Celtics' youth movement shows NBA not finished with one-and-dones


Celtics' youth movement shows NBA not finished with one-and-dones

LONDON – It wasn’t that long ago when finding an NBA coach that hated the "one-and-done" rule for college players was easy.

They're not ready to help right away and lack a fundamental understanding of the game’s fundamentals. Those were part of the arguments against players coming into the league after only a year of playing in college.  


Now, we’ve seen more and more NBA teams roll the dice on players with slightly more than a semester’s worth of college to their name. It's to the point where on many levels it's become the rule rather than the exception.

And you know what?

It’s working.

Of the 30 players taken in the first round of the most recent NBA draft, 10 of the first 11 picks opted for the draft after their freshman year of college and a total of 16 first-rounders turned pro after their first season of college.

There may not be a better example of the one-and-done player’s success story than the Celtics' Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, each taken with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 (Brown) and 2017 (Tatum). 

“I’ve been real impressed with our last two guys who came from college, played one year,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “They were obviously ready for a lot of the demands of the NBA.”

And on Thursday in London, they face a Philadelphia team whose core group is built around players who also took their talents to the NBA just one year removed from high school.

When you take a look at both rosters, Boston has three players – Kyrie Irving, Brown and Tatum – who left college after just one season.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia boasts four players – Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and former Celtic James Young, who recently signed a two-way player contract with the Sixers.

Stevens has maintained an open mind in his time in Boston when it comes to players who come into the NBA with just one year of college under their belts.

While he understands the concerns that some coaches and front office executives may have with players being so green coming into the league, his perception of how one-and-done players are viewed is heavily influenced by the players he has coached.

But with the draft and all the components that come with it, there have been players who left college after one year who struggle.

One of those players was Young.

Drafted by Boston with the 17th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Young simply didn’t work out. He spent three seasons with the Celtics, appearing in 89 games while averaging 2.3 points per game while shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent on 3’s while playing 8.4 minutes per game. 

He’s now with the Sixers’ G-League affiliate after signing a two-way player contract. Because of the nature of his deal which limits him to just 45 days with the Sixers, there’s a definite level of uncertainty about his status.

But when it comes to Brown and Tatum, now that’s an entirely different matter.

Brown was a member of the All-NBA rookie second team last season and has shown the kind of growth Boston was hoping to see from him in his second NBA season.

His ability to come in and hit the ground running was among the many reasons why the Celtics had no hesitation in having Tatum play a more prominent role after Gordon Hayward’s injury.

“When it happened, we all kind of knew we would have to step up individually,” Tatum, referring to Hayward’s injury, told NBC Sports Boston. “So that’s all I did; just step up and make the most of the opportunity.”

Brown added, “Every situation is different. Even though me and Jason were the same pick, our situations were very different; just come in and try to adapt. Adaption is the key to surviving in the league.”

Tatum had planned on leaving Duke after one season, but he acknowledged he wasn’t sure how well his lithe frame could handle the bumping and grinding of the NBA.

“Could my body withstand playing that many games,” Tatum said was a question he asked himself frequently before entering the draft. “Just the physical part, playing against grown men.”

Simmons, the top overall pick in 2016, knew he would leave after one year when it became clear that he would be among the first players selected.

“It’s been a dream to play in the NBA,” said Simmons who ranks among the top assists men in the NBA this season as a rookie. “As soon as I had that opportunity, I was going to take it.”

While all the aforementioned players have room to grow, it’s hard to imagine another year or two of college would have made them better prepared for the NBA.

Celtics guard Marcus Smart left Oklahoma State after his sophomore season, but he too contemplated an early exit after his freshman season.

The extra year spent in college was instrumental to Smart’s improved play that catapulted him to being the sixth overall pick by the Celtics in 2014.

“The experience. There’s nothing like going to college and experiencing the feeling of your peers and fellow classmates, going crazy,” Smart said. “The vibe was crazy; the people that I was with. That ultimately made my decision easier.”

Things worked out well for Smart.

But not every player who considers turning pro makes the right decision.

Former UNLV standout Anthony Bennett was the top overall pick in 2013, but his career has been in a tailspin since. Drafted by Cleveland, he was part of the trade that sent Kevin Love from Minnesota to Cleveland. It wasn’t too long afterward that Bennett was out of the NBA but he still played well enough to be on the fringe of getting back in.

He’s now playing for the Celtics’ G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. He has appeared in two games for Maine, averaging 4.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 13.9 minutes.

Bennett aside, the success stories among one-and-done players are more prevalent and makes it a path that NBA teams are becoming more comfortable with pursuing as more and more enter the NBA and, like the aforementioned players for Boston and Philadelphia,  make their presence felt immediately.

CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are joined in this episode by Ian Thomsen to discuss the Celtics/Bucks series, a big picture look at where Boston is right now in the NBA landscape, and his new book, “The Soul of Basketball.”

The guys get into a deep discussion about how the 2018 playoffs should help the long-term growth of this team. 

Kyle Draper started off the debate saying "on paper they have to be favorites coming out of the East, depending on obviously what LeBron does, going into next season."

Ian Thomsen largely sided with Drapes but added the Celtics still have plenty of work to get there.

"I agree, so long as everyone is happy with their roles going into next year. So let's say they decide to bring Marcus Smart back, is Terry Rozier going to be happy with the minutes he gets? This has been a balancing thing for Brad Stevens every year and he does such a good job of it that we kinda take for granted, if they are this talented going into next year, there's going to be a lot of management here between ego and ambitions to manage. I'm not saying anybody is a bad guy, this is just natural. This is your career and livelihood, it's everything you care about. What if Terry Rozier helps drive the Celtics to the conference finals? They do it without Kyrie, Hayward, without Marcus Smart for half the playoffs, Daniel Theis, they're missing like 40% of their team."

Complete show notes:

(:30) Kyle and Sherrod talk about the first two games of the series against the Bucks, and how the lack of fight and organization from a talented Bucks team has been the most noticeable factor so far.

(4:57) Ian Thomsen joins the pod, and starts off talking about how the Bucks need to win the next four games, because there’s no way they’re winning a Game 7 in Boston.

(6:30) Ian weighs in on the Terry Rozier/Eric Bledsoe “feud.”

(8:25) Jaylen Brown has been huge for the C’s so far. Thomsen talks about how impressed he’s been with the 2nd year guard this season.

(10:44) While in some respects, the logjam of point guards the Celtics have had has hurt Terry Rosier, the benefits have also been great in some aspects, including how to be a leader. Ian references Avery Bradley as a mentor to Rozier on his inconsistent minutes. Thomsen talks about the number of role models and culture the Celtics have built.

(12:29) The discussion then moves to how this postseason and the experience the Celtics young players are getting could be a huge factor in Boston being a contender next year, when their health hopefully returns. Ian talks about the only factor that could derail this thinking.

(15:00) Thomsen talks about what Danny Ainge might do with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, and the possibility they could be used in a trade for Anthony Davis.

(16:40) Thomsen then talks about his new book “The Soul of Basketball” and how Paul Pierce and the Celtics shaped the last 7-8 years of the NBA. Thomsen gives us some great nuggets on the 2010 behind-the-scenes drama with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Ian’s of the opinion that Paul Pierce, the Celtics, and the 2007 NBA Draft lottery had a lot to do with LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland for Miami.

(25:00) Kyle and Sherrod take a quick trip around the NBA playoffs, discussing the Cavs/Pacers series, along with OKC/Utah and New Orleans/Portland.



Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”