Celtics Storylines: Which rookies will make a big contribution?
As the Celtics prepare to open training camp next week, CSN Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely takes a look at some of the storylines surrounding the C’s heading into the season. Today: The Rookies.
BOSTON – When it comes to winning at the highest levels in the NBA, seldom do teams anticipate counting on rookies to play prominent roles.
But hey, the Celtics won more games last season (53) than any team in the East only to gut the roster in the offseason to the point where there are only four players back from last season.
Even with a roster that’s significantly different and a lot younger, the Celtics are still seen as one of the top teams in the NBA.
And for them to be among the last teams standing, they will surely need significant contributions from rookies.
Who will they be?
The most highly regarded of Boston’s bevy of rookies, Tatum will likely lead all Celtics rookies in minutes played. His length, versatility and scoring make him an ideal option for Brad Stevens to turn to. But like all rookies, Tatum will not be just “given minutes.” Whatever time he gets, he will have surely earned. The biggest challenge for Tatum will be finding his niche. In his one season at Duke, he showed the ability to score in a lot of ways. And with the Celtics’ summer league team in Salt Lake City and later Las Vegas, it was more of the same. But on this team, his scoring won’t necessarily be needed as much as it was in college or this past summer. But it will be needed, especially coming off a bench that will be a work in progress for most of this season.
Maybe the biggest wild card among Boston’s rookies. Theis has a better shot at getting on the floor than you might think. At 6-foot-9, he’s a bit undersized to play power forward and center but in this age of small ball, he has the strength and versatility to potentially help sooner rather than later. One of the concerns with players coming to the NBA from having played overseas is how they will handle themselves against a higher level of competition. Well, Theis gave us all some insight into that earlier this summer, competing with Germany in EuroBasket 2017, which includes some of the best players both internationally and in the NBA. Germany went much deeper into the tournament than most expected, with Theis’ play being instrumental to that success. He was really good against France, a team that featured a trio of French big men (Boris Diaw, Joffrey Lauvergne and Kevin Seraphin) with NBA experience. Not only did Germany win, but Theis had 25 points and six rebounds. He scored from the perimeter, ran the floor and finished at the rim – the kind of all-around play they will need coming off the bench this season with Kelly Olynyk (Miami), Jonas Jerebko (Utah) and Amir Johnson (Philadelphia) all with other teams.
He looks – no, he is – a bigger version of Jae Crowder with a little more bounce when it comes to finishing at the rim. Still, minutes will be difficult for him to get due to the team’s depth at the wing position. Ojeleye, drafted in the second round, is going to need more than just a strong training camp in order to get minutes beyond those with the Boston’s Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. Like most of the Celtics' young players, his defense will be the key to him getting on the floor. And what you like about the 6-foot-7 Ojeleye is the potential he has in being a jack-of-all-trades type defender. In summer league, we saw him matched up against fellow rookie forwards, only to switch off and guard point guards like Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz who was the number one overall pick. Ojeleye held his own in those matchups, which was encouraging. He also knocked down 3’s, which, of course, is a big part of what the Celtics look to do offensively.
The Dancing Bear has spent a good chunk of the summer off his feet after having bone spurs removed in both ankles back in May. He didn’t participate with the team in summer league, so it’s unclear what his role may be this season. But if you go back to the summer of 2016, when he did play with Boston’s summer league squad, it was clear then just what his potential impact could be. Scouts have often compared his game to fellow Frenchman Boris Diaw, a player with a power forward’s body but the instincts of a playmaker who creates mismatches and exploits for his own points or easy shot attempts for teammates. He played 43 games with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association last season, averaging 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 36.4 percent from 3-point range. When his CBA season ended, he joined the Maine Red Claws for their playoff run and averaged 12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
He is without question one of the biggest long shots on this roster to get minutes among the rookies. But the G-League’s Rookie of the Year last season has a lot of the physical tools (long arms, strong build, scorer’s mentality) that seem an ideal fit for what Brad Stevens is looking for. However, Nader’s defense more than anything else, will likely keep him on the bench for much of the season. The 6-6 wing understands that the best shot he has to get on the floor is to become a 3-and-D guy. And with so many new faces, an opportunity to carve out a role for himself could not be any better. If Stevens decides to play 10 or more players early on in the season, Nader has a shot at being near the end of that rotation. But the most likely role for him at least early on, will be on the Celtics bench.