I have been nervous about writing this. As many of you know by now, Keith Smith’s time with CelticsBlog has come to an end. As one of the top cap experts not in an NBA front office, Keith has moved over to Spotrac, where he will assume a significant role in their league-wide coverage. I will be one of the first to tell you how hard Keith works and how this opportunity is the culmination of his work ethic, expertise and positive attitude – I couldn’t be happier for him!
Keith’s opportunity had a knock-on effect. One of those effects was that I got the chance to take over writing Takeaways after every game. I’m excited. I am nervous. But most of all I am grateful. I consider this to be a huge opportunity and a serious show of faith from the CelticsBlog roster.
So, here goes!
Ten takeaways from the Celtics’ opening game of the Summer League, which they lost 99-88 to the Miami Heat.
#1 Jordan Walsh can play offense
We’re going to start with Jordan Walsh, right? After a wild draft night where Brad Stevens went back in the draft several times. Boston finally settled on Jordan Walsh as their latest rookie. Walsh enters the NBA with a reputation for being a tough defender with an exceptional wingspan for his size. Still, it was Walsh’s offense that grabbed the attention Saturday afternoon.
We got more looks at Walsh’s perimeter shooting just before midway through the first quarter. In this action, the Celtics went to a Joe Mazzulla staple action with a Spanish PnR where Walsh was the back screener and popper. JD Davison, a willing passerby, found Walsh in the room. Boom, another three-point bucket to begin our overreactions to Walsh’s debut game.
Walsh also showed some composure off the dribble in the third quarter when he pulled back off his dribble to send his man scrambling for shadows before pulling up (and clinking the shot).
It’s only one game, but there’s a chance Walsh has more to his skill set than just being a high-level defender.
#2 Jordan Walsh got reps as ball handler
The Summer League is an opportunity for players to impress and show that they belong at the NBA level. Still, it’s also a place where a coaching staff can insert players into different roles to see how they handle new responsibilities and defensive coverages. In his Summer League debut, Walsh was given some opportunities to initiate the offense, both in the open court and in the pick-and-roll action.
During his season at Arkansas, Walsh ran a total of 8 pick-and-rolls as a ball-handler and was rarely used as a starter in the open field. So seeing the rookie wing handle the responsibility with poise is an encouraging sign of his future potential.
#3 Even TLC wanted this Scrubb
Jay Scrubb came off the Celtics bench to provide a scoring punch in a bit of a microwave role. Scrubb made the Celtics’ Summer League roster after averaging 21.8 points per game. game in 28 appearances for the Lakeland Magic. Against Summer League competition, Scrubb looked like he could score at will.
Scrubb displayed a solid understanding of driving angles, body positioning and control when attacking in traffic, while also showing the type of aggressiveness Boston lacked with their rim pressure last season.
Scrubb also showed an understanding of what will endear him to the Celtics fan base by pressuring the defense and creating easy scoring opportunities for himself. If Scrubb can maintain this level of performance throughout Summer League, there could be a training camp invite with his name on it.
#4 Orlando Robinson was the best player on the floor
Without Orlando Robinson, the Miami Heat will likely be destroyed in Saturday’s game. The 22-year-old big man enters his second NBA season in October and showed serious upside and improvement as he repeatedly torched Boston’s defense. Still, Summer League is essentially G-League Lite — defense is often an afterthought.
Nevertheless, the Celtics would love to have a big young project man like Robinson on the roster.
#5 The champagne still hasn’t dropped
Justin Champagnie will enter his third NBA season later this year. At this point, the versatile forward should be dishing out butt-lobsters in the Summer League. Champagnie has had two years of NBA coaching and development. Still, for large stretches of the game, the Brooklyn native looked like a passenger.
Champagnie made an impression on the glass, but his 3-for-13 shooting and four turnovers left a lot to be desired. However, there was one moment that caught the eye – a well-timed cut that caught the defense and led to a nice dunk.
Champagnie’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season. Struggling against Summer League competition is not the best way to sell the front office and stick around next year. Fortunately, this was only the first game in Las Vegas, so Champagnie has a few more chances to shine.
#6 JD Davison’s ability to control the tempo
After a season of developing and impressing with the Maine Celtics, JD Davison looked to show his growth. From the opening tip to the final whistle, the sophomore guard’s ability to control the tempo of the game was on display.
Davison is a blur when he turns on the jets, allowing him to penetrate at will and wreak havoc when he pushes the tempo in transition.
The only thing holding Davison back was his unwillingness or inability to embrace contact on his urges. Too often Davison entered the lane before looking for ways to go around the short man instead of going through him.
For someone as quick and explosive as Davison, being able to finish through contact is a must. Once he figures out how to score against bigger, stronger opponents at this level, his game will reach a whole new level.
Speaking of reaching new heights, Davison showed a solid pick-and-roll game as he varied his speed to keep defenses guessing while creating scoring opportunities via penetration.
Davison finished the contest against Miami with 14 points and 11 assists. But shooting 5-of-14 from the field is an example of why embracing contact on his drives will be the next big step for Davison to take.
#7 Azubuike is a willing but ineffective screener
The same point I made about Champagnie rings applies to Udoka Azubuike. After three years in the NBA, the 6’10” big should be dominant against the level of competition in Las Vegas. Instead, Azubuike had a difficult night. Miami loaded the paint and had Robinson waiting to compete around the rim, so we won’t focus on Azubuike’s struggles with his back to the basket. After all, there are other ways to influence the game.
For a big man, being a reliable screener is an important skill to have. Azubuike did not show much upside as he tried to create space for his teammates.
I lost count of how many times Azubuike went to set a screen for a teammate but ended up just being an obstacle for the defense to navigate. Instead of getting into his man, forcing contact and making the defender work to close space, Azubuike dropped off and expected the cutter to lead his man into the screen.
Yes, there is a time when guiding your defender into a screener is necessary, and often it can be beneficial. However, this is the Summer League. Don’t rely on others to understand the game like your NBA seasoned teammates do. Set hard screens, spring guys free. Make an impact. Azubuike did none of these things.
#8 Runs an NBA offense
We’ve already seen how the Celtics used a Spanish PnR to get Walsh free for a nice perimeter bucket. Boston’s coaching staff appeared to stick to their playbook from last season during their opener against the Heat.
In the early moments of the first quarter, the Celtics went for a ‘Quick 77’ action for Davison, which ended with some enjoyable ball movement and a corner three finish from…you guessed it…Jordan Walsh.
A quick action is an off-ball screen in transition where a player on the weak side can curl toward the ball handler (usually to receive a pass around the top of the perimeter). A 77 action is a double or shift screen.
Again, Davison’s controlled pace and decision making allows this play to tick over before Justin Bean makes a smart cut and intelligent read to find Walsh open on the weak side.
#9 Justin Bean (city)
Justin Bean is one of the more unknown members of the Celtics’ Summer League roster this year after leaving Utah State undrafted. Bean is a four-year collegiate veteran who joins the Celtics roster after averaging 17.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Mountain west Conference.
Bean showed intelligent movement, hustle and a perimeter shot that could continue to improve. Still, it was his fake dribble pass that caught my eye as he bid to show he can fill Grant Williams’ shoes.
Bean impressed throughout Boston’s game against Miami, showing the poise and control you’d expect from a four-year collegiate prospect. I liked what he had to offer and I would like to see him be a little more aggressive in the upcoming matches.
#10 Jordan Walsh’s defense
We started with some points on Jordan Walsh’s attack. It’s only right that we end with a quick thought about his defense. I’m not going to delve into his performance – there will be plenty of time for that over the summer. Instead, I chose a possession from the beginning of the first quarter that caught my eye.
Walsh starts this possession by following the action. Still, the rookie wing somehow manages to deter the Miami shot because of his behind-the-back competition and the ground his wingspan allows him to cover.
The Arkansas product then reads the pump fake before sliding his feet to cut off the driving lane and close off any scoring angle, eventually forcing his man to abandon his offense and give up the rock.
It’s the level of defense that originally attracted Brad Stevens to draft Walsh, and it appears that all the talk about his basketball IQ and ability to stay composed and balanced is real. It will be fun to watch Walsh shut guys down over the next two weeks.