Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON – Three players.

Three different draft positions.

One goal: to make an impact as a rookie with the Boston Celtics.

Like most of what NBA rookies set out to do, accomplishing that feat will prove a lot easier said than done.

However, they do have history working in their favor at least.

Boston has had at least one rookie named to the NBA’s All-Rookie team each of the past two seasons with Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk being named to the league’s second team in 2015 and 2014, respectively.

The Celtics’ three rookie draft picks in June – Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter and Jordan Mickey – are looking to give the team a three-peat this season.

That hasn’t happened since the 2004-2007 seasons when Al Jefferson (2005), Ryan Gomes (2006) and Rajon Rondo (2007) were all named to the NBA’s Second-team All-Rookie squad.

Boston hasn’t had a First team All-Rookie selection since Paul Pierce in 1999.

Since Pierce’s first-team selection, Boston has had six players named to the All-Rookie team but only two (Smart and Olynyk) were lottery (top-14) picks.

But this trio of Celtics rookies have both individually and collectively shown early signs of having the potential to make an immediate impact if given enough minutes to do so. They are an electric, eclectic and eager group of players out to prove their worth not only to their teammates but also to the rest of the league and the clubs that passed them by on draft night.

So who will be the standout performer among the three rookies?

Terry Rozier

While he may be the highest draft pick of the threesome (selected 16th overall), he has the toughest road to playing time. He plays the point guard position which features second-year pro Marcus Smart, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago in Isiah Thomas along with Evan Turner who has been at his best when allowed to play the point-forward position.

Summer League taught us all that the talk about Rozier’s end-to-end speed is legit. And that he can be a streaky shooter at times? Yeah, that’s true as well.

But unlike most guys coming into the NBA with the reputation as a scoring point guard, Rozier has an instinctual knack defensively. That alone gives him a shot at seeing some limited court time as a rookie on a team that’s looking to improve upon a defense that struggled throughout most of last season.

But chances are high that most of his time as a rookie will be spent shuffling back and forth between the Celtics and their Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

Jordan Mickey

The second-round pick (33rd overall) showed he had first-round talent with the Celtics’ summer league squads in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas this summer. The odds are stacked heavily against Mickey to see much action this season. But at some point, injuries or potentially inconsistent play by a player or two ahead of him will create an opportunity for him to play.

When you look at the players ahead of him coming into training camp – Amir Johnson, David Lee, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller – all but Zeller have missed sizable chunks of games the past couple of seasons.

That will test the Celtics’ depth and for Mickey, provide an opportunity to play his way into a more meaningful role.

And when that happens, no one should be shocked if the 6-foot-8 big man takes off and establishes himself as a vital rotation player.

Although he’s just 6-8, Mickey has a relatively solid 235-pound frame which should help him not get pushed around too much around the rim. And with his shot-blocking instincts (he led the nation in blocked shots last year at LSU with 3.6 per game) aided by a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he has the potential to provide the kind of rim protection the Celtics have not had in years.

R.J. Hunter

One of the most exciting pure shooters in this rookie class, Hunter’s chances at playing will likely hinge on the inability of more seasoned players to produce.

The Celtics have a slew of guards ahead of Hunter on the depth chart. But what separates him from most of them – shooting stroke – is the best path for him to take in order to get minutes.

While he’s not anywhere close to being in the same class defensively as Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley, Hunter’s defense didn’t look nearly as dreadful as many anticipated this past summer.

Of course the level of competition he’ll face this season will be a significant upgrade over what he dealt with this summer. But the 6-foot-5 shooting guard taken with the 28th overall pick has a much firmer grasp on the defensive concepts required to play man-to-man despite having spent his college years at Georgia State in a zone-themed defense.

And if he can show himself to be an adequate defender and shoot with a relatively high level of confidence, Hunter could easily wind up being the biggest steal of the 2015 NBA draft.