In the midst of NBA free agency hysteria, the Boston Celtics will kick off their summer league schedule on Monday with an exciting collection of young talent on the roster. Jayson Tatum and Ante Zizic will both make their debuts in green, while more experienced players (Jaylen Brown and Demetrius Jackson) will try to build upon their rookie seasons. With a roster situation that’s still very much in flux for Danny Ainge, it’s a strong possibility that the team’s brass will use these next two weeks of play to help them settle on roster and rotation spots, and to evaluate potential trade possibilities involving Boston’s young pieces.
What’s worth keeping an eye on? Here are five things to watch for as summer league action begins.
1. Can Demetrius Jackson hold onto his roster spot?
The Celtics liked the former Notre Dame point guard so much last summer that they gave the No. 45 overall pick guaranteed money over his first two NBA seasons. After an up-and-down rookie season with the Maine Red Claws, Jackson’s roster spot could be jeopardy, especially if the Celtics need to clear some salary cap room for a premier free agent. Jackson will be given the keys to the team in Utah and Las Vegas at the starting point guard spot, so it will be up to him to prove he’s worth keeping around. The 22-year-old showed his versatility by filling up the box score in Maine with 5+ rebounds and assists per game, but his 3-point shooting (27 percent) was spotty. That’s the part of his game to keep an eye on this summer since he’ll have a couple of players (Abdel Nader, Kadeem Allen) pushing for his roster spot.
2. Is Ante Zizic ready to play right away?
We’re about to find out whether all the hype surrounding the 6-foot-11 Croatian center was warranted. Some scouts believe Zizic, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, would have gone in the top 10 in 2017 after his strong play in the Euro League this past spring. With Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller already out of the picture, and Kelly Olynyk’s future with the team uncertain, there will be an opportunity for real minutes in the Boston frontcourt for Zizic next season. The question is whether the 20-year-old is ready for them on a top tier NBA team. Summer league will give us our first glimpse of that. The mobile big man has a number of skills that should translate well, including strong rolls to the rim and crashing the offensive glass hard. However, his defensive awareness could be a question mark at the next level. The Celtics have already committed to him being on the roster next season, but a strong showing over the next two weeks could make Zizic a prime candidate to be a key member of Brad Stevens’ rotation right away.
3. How will the Celtics use Jayson Tatum?
The No. 3 overall pick will be surrounded by plenty of talent during summer league alongside Jaylen Brown, Zizic, Jackson and Nader. However, it remains a bit of a mystery what position will be the best fit for the 6-foot-8 forward. The 19-year-old played a lot of power forward during his one season at Duke, but it’s unclear if he has the muscle to battle bigger players in the trenches on the pro level. On the flip side, speedy wings could give Tatum headaches as well, especially since he’s a player not known for his athleticism on defense. The guess here is that since the Celtics summer league team is flush with wings (Brown, Nader, Semi Olejeye) Tatum will get most of his reps as a power forward who can spread the floor. However, look for the Boston coaching staff to experiment with the rookie to find out where the lottery pick looks most comfortable on the floor.
4. Will the Celtics experience any early regret for passing on Markelle Fultz?
The Celtics are guaranteed to face the No. 1 overall pick at least twice during their summer league schedule over the next two weeks. Boston will open with the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night in Salt Lake City before facing off with them once again in a rematch in Las Vegas on Tuesday July 11th. The microscope will be squarely on Fultz (and Tatum) for these matchups, particularly after the Celtics indicated that Tatum would have been their choice at No. 1 anyway if they had kept the pick. Will Fultz come off with a chip on his shoulder for these matchups, giving the Celtics an early taste of what they are missing out on? Or will a talented defensive Boston backcourt (Jackson and Allen) make the Celtics’ brass look wise for trading down? These early showdowns won’t mean a thing in the big picture, but it does create a dramatic storyline for summer league.
5. Which second-round pick emerges from the pack?
For the past couple years, at least one Celtics second round selection has proven himself worthy of an NBA contract. Two years ago it was Jordan Mickey. Last year it was Demetrius Jackson and Abdel Nader. After using all three of their second round picks on draft night, the Celtics have another intriguing crop of talent in 2017. SMU forward Semi Olejeye was projected to be a first round pick by DraftExpress before falling to the Celtics at No. 37. His game has been compared to Jae Crowder thanks to his 3-point range and scoring efficiency. Kadeem Allen was a defensive stopper in the Arizona backcourt and Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress expects him to be a 10-year NBA player. Jabari Bird was a solid four-year player at Cal who played alongside Jaylen Brown for one season. All three players will get their opportunities in Utah and Las Vegas, but there may only be room for one on next year’s roster. Olejeye is the heavy favorite to get a spot, but Allen could make things interesting if his defensive prowess translates right away.