The Boston Celtics made three key selections in the 2015 NBA Draft, despite possessing similar talent at the same position. Although they already feature super-sub Isaiah Thomas (5’9), defensive stalwart Avery Bradley (6’2), and rising sophomore Marcus Smart (6’4), Danny Ainge selected Terry Rozier (6’2, 16th overall), RJ Hunter (6’5, 28th overall), & Jordan Mickey (6’8, 33rd overall) to balance out the lineup.
But with established veterans at each position (Mickey is currently behind Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, David Lee, Kelly Olynyk and, possibly, Jonas Jerebko & Perry Jones on the depth chart), who has the best chance at “wooing” Coach Brad Stevens for playing time? Let’s take a look:
Terry Rozier (6’2, Louisville)
NBA Skills: shot creation, defensive intensity
Terry Rozier showed brief flashes of his key NBA skills during Summer League play a couple of months ago. At Louisville, he struggled with shot selection following an increased role and is seen as more of a combo guard than pure point. With his lack of size (6’2), it’s easy to think he could get bullied by more physical guards on the defensive end.
But anyone who has seen Rozier play knows he is as tough a player out of anyone in the draft. He isn’t quite a ballhawk yet but slides his feet well laterally and gets after it for difficult steals and loose balls. As a shot creator, he has a great handle and is decent at finishing near the rim.
However, he is not a good three-point shooter (shot just 31% from the college line a year ago) and needs to work on both decision-making and finding his teammates in the best spots to succeed. With Thomas, Bradley and Smart more established, Rozier is a prime candidate to star in the D-League, giving him more time to hone his raw talent and step up his sandwich game!
His defensive intensity could yield minutes down the stretch of the season though, especially if the C’s get hit by the injury bug once again.
RJ Hunter (6’5, Georgia State)
NBA Skill: shooting
Many Celtics supporters were surprised Rozier was taken before RJ Hunter, since the latter has a more translatable skill the team sorely lacks. Last season, Boston relied on decent, yet inconsistent, shooters like Crowder, Bradley, Smart & Evan Turner for threes in the postseason, which did not go too well. Collectively, the team shot just 26% from long range in their quick, four-game series versus Cleveland.
And in a league where shooting is forever a top priority, Hunter has the chance the stand out and separate himself from his teammates. Although he slumped a bit his final season in college (shot 30% as defenses keyed in on him), and the first half of Summer League play, Hunter is no longer the focal point of his team and will greatly benefit from shooting uncontested/semi-open shots.
Knocking them down is not the concern here; can Hunter make enough plays off the bounce to avoid being pigeonholed as a specialist? Right now, he is too slight to play anything but the two (capable of defending his position; 6’10 wingspan) and does not have the ball skills to control the lead guard position and initiate the offense. And with hybrid talents like Evan Turner & Marcus Smart capable of doing such, he is already a step behind.
That said, if he converts open looks in the preseason, Coach Stevens will find minutes for Hunter and put him in the right situations to thrive. Even if it is just spot minutes and a few plays for Hunter coming off pin downs, we’re betting he’ll be utilized effectively by midseason.
Jordan Mickey (6’8, LSU)
NBA Skills: rebounding, high-energy
Though the D-League seems the likeliest destination for Mickey, you better believe he will earn even more fans amongst the coaching staff before long. A potential choice for the unofficial title of “steal of the draft” down the road, Mickey is a Tristan Thompson-esque talent with a non-stop motor, good athleticism and infectious energy on the court.
Though “energy” is not generally associated as a skill, ask players like Thompson, Joakim Noah & Anderson Varejao how it’s boosted their careers. At 6’8, Mickey is an undersized four but that does not stop him from getting plenty of blocks (led the country with 3.6 blocks/game at LSU last year), steals and boards. Boston had trouble with Cleveland’s versatility on the glass in the first round last season, so drafting someone like Mickey and acquiring players like David Lee & Amir Johnson made a ton of sense.
Aside from Mickey’s limited offensive arsenal, his main challenge is beating out the talent in front of him for consistent playing time. Though he could turn heads in practice, it likely won’t translate to production on the floor in year 1.
RJ Hunter is the “winner” here, as his shooting ability gives him the best chance to shine as a rookie. Rozier and Mickey are probably going to join 2014 first-round pick James Young in the D-League, as the three of them work on further developing both their game and bodies.
Hunter is not a game-changer from the jump but if the Celtics continue their inconsistency from beyond the arc, he will definitely get an opportunity to make an impact.
On a playoff team with dark horse aspirations, the contributions, or lack thereof, of Boston’s young guns will tell the story.