Key Prospects Showing Stevens They're Ready

LAS VEGAS – The Boston Celtics have been busy this offseason making large-scale moves to reconstruct their roster – moves that will likely lead to the team relying heavily on young prospects next season.

Brad Stevens, who watched the Summer Celtics play in Utah and has arrived in Las Vegas to watch the team this week, is well aware of that fact.

Many of the players who are currently playing for Boston’s entry to the NBA Summer League in Vegas will be asked to be contributors to next season’s team, which is considered by many to be a title contender. That’s a unique scenario which has led to Stevens watching these games a bit differently than he has in the past.

“I’m kind of looking at it from a different lens,” Stevens told reporters following Tuesday’s win over Philadelphia. “Obviously these guys are being asked to do a lot, but we’re looking at it for what translates.”

None of the players on this Summer League team will be asked to be Boston’s go-to scoring threat during the regular season. Instead, they will be asked to be role players who excel in particular areas of the game. As such, Stevens is looking for the skills he will be able to put to use while the C’s grind through 82 regular season games and, hopefully, a lengthy playoff run.

One player who has stood out in that regard is Semi Ojeleye, whom the Celtics chose with the 37th overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft. Ojeleye has played to his strengths – 3-point shooting and defense – throughout Summer League and has shown Stevens that he could be a legitimate piece of the rotation next season.

“I think what he’s doing translates,” Stevens said of the 6-foot-7 forward who is built like a defensive end.

“His flexibility defensively is going to be enormous. think that he will compete to be one of our better defenders right out of the gate.”

Ojeleye isn’t the only prospect who will be asked to contribute to next season’s team and who has also shown flashes of strong play during Summer League. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Ante Zizic also drew strong reviews from the coach, who has watched all of the team’s games either in person, on television or through a film session.

Brown has played well at the offensive end of the court while showcasing smooth moves with the ball in his hand. Defensively, however, is where he’s looking to improve the most.

Brown recently told reporters that Stevens has asked him to be prepared to defend both point guards and shooting guards next season. He has used much of his time on the court during Summer League to work on those abilities.

“He’s just a guy that can do that, and the more positions that he can guard, the more flexible we can be,” said Stevens.

Coincidentally – or maybe not so much – fellow No. 3 pick Tatum has also left Stevens thinking about defense. Tatum has been excellent on offense, as he entered today’s play leading the NBA Summer League in isolation scoring efficiency, but his length and rebounding have been difference-makers at the defensive end of the court.

“I’m really encouraged by his defensive play,” Stevens commented. “And that’s something that, with his length, and ultimately as he builds more strength, should be a positive.”

Zizic has had a bit more difficult time acclimating himself to the Celtics than Tatum or Ojeleye have. Stevens believes the root of those issues is the fact that Zizic is “gassed” from finishing his European season, which ended in early June, and then coming to the US in late-June to begin practicing in Boston.

Still, Zizic has made a positive impression, most notably with his 12-point, 13-rebound double-double Tuesday night during only 17-plus minutes of action. It was the second straight game during which Zizic appeared to be truly comfortable on the court and in his surroundings.

Stevens believes that Zizic’s play has improved due in large part to the improvement of the players around him.

“I thought part of Ante’s struggles in the first few games were because we were putting him in bad spots,” said Stevens. “I talked to the team a little bit when I got here about – if Ante’z got his guy sealed on the block, we need to throw him the ball. If Ante’s rolling to the rim, don’t throw it at his ankles, put it up in the air.”

The team has been doing so the last two games, and it’s no surprise that Zizic’s play has simultaneously improved.

He hasn’t been the only one improving; it has felt as if the Celtics as a whole have improved with each game they have played over the course of the last eight days. Ojeleye has gotten better. Brown has gotten better. Tatum has gotten better. Zizic has gotten better.

That’s exactly what the Celtics want and need to see, because those four, and likely even more young prospects, could be called upon to be key contributors to the team once the 2017-18 regular season begins.

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