Celtics

What five young players should Celtics fans want to see to start this season?

What five young players should Celtics fans want to see to start this season?

BOSTON – When it comes to players to watch, there are a handful of players that draw capacity crowds regardless of where the games are being played.

LeBron James.

Anthony Davis.

James Harden.

Russell Westbrook.

Joel Embiid.

They’re all elite, proven All-Star talents.

But you don’t have to have a stacked resume to be a player that folks – especially here in Boston – are eager to see.

Here’s a glimpse at five promising NBA players that Celtics fans will definitely want to check out this season:

MARKELLE FULTZ, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

It is still a mystery to many within the NBA family how a player taken with the top overall pick – and deservedly so based on how he played in college – could have “mechanics” issues as a rookie before really getting on the floor and playing real minutes. We will find out soon enough (Boston plays Philly in the season opener on Oct. 16) whether the revamped shooting stroke of Fultz will be an improvement or more of the same, which again is hard to gauge considering he barely played in his first season. Even without the shooting stroke questions, Fultz fanatics are hopeful that he can at least show some of the potential that made him the top pick in last year’s draft, something that becomes even more painful to stomach when the Sixers got the top pick by swapping out their No. 3 to Boston, which produced Jayson Tatum; he was among the best rookies in the league last season and played an instrumental role in the Celtics advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, including knocking off Philly in five games.

DENNIS SMITH JR., DALLAS MAVERICKS

Leading up to the 2017 draft, there was a lot of talk about how Dennis Smith Jr. was rising up the charts. But in Boston, the talk after seeing him play was...him talking; specifically, trash-talking to Kyrie Irving (see the first 15 seconds). That did not work out for Smith or the Mavericks as Boston rallied from a double-digit deficit to win, 97-90. Irving came back with the usual assortment of  Irving-esque dribble-drives for layups, but it was what Kyrie did at the other end of the floor that had folks buzzing afterward. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on Smith Jr. to see if he avoids the trash talk when these two meet Nov. 24 in Dallas, or whether he’ll be more like Irving and let his game – which is really good – do the talking for him.

DONOVAN MITCHELL, UTAH JAZZ

He was runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award last season, surprising many with his ability to take over as the face of the franchise so quickly and more importantly, fill a huge vacuum left on the Jazz by the departure of Gordon Hayward to Boston. When these two teams face off on Nov. 9 in Utah, it’ll be the first time that Hayward will play in Utah since he left, serving as a reminder to the Jazz fans of the franchise’s past (Hayward) meeting its clear and undeniable future – Mitchell.

COLLIN SEXTON, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Boston’s coveted unprotected 2018 Brooklyn pick was the asset Danny Ainge was reluctant to part with, until it became a major chip for the Celtics to play in acquiring Kyrie Irving from Cleveland. That pick didn’t quite wind up being as high in the draft as the Cavs would have wanted, but it resulted in them landing point guard Sexton with the eighth overall selection. Every game is going to be a challenge for the rookie, but it’s hard to imagine him not getting a little bit more amped up for the Celtics game on Nov. 30 (they face Cleveland twice in the preseason but who knows how much Irving and the rest of the starters for both teams will play), knowing he’ll be facing off against Irving, his predecessor as the team’s point guard of the future.

DEANDRE AYTON, PHOENIX SUNS

He was the No. 1 overall pick, a player that many believe can be just what the defensively-challenged Suns need in order to get their franchise at least tilting towards success. Boston, which has an array of scorers who can drive to the basket and finish as well as bigs who can shoot 3’s, will be a good early-season test (Nov. 8 in Phoenix) for Ayton to see where he’s at and just as important, what he needs to do in order to help position the Suns to someday compete on the Celtics' level.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Kyrie Irving's critical comments were justified, explains Celtics legend

Kyrie Irving's critical comments were justified, explains Celtics legend

Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving was critical of the team's younger players after a recent loss to the Orlando Magic, and one Celtic legend thinks the veteran point guard's comments were justified. 

Paul Pierce, who spent 15 years with the Celtics and helped deliver Boston a championship in 2008, explained Tuesday on ESPN's "The Jump" why he had no issues with Irving's comments. 

“However he has to do it to wake them up,” Pierce said. “Kyrie understands what it takes to win a championship, so he’s trying to show them there’s an everyday process to this.

“When I won a championship and we came back the next year, it was like, ‘don’t get bored with the process’ or ‘understand what the process is.’ And that’s what he’s trying to teach them. And that’s why they’re inconsistent, because they don’t understand that. It doesn’t start just on the court during games. It’s in practice, it’s the little things … It’s the little things that they have to follow — the details that it’s going to take for them to win a championship, and Kyrie’s trying to show them that.”

The Celtics have not met expectations so far this season and enter Wednesday's showdown against the Toronto Raptors with a 25-17 record. A lot of the frustration involving this team stems from its inconsistency. The C's have lost three consecutive games, but won four straight games before that. An eight-game win streak in December was followed by a three-game skid.

The Celtics' season ultimately will be judged on their playoff run, but they won't enjoy much success in April, May or June unless they find an identity and every player buys in. Irving, as one of the most experienced players on the team and one of two Celtics with a championship ring, is the right man to lead that process.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Terry Rozier gets real about Kyrie Irving's criticism of Celtics

Terry Rozier gets real about Kyrie Irving's criticism of Celtics

We'll say one thing about the 2018-19 Boston Celtics: They're not afraid to speak their minds.

Kyrie Irving certainly did so Saturday night when he seemed to call out the Celtics' young players after a loss to the Orlando Magic. We've since heard from a few of those young players, with Jayson Tatum endorsing Irving's message and Jaylen Brown perhaps suggesting Kyrie tone it down a bit.

Following Monday's loss to the Nets in Brooklyn, Irving's backup, Terry Rozier, chimed in.

“Kyrie said a lot after the last game (against Orlando) and it was probably stuff that people didn’t want to hear," Rozier told Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill. “But it’s showing.”

The 24-year-old also admitted it's been a challenge for players like himself, Tatum and Brown to adapt to roles that were larger late last season when Irving and Gordon Hayward were out due to injury, even suggesting the Celtics could be "too talented."

"I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this," Rozier said. "Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it."

And if you ask Rozier, the impromptu meetings (led mostly by Irving) to iron out these issues haven't always been beneficial.

"I feel like we have them talks throughout the season, but it didn’t turn out that good," Rozier added. "You see guys get into it with each other, but that’s part of the game. You gotta be real with each other."

The Celtics still have time to figure things out, of course. Rozier admitted the Celtics needed to hear Irving's critique, which the All-Star point guard actually walked back before Monday's game in Brooklyn.

"Sometimes I may come off and say things, never to question my teammates in public like that ever again," Irving told ESPN.com's Ian Begley. "I just want to win so bad."

Boston hasn't done much winning of late, falling to seven games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors after their third straight loss. But now would be a good time to start: The C's play seven of their next eight games at home, starting Wednesday against the Raptors.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.