Celtics

Celtics

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.

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