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.

Pierce details mental-health struggles after stabbing

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Pierce details mental-health struggles after stabbing

Jackie MacMullan's deep-dive look at the mental health stigma in the NBA on Monday wasn't without a few Celtics anecdotes.

One of the biggest sections of the stories was former Celtic Paul Pierce talking about his struggles after he was stabbed outside a Boston night club in 2000.

"I was stabbed 11 times," Pierce tells ESPN. "I felt like I was trapped in a box. I couldn't go nowhere. I battled depression for a year. The only thing that saved me was basketball."

Pierce played all 82 games after surviving the incident, but that was also a product of his anxiety in the ensuing months.


"I think that's the reason I got back on the court so fast. Me sitting at home thinking about [the stabbing] didn't work. I went to every practice, sat on the sideline for hours, because that's where I felt safe. I didn't want those practices to end because then I had to go back out there in this world that really scared me."

The Celtics offered consulting with a mental health expert, and Pierce is quoted saying he wished he took the advice.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is quoted as well, saying "We can offer all the services in the world, but if they won't use them, we can't help them. Too many of these guys don't realize how badly they need help until it's too late."

The piece also follows Cavaliers center Kevin Love and his mental health struggles in the past year.


Anything is Podable Episode 6: The games behind-the-scenes

Anything is Podable Episode 6: The games behind-the-scenes

It’s hard not to be intense when Kevin Garnett is on your team. For the 07-08 Celtics, that fire extended beyond the court and into every waking moment they spent together.

Episode 6 of NBC Sports Boston’s “Anything is Podable” goes behind-the-scenes with the members of the world champion Celtics to get a never-before-heard glimpse into the games and competitions that brought them all closer together.

“Everything is about competition and we, as a staff, understood that early,” said Doc Rivers. “For practices, if there was no score, it was a bad practice. All you had to do was put a winner and a loser and the practice went from here to here. It was just that type of group.”

Whether it was on road trips, at practice, or in the weight room, everything about the team revolved around competition and an innate desire to win.

“Everything was competitive,” stated Rajon Rondo. “The boxing gloves came out in the weight room.”

As is the case with every great team, the bonding off the court was essential to finding success on it. Anything that could possibly be turned into a competition, was.

Arm wrestling? Check.

Push-upsYou bet.

On a road trip in Miami, Paul Pierce challenged Glen Davis to eat a large piece of bread in under one minute.

“Have you ever tried to eat a piece of bread like that?” Davis asked. “It gets dry. You can’t swallow it. It sounds easy, but people don’t know how dry bread is...I almost like choked and died.”

“You’re talking about a guy who loved to eat,” Pierce joked.

“I couldn’t do it,” Davis responded.

Competition off the court breeds competition on the court and, while the talent helped, little games like the ones played on road trips were vital to the Celtics achieving their ultimate goal.

Anything is Podable is a ten-part series diving into the story of the 2008 Celtics and their championship season, with exclusive, never-before-heard interviews with team executives, former players, and media members.

Narrated by Kyle Draper, it’s the perfect way for Celtics fans to pass time this offseason and get excited for 2018-19, a season in which the Celtics have as good a chance at raising their 18th championship banner as they’ve had since that magical 2008 season.

Fans can subscribe to the podcast through the link below and check out the other nine episodes for a look at this exclusive series.