BOSTON – Surrounded by a team that’s full of youth and exuberance, Kyrie Irving has an appreciation not only for what his youthful teammates can do but just as important, what they don’t do.
Good teams, bad teams, and all those in between are treated by Boston’s younger players with the same handle-my-business approach that you just don’t see that often from players this early in their NBA careers.
The season is still young and there’s plenty of time for slippage, but the Celtics youngsters passed yet another early season test in Wednesday’s 113-86 win over Sacramento.
Since they righted the ship after a two-game skid to start the season, Boston has treated every opponent with the same level of focus, attention to detail and effort that gives you insight into how they have managed to win six straight despite most games featuring at least four rookies on the floor at some point during the game.
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Conventional wisdom says you can’t win with lots of rookies.
The play of the Celtics, who used four rookies against the Kings and have won with as many as six earlier this season, suggests otherwise.
And what makes them stand out?
They’re getting lots of playing time and the team is winning, two things that rarely coincide when talking about first-year players and a team’s success.
“Young guys are getting better, man,” said Kyrie Irving when I asked him about this. “Young guys coming in, they’re expected to do a lot more. Especially in situations that they’re put in.”
Jayson Tatum was the No. 3 overall pick in last June’s draft by Boston.
Players taken that high are often all but guaranteed to log major minutes and with those minutes, can play through the mistakes that tend to crop up when you’re so young.
But Boston’s young players are in a completely different situation, and have a different set of expectations which sets them apart from most first-year players.
They don’t have the benefit of working through their mistakes and that being OK with their coach or the front office, something they saw first-hand on Wednesday in the Kings who are still a relatively young team despite adding veterans George Hill (31 years old), Zach Randolph (36 years old) and Vince Carter (40 years old).
There were countless possessions on Wednesday when Sacramento would come down court, take a shot without making a single pass in the half-court set, and do the same thing for consecutive possessions.
You let Tatum do that, and see how quickly he finds himself with a front row seat on the Celtics bench next to coach Brad Stevens.
To Tatum’s credit, he’s smart enough not to do that.
And that high basketball I.Q. that you so often hear about NBA players having, appears to be the one common thread that binds all of Boston’s young players together.
They’re smart enough to know what they have to do to not only play, but deliver impactful basketball on the court and help the Celtics win games which is a far cry from the agenda most high draft picks and first-year players have when they enter the NBA.
Irving, the top overall pick in the 2011 draft, remembers all too well what the game was like for him and a lot of players coming into the league around that time.
“Top picks in the league when I came in, we weren’t on the best of teams,” Irving said. “We had good players, but as young guys coming in, we were just … I was just expected to get numbers. That attitude kind of stuck with me and turned into some bad habits I had to break out of as I got older in this league.”
But this is a different time and the young players – the Celtics’ young players especially – enter the league with a different approach that’s more about winning games than winning over fans with great individual one-on-one play.
“They’re at the starting line and they’re ahead of the curve in terms of where previous young guys were,” Irving said.
And the reason is pretty simple.
“Guys are getting better, man,” Irving repeated. “And when you come into a situation where you have great veterans, it makes their job a lot easier and they’re learning curve a lot quicker. That’s all you can hope for. The quest for knowledge is never-ending.”
Which only serves as a reminder of how important it is to embrace what Boston’s youngsters are doing on the floor – contributing to a winning culture.