We all get a little bit of the Summer Fever around this time of year. We fall in love with players who never make it. We fantasize about genius GM’s finding no-name diamonds in the rough that will make an impact for a winning team. Hell, I did three separate pieces on Dionte Christmas in the span of 12 hours, and there’s no guarantee he’ll even be playing in this country in a few months.
That’s just how it goes. But some guys here in the Summer League do deserve some reasonable optimism. And the Celtics are expressing plenty of it when it comes to their 2012 draft class. All three draftees have shown varying degrees of NBA-readiness. Jared Sullinger is showing the Celtics he’s got a few tools that could help him compete for playing time during the regular season.
“Jared is what we thought he was,” said Doc Rivers. ”He’s a terrific rebounder and great passer, and he can shoot the ball better than I think people knew. So he’s been great”
Sullinger is learning NBA lessons right now. He’s seen a player he bonded with, JaJuan Johnson, traded within a couple of weeks of their budding friendship. And his production has dropped off, leading to some visible frustrations on the court.
Ty Lue, Celtics assistant coach and head coach for the Summer Leagues, says he told Sullinger “you can’t get frustrated, you can’t drop your head and pout when things aren’t going your way” He added ”I told guys we wanted to get it to him in the post, but if they don’t, you can’t pout, you can’t drop your head and mope around. You might not post at all with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo in the game… you might get one post up. Just continue to do what you do, rebound the ball, and be in the right position to take your shots.”
Frustrations aside, the Celtics coaching staff is pleased with what he’s done, and they feel good about where he is. But Doc isn’t ready to make any solid commitments to his playing time.
“It’s early. I’ll wait until camp. We’ll just wait and see. I want to let everyone get in camp and then we decide. There’s an open position.”
One way to help earn some playing time in that open position, learn from veterans once training camp opens.
“I think Fab will appreciate having Kevin [Garnett] on his team. And so will Jared,” Doc said. ”I think he has a lot to teach them. If they’re open to learning, they have a chance to be great. If they’re not open to learning, they won’t have a chance to be great.”
The Celtics know Fab Melo is a project. But they also note that while it might take some time, he does have NBA-ready skills.
“Fab… you can see why he has a chance to be a good player,” said Doc. ”He’s a force, he can block shots. I just like what he does for us. I think he can be a good player in this league at some point. I don’t know if it will be next year, but maybe.”
“He does have an upside for sure,” added Danny Ainge. ”What I like about Fab is he blocks shots and takes charges. Very few people do that and he does that already. He just has to learn our pick and roll coverages and he’ll be a terrific defender.”
The glaring thing about those quotes is that Doc and Danny are mostly talking about the future, rather than the now, with Melo. And Ainge says flat-out, Melo’s got a lot of work to do.
“The next few months are going to be really big for him and his development. He’s got to put in a lot of time in the weight room and just learn the system.”
The most glowing praise, though, was saved for Kris Joseph. That’s probably because Sullinger’s expectations are high, and even though he’s meeting high expectations at the moment, he’s doing the expected in the eyes of the Celtics. Joseph, though, is exceeding expectations.
“He’s been very good,” said Doc. ”Kris Joseph is better than advertised.”
Ty Lue added “he’s been very good. He can rebound the ball, he’s got a quick second jump, he’s athletic, he can defend, he can attack the basket. I mean, I’m just surprised he went in the second round. I think he’s a first round player.”
Of course, the one caveat that we try to beat into everyone’s head right about now is that this is summer league, and success here rarely guarantees regular season results. But Joseph’s skills are clear. You can see the ability to perform fundamental basketball tasks, and turn those solid fundamentals into some nice plays. There is an opportunity for Joseph to earn a spot in Boston, rather than being shipped to Maine, and provide depth at the wing. With an aging Paul Pierce and a “who-knows-what-to-expect” Jeff Green, depth at the wing is important for these Celtics.
Summer League is almost over. Our first chance to evaluate the Celtics rookies passes this weekend. And while we shouldn’t make any final judgments on these guys, it’s clear the Celtics truly like their potential. In a critical summer where the Celtics are trying to bridge the gap between the Big 3 era and the future of the Celtics, it’s nice to at least have some legitimate optimism regarding your draft class.