For most of the Boston Celtics training camp and even afterwards, veteran players talked about the strides made by James Young that they have seen on a regular basis in practice.
Well, fans got a glimpse of what all the talk was about on Saturday as Young came off the Celtics’ bench and played a major role in their 105-99 win over the Indiana Pacers.
For those who focus on box scores, Young having a season-high 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting will certainly stand out as tangible proof that he played well.
But even if he didn’t score a single point, Saturday’s performance was easily Young’s best game of this season.
He made the kind of hustle plays that Boston has been longing for this season, the kind of plays that have a way of igniting the defensive energy that has propelled this Celtics team under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.
“I’m so happy for James Young,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He comes in every single day, he works hard. Some games he doesn’t play, some games he does; just being a professional. Every opportunity he gets he’s making the most of it.”
And it hasn’t always been like that for Young who has acknowledged he didn’t take being in the NBA as seriously as he should have during his early days in the league.
The third-year guard/forward was close to being waived earlier this month when the Celtics had to trim their roster down to 15 players.
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged that the Celtics decided to keep Young over R.J. Hunter, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 2015.
Coming so close to not making the team has brought about a more focused, harder-working player that is hard to not notice.
“Once I made the team, I know I’m here to contribute to the team, do little things,” Young said. “And on offense make the right plays and try not to do too much.”
Listening to Young speak, it’s clear that he understands how fortunate he is to still be a Celtic, and how important it is for him to contribute to the team’s success whenever he gets a shot at playing.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens said he told Young to be ready to play because he would likely see action this weekend.
Stevens likes what he has seen growth-wise from Young in terms of his defense. But he reminded reporters in Indianapolis that Young’s shooting has made tremendous strides as well.
“He’s shot it at such a different level than he shot it two years ago when he got here as far as accuracy and workouts and practice and everything else,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s certainly always been a capable shooter with a beautiful stroke. But he’s really, really worked hard on becoming accurate. He either shoots it (the ball) or moves it. I thought with that group, that was a good thing.”
Isaiah Thomas has seen first-hand the work and progress made by Young.
He too was pleased to see it come to fruition in a game.
“He played with confidence,” Thomas said. “He was out there like he belonged. That’s what we need him to do. Coach (Stevens) might call his name at any given moment. He just has to be ready. He did a great job of lifting us up in the first half and into the third quarter when he was in there; I’m proud of him. He put in the work. You can see there’s some confidence issues there every now and then. He just has to remain confident that he can play in this league.”
Young is certainly getting there, acknowledging that he’s doing a lot less thinking on the floor and instead is just playing more off instincts.
“That comes from the amount of work he puts in,” Bradley said. “Coming in every day, believing in his game, he knows what he can do and can’t do. That makes him confident when he’s in the game, play his game without thinking.”
Thomas added, “He just has confidence. He knows where to be on the floor. He was out there like, ‘I’m here, I’m going to play well.’ We need him to be like that.”
He’s working on it, for sure.
“I never felt like this,” a visibly beaming Young said following the win. “It feels great to feel like this, just go out and play basketball and think about nothing. Just go out there and contribute to the team. It took a few years for me to do that. I just want to keep growing with it.”