My apologies for a summer league recap that’s a day late and a few dozen dollars short, but I had a men’s league game in Springfield (an hour away from my house) last night for which I had to leave as soon as the Celtics game ended. I realize there might be one or two of you who actually value my opinions on Boston’s youngsters, and to you I am truly sorry — not just because I didn’t post an instant recap, but because you actually value my opinions. If it makes you feel any better, I drilled eight 3-pointers during the second half of my game. If this were last year, I would have made a joke about being better than Avery Bradley. But now Bradley’s a stud and I’ll just say I felt like Jason Terry in that *****.
The Summer Celtics concluded another balanced win yesterday, pounding the Atlanta Hawks 87-69. Jared Sullinger continued to display the skill level of a considerably smaller man, Kris Joseph did little to stem the tide of my blossoming man crush and E’Twaun Moore still doesn’t make many mistakes. But for the Celtics, the best developments on Monday came from the man they call Fab.
Player-by-player analysis follows.
To Melo (seven points, five rebounds), who has only played hoops for six seasons, basketball often seems like a jigsaw puzzle that fell out of its box and down the stairs. The pieces are all there, but they’re scattered everywhere and Melo doesn’t yet know how they’re supposed to fit. He did put a few of those pieces together yesterday, at least during the first half.
Rarely do big men take charges, but Melo took one in the first half. He also had an absurd, guard-ish jump stop to avoid a defender on a fast break and set himself up for a two-handed slam dunk. He blocked a shot or two, and had one perfectly awesome defensive rotation to snuff out an opponent’s drive two steps outside of the paint and force a turnover. He even ended the half with an 18-foot fadeaway jump shot, which actually fell through the hoop. And he continues to show oddly impressive court vision, which makes me feel like he has better basketball instincts than most abnormally tall humans, even though he occasionally looks lost.
Melo still has plenty of issues. Coach Ty Lue has discussed his poor conditioning several times during the summer league and mentioned it again yesterday. The 7-footer also has struggled while showing against pick-and-rolls and has at times looked overmatched on the glass. But that’s to be expected. He’s a project. The Celtics didn’t draft him thinking he’s a finished product who could help right away. They drafted him with foresight, and Melo thinks he’ll only get better with good coaching.
“The game is still a little fast for me. I need to slow down and be patient with stuff. I think it’s going to be a slow process, but I will be ready,” he said, according to WEEI. “I have quick feet. I can defend screens. I’m good on helping weak side. I just need to get a little coaching and when I do that I will be able to adjust my game.”
Flashes of legitimacy were evident yesterday, and should become more consistent over time. The puzzle pieces are spread across the floor, but they’re there. Melo just needs to find where, and how, they fit.
Six games into Boston’s summer league experience (five for Sullinger, who sat the last game in Orlando), Sullinger (14 points, seven rebounds) continues to prove his scouting report correct. He’s preternaturally skilled for a human his size. He’s a great passer, polished low-post player and aggressive rebounder. As Paul Flannery tweeted yesterday, “It is really a fascinating thing to watch a Celtics’ big man actually box out.” Sullinger even boxes out when he’s on offense. He’s great at using his Canada-sized posterior to carve out space. Most of his rebounds come below the rim, which is normally the plane where he resides, but once in a while he’ll attach the springs and leap to snatch a carom up high.
At this stage of the summer, Sullinger looks like one of the draft’s greatest steals. He clearly operates on a different level skill-wise than most of his opponents. But still, questions about his athleticism exist. He hasn’t once beaten his defender down court for a layup. He doesn’t drive past defenders as much as he muscles through them, even when he shows off his handle during dribble-drives to the cup. While that works (most of the time) against Keith Benson and Brad Wannamaker, it might not be so successful against NBA-caliber bigs. Length can bother him, and he hasn’t shown a great finishing ability yet.
I still like Sullinger. A lot. But he’s going to need some adjustments before he translates fully to the NBA.
One more thought, which actually goes against Sullinger’s scouting report: He fouled shooters twice yesterday, but still showed a promising ability to defend the post which came as a slight surprise.
Moore (nine points, two assists) didn’t have a great game yesterday. He settled for a few difficult jump shots and never quite worked himself into a hot streak. But he just rarely makes mistakes. The offense ran considerably better with Moore on the court, again (his plus-18 led the team). If he gets cut because of his non-guaranteed contract, I’ll drink nothing but ocean water for the next year.
I love Christmas’ game. He’s hard-nosed and clearly possesses a deep desire to prove himself capable of making an NBA roster. He has a little off-the-bounce talent. He’s strong and versatile.
But when I watch him — and this is weird, because in college he was known simply as a long-range marksman — I wonder if he needs to improve his jump shot to stick in the NBA. Because if he can’t hit his jump shot on a regular basis (he’s shooting 28.6 percent from downtown during summer league), what else that he does can translate to the NBA level?
He’s done a good job defending, but he’s probably not tall enough to become a shooting guard-stopper nor quick enough to become a point guard-stopper at the NBA level. He’s shown an ability to get to the hoop, but will he still be able to do that when Tyson Chandler (or even Ryan Hollins) is waiting at the rim? I don’t think he can play point guard in the Association, so his best bet to make a roster would be as a hard-nosed defender with a deadly jump shot. He’s a good jump shooter, I know — better than he’s shown. But he’s not deadly, which he might need to be if he wants to stick in the League despite his lack of elite athleticism.
Joseph struggled with his jump shot early (we’re talking two MAJOR bricks here, folks), but rebounded nicely to finish with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting. It wasn’t his best showing, but he doesn’t seem to have any bad ones. At least not yet.
Gibson drilled all three of his triples and finished with 11 points in 12 minutes of play yesterday. He’s a 6-foot-1 guard who seems to prefer not running any offense whatsoever, but he’s also one of the more explosive scorers in summer league (as evidenced by his 15 fourth-quarter points during one of Boston’s wins in Orlando). He’s a lot like Nate Robinson, except without the ability to leapfrog Spud Webb. I don’t think Gibson’s destined for the NBA, but he gets buckets.
Williams was battling an ankle injury he suffered Sunday in practice, and finished with four points and one rebound in only six minutes. Keep in mind, he has a non-guaranteed contract. And he hasn’t show much this summer to convince the Celtics they should change that.
Summer league play resumes tonight at 10 p.m. when the Celtics meet the Chicago Bulls, WHOSE ROSTER INCLUDES LEON POWE, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!
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