017-18

Semi Ojeleye – Daniel Theis – Guerschon Yabusele – Ante Zizic

Celtics PA announcer Eddie Palladino will have his work cut out for him with some of the team’s new additions next season.

The learning curve from amateur to professional is particularly steep in the NBA – particularly on defense, where players often get exploited both on and off the ball.

While it’s far too early to account for Semi Ojeleye as a key fixture in Boston’s rotation next season, it speaks volumes about the player that the 6’7 behemoth has already earned the admiration from Brad Stevens.

“I think what he’s doing translates,” Stevens said during summer league of the rookie out of SMU. “His flexibility defensively is going to be enormous. I think that he will compete to be one of our better defenders right out the gate.”

At 6’7, 235 lbs, and as physically built as NBA prospects come (at 22-years-old, he’s also old for a draft pick), Ojeleye appears to be mature enough to step in right away – and at the very worst – compete at the NBA level.

Fearless prediction: Ojeleye becomes a favorite of Celtics Reddit next season.

Daniel Theis – the defensive player of the year in the German Basketball Bundesliga last season – has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Celtics, although the 25-year-old forward will wait until Boston’s salary cap is more situated before he signs his contract.

At 6’9, Theis projects to be another versatile cog in Stevens’ switch-happy defensive schemes.

Fear not Celtics fans, the team’s plan all along was to have The Dancing Bear in Boston next season.

With first-hand experience at witnessing Guerschon Yabusele on the court and in his natural habitat, there aren’t too many prospects with the particular skill set he possesses.

He’s sure to experience plenty of highlights and lowlights next season as a Celtic; one thing’s for certain, he’ll be smiling the whole time.

The Aron Baynes signing was crucial in a variety of ways, including the fact that it allows Ante Zizic to adjust and develop slowly.

Zizic has gone from “Stiff” to “Physical Force” in Summer League action (Summer League is so fun), and appears to be finding his rhythm nicely after posting a combined 35 points, 34 rebounds, and 8 blocks in three-straight wins against Portland, Philadelphia, and Golden State.

Zizic will certainly need to adjust to the speed of the game after spending last season playing in Europe, yet as Summer League coach (Celtics assistant) Walter McCarty told CLNS’ Jared Weiss, “He's still trying get a feel for the tempo of the NBA game. But he'll be fine.”

Salary Cap/Roster Limit Casualties

Demetrius Jackson – Jordan Mickey

Two mainstays in Maine last season (I’ve been waiting to use that) and recent second-round draft picks, Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey, appear to be on the outside looking in.

Update: The Celtics have waived Mickey, according to the team.

The move was expected before Mickey’s deal was guaranteed for next season July 15, saving the Celtics $1.47 million, and paving the way for the team to officially announce the Hayward signing.

Although it’s a cruel part of the team-building process, I wonder what Mickey would have looked like had been given less of a leash under Stevens. He had started to develop a nice outside touch with the Red Claws, having shot 14-32 from distance in 12-games (albeit in G-League action).

In reading the tea leaves of the roster come October, all signs seem to point to a training camp battle between Jackson and Abdel Nader (last season’s G-League Rookie of the Year).

The Celtics could also elect to bring in a veteran for the minimum for increased competition (such as bringing Green back).

Abdel Nader

Nader has certainly taken an interesting route to where he stands today, having been drafted in 2016 with the expectation that he would bypass NBA offers to sign with the Red Claws.

The results went about as swimmingly as possible.

Nader earned the aforementioned Rookie of the Year Award, improving exponentially from his senior season at Iowa State to year one under Maine head coach Scott Morrison.

“They [Stevens and Morrison] just want me to get better at the areas that maybe I’m lacking,” Nader told me last season “They know I’m a really good offensive player, they want me to get better on the defensive end the way the Celtics like to guard.”

Defensive consistency – as with many young players – appears to be a hump that Nader needs to get over. Again, it’s only summer league, yet there have been too many instances of Nader simply not getting back into plays after being screened on.

Both Jackson and Nader struggled with turnovers last season, however, considering that this was Nader’s first turn as a playmaker (having been in a 3-and-D type of role at Iowa State), the growing pains were predictable.

Considering the importance of swings and wings in the NBA, Nader – at 6’6 with a 7’1 wingspan – would seem to possess a decisive advantage over Jackson – 6’1 and 6’5.

Two-Way Candidates

Kadeem Allen – Jabari Bird

From the onset, Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird have appeared to be destined to garner the Celtics’ first two-way contracts ever handed out.

(Nader remains a distant possibility, however, after his success in the minors last season, he would most certainly receive more guaranteed money on the open market. Plus, he was a good soldier last season playing under a painfully low G-League salary.)

Allen (24) and Bird (23) are already on the older side for NBA rookies, so perhaps their maturation process won’t be quite so steep.

Salaries for two-way deals begin at $75,000 and max-out at $275,000, and as previously mentioned, do not count against a team’s salary cap.


Cory Prescott

Cory Prescott is the Editor at Large for Boston Celtics coverage on CLNS Radio. 

Cory is a graduate of Susquehanna University, graduating with a degree in Communications - Journalism.  While at Susquehanna, Cory spent three years as the sports editor for the school's weekly newspaper.  He also worked for the Crusaders Athletics Communications Department.

Following graduation, Cory spent time writing for the Maine Hockey Journal, as well as Boston Sports Then & Now, in addition to his own blog, Brain Freeze.

A native Mainer, Cory has been residing in Boston for the past few years.

Follow Cory on twitter @CLNS_Prescott.