In most cases, two-way spots are used to hold on to second-round picks, take flyers on young players, or develop untapped talent. For the Boston Celtics, the former two options have been the preferred method with guys like JD Davison, Mfiondu Kabengele, Sam Hauser and Tacko Fall.
But Jay Scrubb, Boston’s latest two-way signing, could allow them to follow in their footsteps Miami heat and Golden State Warriors, who have been using their two-way slots to cultivate win-now spin chips. Guys like Juan Toscano-Anderson, Anthony Lamb, Caleb Martin and Max Strus all worked their way up the ranks after their stints as two-way players.
Scrubb is still only 22 years old, but he has the skills to play a unique role for the Celtics. He could be an archetype of player who has blossomed into relevance in recent years like Bruce Brown and Gary Payton II.
Throughout his career, Scrubb has been the guy. Whether it’s been in the garbage time of NBA games, in the G League or at John A. Logan College, the JUCO school he attended before entering the NBA Draft – Scrubb has always had the ball in his hands.
And at first glance, it can be a concern. On a Celtics team with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and plenty of other talent, Scrubb will rarely be the one making the plays. But his experience driving to the hoop and using his elite athleticism gives him a path to turn over a new leaf and develop into a special (and valuable) player for Boston.
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When Brown and Payton entered the league, they had somewhat similar stories. They didn’t stick with their first team, found a new home where they played a different role, and ended up earning big salaries. It took Payton a few extra steps to that point, but ultimately they both went from standard guards to effectively undersized forwards who primarily play the ball away.
Brown and Payton largely live off cuts, setting screens and playing the game in between. Their athleticism allows them to run at the rim like a big, but with the quickness of a guard.
Check out this play the Golden State Warriors drew for Payton, as detailed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic. He fakes a screen, cuts to the basket and gets an easy dunk.
And here Brown is also used as a screener Brooklyn Nets. Steve Jones Jr. from The Dunker Spot podcast describes the play.
As for the cutting ability of the two players, here is a prime example from Payton (with a beautiful pass by Nemanja Bjelica).
The same can be said for this game, as Brown and Nikola Jokic execute a magnificent two-man play with a nice cut and an even better pass.
Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect Scrubb to step in and take on a role like this right away. He is young and has spent the majority of his career as a ball-dominant player. And he’s on a two-way contract.
But as was the case with both Brown and Payton, Scrubb’s current skill set would not only help him step into a role like this, but thrive in it. In the case of Brown and Payton, their playmaking ability and defensive versatility helped the transition. For Scrubb, he had to rely largely on athleticism and defensive timing.
During the Summer League, Scrubb made his money by getting to the basket. His finishing on the rim was excellent and by the end of the event he was getting a bit more comfortable playing the ball away. His ability to play through contact around the basket would only enhance his talent as a cutter.
Scrubb’s athleticism has always jumped off the page. He was a human highlight reel in college and averaged 22.2 points in the G League last year. Scrubb would add a new layer to Boston’s offense as a lob threat against cuts and rolls.
His three-point shooting has even shown signs of coming. Both Brown and Payton have turned into serviceable low-volume shooters, and that’s what Scrubb showed during Summer League, shooting 40.0% on four attempts per game. And the quality of his shot will only improve when he’s surrounded by NBA talent.
The defensive end is where Scrubb really needs to put in the work to make a living in this role. His athleticism has allowed him to be solid on the defensive end, but Brown and Payton are both plus defenders.
During Summer League this year, Scrubb showed signs of being effective on that end. He constantly tormented the opposition and often grabbed steals in transition using his quickness and timing, turning them into easy buckets on the other end.
If Scrubb wants to earn enough minutes to establish himself as a new presence on offense, he’ll need to prove he’s not a liability on defense, or better yet, that he can make a positive impact on that side of the ball.
As things stand, the Celtics rotation is pretty set. They have a solid eight-man group with other guys on the fringes who could break out into more significant roles (Sam Hauser, Jordan Walsh, etc.). But with Scrubb’s unique skill set, Boston has an opportunity to add a new wrinkle to their game plan on both sides of the ball.