At times this season, it’s felt like the Boston Celtics aren’t committed to developing some of their younger players.
Sophomore’s Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith have found minutes hard to come by and find themselves in and out of the rotation like a poor rendition of the Hokey Pokey. You can also include Romeo Langford in the list of players to struggle for consistent playing time under Ime Udoka after falling out of the rotation to start 2022 after playing meaningful minutes throughout December.
“When I was coaching, I used to say this all the time: Just because somebody’s not playing minutes doesn’t mean they’re not improving. And I think that’s huge. And I think Rob Williams is the greatest example. Rob didn’t play much his first year, played a little bit his second year but was hurt for 50 games, played in one series out of three basically against Toronto, and now has taken two years later a step that’s pretty drastic as far as he can be a guy that can really, really help you win not only in the regular season but beyond. And I think we have to look at these guys as not only what they do in their minutes, but what they’re doing in practice, what they’re doing in the small group work,” Brad Stevens told The Athletic’s Jay King in a recent interview.
If Stevens’ train of thought is correct, the notion that time is running out for the Celtics young contingent would be wide of the mark, with each young player having at least another season remaining on their contract. However, another downside to not playing the younger guys is that their trade value remains incredibly low; thus, the Celtics’ hands are limited when discussing a rebuild with teams.
Stevens’ Believes in All Three Young Guys
Despite Boston’s limited opportunities for their younger core, Stevens claims to have no worries about their futures in the league. Considering most of the Celtics’ current rotation was drafted when Stevens was the franchise’s head coach, he played a significant part in their development. It seems logical to trust his judgment.
“I believe in all three of them. Payton has gotten a lot more opportunity lately. Romeo got a lot more opportunity early. Romeo’s last game was one of his best, or the last game that he played a lot of minutes, the Phoenix game. And then Payton’s been pretty consistent. And I have no doubt about Aaron. Like, I don’t lose any sleep over what he can be,” Stevens said.
Only Langford has shown an ability to crack the Celtics rotation at the mid-way point of the 2021-22 NBA season. However, Pritchard projects an opportunity off the bench as one of the team’s better three-point shooters.
It’s doubtful that Udoka isn’t playing the trio due to their age, but rather due to possessing more talented and experienced options in their position. Josh Richardson has absorbed most of the backup wing minutes, which has hindered Nesmith’s opportunities. At the same time, Dennis Schroder is the apparent roadblock to Pritchard’s chances of a more prominent role as the secondary ball-handler.
Young Players Could be Trade Bait
With the 2022 trade deadline getting closer by the day, the Celtics constantly find themselves involved with trade rumors. From the Sacramento Kings Buddy Hield to the Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons, we’ve seen countless names postulated as potential trade targets.
In most of those trade proposals, which have undoubtedly been cooked up on the trade machine, at least one of the Celtics young contingent has featured as a makeweight. Perhaps people believe that Stevens could sell another team on Nesmith’s potential as a sharpshooting wing or that Langford’s defense is good enough to cement a rotation spot within a second unit somewhere.
Stranger things have happened in the NBA, and it’s not unheard of for a young player to go elsewhere and discover themselves before having a breakout season. Yet, if Boston is committed to building a contending roster around Tatum and Brown, they may need to run the risk of watching one of their recent drafts picks flourish in greener pastures.
However, if we’re taking Stevens’ word for it, we can expect the Celtics to hold on to their young wings and guard, as they see valuable assets lying beneath the surface. Let’s hope their training regimes are paying dividends, and we see some reliable production from them sooner rather than later.