When Danny Ainge, President of Basketball Operation for the Boston Celtics, drafted shooting guard James Young out of Kentucky — 17th overall in the 1st round of the 2014 NBA Draft. Most pundits around the organization felt confident with the selection. To an extent, the confidence grew to immense proportions, with some claiming him as the steal of the draft.
At the time, the choice was wise. Boston was coming off their worst season in decades with a record of 25-57 and were in dire need of a fresh identity. Young was the high-volume shooter that Boston desperately desired — while at Kentucky he shot 41 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from 3-point range. Quite simply, this asset was something that the Celtics believed would translate deeper once he hit the NBA.
Now two seasons later and Boston’s roster structure and personality has completely transformed. The Celtics are in heavy pursuit of clinching the No. 4 seed in the jam-packed Eastern Conference, as well as home court advantage for its first round playoff game. Through it all, however, the former first-round talent has yet to live up to his billing. At this point, Young is a shooter that can’t shoot. A defensive liability at all times. A D-League All-Star that can’t make the jump. For now, it’s okay for Boston to be done with James Young. It’s okay to throw out the age excuse and be through his development. The Celtics rolled the dice when they made this selection, and this one came up empty. It’s time to move on.
Here’s why the James Young movement has deteriorated in front of Boston’s eyes and that keeping him is the worst scenario.
Hasn’t progressed at all as shooter or a defender
To some degree, you could make the case that Young fell victim of being over drafted. While that’s a valid assumption to make, remember Young was drafted to be a scorer. That’s probably the most difficult role to grow into. Still, Young has spent almost two full seasons in the league and has yet to see his smooth three-point shot, which was his claim to fame out of college, materialize as a Celtic. In fact, Young has not only failed to develop, but his shooting has taken a heavy hit.
With the intermittent playing time, Young has seen his 3-point shot decline sharply. 25.8 percent as a rookie to now a horrendous 23.1 percent. When he’s on defense, Young has regularly gotten lost guarding his man in transition or getting caught underneath screens, which is a liability the Celtics can’t afford when he’s not making up for it by being the lights out shooter the franchise hoped he would be.
Young definitely hasn’t shown any evidence of improving as a shooter since last season. While playing fewer minutes this year compared to last year (332 total minutes in ’14-’15 vs. 196 total minutes in ’15-’16), his three-point and two-point shooting percentage have both regressed, resulting in a decrease in true shooting percentage to 38.4% from 45.7%.
He doesn’t fit with what the Celtics are trying to build
What has made Brad Stevens into the practical coach he is today is the down to earth coaching style he supplies to his players. Behind the scenes, Ainge and Stevens have been very complimentary to player’s development and work ethic. For Stevens, he is one of the few NBA coaches that stands behind the “team game” model because in his mind, no one player gets more glory than the other, and this has been reflected on past player’s development.
Stevens took 7’0 center Tyler Zeller and grew him into more than just a shot blocker, who now can pose threats on many angles offensively. He turned around SF Jae Crowder’s game completely, to now being seen as Boston’s most valuable player. No more is he classified as just an energy guy. For three seasons, we’ve witnessed how Stevens works with past draft projects; turning them into stars within his own “plug and play” system. This has worked exponentially with Zeller, Crowder, and to a lesser extent, David Lee.
The Celtics have made it clear that minutes are earned, not given. This hasn’t just been with Zeller and Lee. Isaiah Thomas later on this season was elevated into a starting role and in exchange, Boston brought Marcus Smart back to the bench where they felt it was right for him. Young, even when the team gave him a chance to show improvement seems uninvolved and hesitant.
Avery Bradley, Smart, and even Jordan Mickey were all outstanding defenders in college. This in itself has transferred over to success at the professional level; even for the rookie Mickey, who despite playing 15 games this season possess a shot blocking ability that Stevens and staff adores. Adjusting to the speed and size of the pro game while knowing where your shots come from against NBA defenses takes years (and playing time) to develop. Young is only 20 and in an essence still might have time to learn more, but it’s running out. Young, unlike recent draft prospects who were former projects once they hit the NBA at least exhibited one tool in their game that made it possible for an organization to seek out promise. That hasn’t been the case for Young thus far, which is why even providing a spark on the defensive end could mean the difference between staying on a roster or getting cut and scrambling within the free agent market.
By Young not developing, he applies a heavy burden on other guards
Boston is currently riding a razor-thin line at the shooting guard spot. Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and occasionally Evan Turner really are the only #3 guards the Celtics have aligned on the roster.
For Young, forget his draft position and his age. Disregard the scouting reports, the analytics, and the handful of minutes that he’s played over the last two seasons. The simple fact of the matter is that James Young was buried behind a bunch of players in the depth chart and this season, he’s in the same predicament with Bradley, Turner, Smart, Crowder, and Jonas Jerebko.
By Young not taking a step forward as a shooter, this leaves Boston’s remaining cluster of shooting guards at a negligible disadvantage. Right now, the Celtics’ best 3-point shooter by percentage is center Kelly Olynk (40.8%). This is coming from someone whose best attribute isn’t specifically designed by making long-range bombs, although Olynyk has attempted 191 perimeter shots his season. At the moment, the best 3-point shooting guard the Celtics have is Bradley, who is connecting on 36.3 percent from three. That’s not great and certainly not enough for Boston’s offense to outperform the likes of Toronto and Cleveland in the playoffs next month.
The point of the matter is, Boston is still in desperate need of someone who can light a spark for them from behind the arc. And they won’t be able to find one unless Young is taken off the team. The Celtics tried drafting another marksman in R.J. Hunter from Georgia State last year, but he’s still a rookie and isn’t there yet from a development standpoint for Boston to lean on. Boston is 25 out of 30 NBA teams in 3-point percentage, coming in making just 33.4%.
Missed opportunities, falling short of expectations, unable to fit into a role. All of these statements can be fully depicted as James Young’s brief NBA career. Through much of it all, Young has failed to instill any ounce of confidence into Boston’s front office. Between frigid shooting stretches and mental lapses defensively, Young may never crack the Celtics’ guard rotation for the rest of this season and into the next.
Young’s second full season in Boston is drawing to close and during this span he hasn’t come close to what Boston anticipated of him.
Everyone gave him the benefit of the doubt last year because he wasn’t even 20. That time has passed and he hasn’t shown any signs of development at the NBA level. Brad Stevens has granted ample of chances over the past few weeks in either garbage time or meaningful minutes, to assure progress would be made to his overall game nothing was gained.
Once Boston’s season comes to an end, Young will be entering the final year of his current three-year contract. If an off-season or early next season trade not involving Young reduces the Celtics’ depth at the guard positions, maybe, just maybe will Young be able to see more meaningful playing time. Otherwise, at the conclusion of the season, Boston may have very well seen the last of James Young in a Celtics uniform.