The Boston Celtics capped their eight-game, two-state, 13-day summer league adventure on Friday night with an 80-75 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
After winning all three games at the Utah Jazz Summer League, Boston went 1-4 in the Las Vegas Summer League, though the final scores rarely mattered when judging individual performances.
Here are some summer superlatives:
The MVP: Terry Rozier
Just two months removed from an encouraging postseason cameo, Rozier was far and away Boston’s best player at summer league. He played with an obvious confidence and a newfound calmness and control. “I think he’s winning a [rotation] spot,” said Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Over six summer appearances, Rozier averaged 20 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 29.2 minutes per game. He shot the ball exceptionally well and was among the summer leaders in player efficiency rating. Rozier, the No. 16 pick in the 2015 draft, has positioned himself to help fill the void left by Evan Turner‘s departure on Boston’s second unit.
Best first impression: Jaylen Brown
Fans booed on draft night when the Celtics picked Brown at No. 3, though that was merely frustration that the team didn’t make a big-splash trade in the aftermath of tireless speculation leading up to the draft. Still, Brown’s lackluster freshman season at Cal forced him to justify his draft spot, and he started swaying some naysayers at summer league. Arriving exactly as advertised, Brown mixed obvious athleticism with raw abilities. With Rozier resting in Boston’s finale, Brown put up 21 shots (making only seven) and finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, five steals and three turnovers in 37 minutes. Brown had a handful of loud dunks and got to the line 61 times in six games; he also missed a whole bunch of attempts near the rim and finished shooting 32.4 percent overall. With the Celtics thin at swingman behind starter Jae Crowder, Brown should get a chance to develop on the court. And his defensive versatility gives him a chance at immediate minutes.
Strongest case for a roster spot: Abdel Nader
Maybe it was because fellow second-round picks Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil seemingly slid to Boston on draft night, but Nader — the 58th overall pick — was a bit of an afterthought on a night when Boston made six selections. While Jackson did enough to make you wonder whether he can stick as a third-string point guard, if roster space allows, Nader might have leapfrogged both Bentil and third-year swingman James Young in the quest for a final roster spot. With quality size, a nice shooting stroke and a desire to attack the basket, Nader distinguished himself among Boston’s wings. He played crunch-time minutes late in Las Vegas and started the finale when Young sat with a sore knee.
Weakest case for a roster spot: James Young
Making his third trip to summer league, the 20-year-old Young faded fast — from beyond the 3-point arc, in particular — after a somewhat encouraging start. By the end of the Las Vegas trip, he played only seven minutes in a tight game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, then he sat out the finale versus Portland with a sore knee. Young, the No. 17 pick in the 2014 draft, failed to show the sort of progress that might suggest he’s ready to elevate to a rotation role after playing less than 200 total minutes last season. His future is hazy if there’s a roster crunch.
International intrigue: Guerschon Yabusele
The Celtics drafted a pair of big men in the first round of last month’s draft and both seemed destined to spend a year stashed overseas. That might very well remain the case, but Yabusele, the 16th overall pick, at least gave Boston’s brass something to ponder with strong play out west. Dubbed a “big dancing bear” by Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry, Yabusele showed off nimble footwork while mixing 3-point range with an ability to attack and finish strong at the rim. He needs to improve as a defender and rebounder, but the raw offensive talents are there. A year overseas will help the 20-year-old polish his skills. Both he and Croatian big man Ante Zizic (23rd pick) should help the Celtics in the future.
While Rozier kicked in the rotation door, fellow second-year players Mickey and Hunter were hindered by minor dings. Mickey missed all three games in Utah due to a shoulder injury, while Hunter battled wrist soreness after a hard fall early in the Jazz summer league. When they were on the court, Mickey and Hunter showed more good than bad. Mickey put up 12 points and 13 rebounds in Friday’s finale and had familiar block bursts after arriving in Vegas; the shoulder woe might have prevented him from showing that he’s ready for the leap to a rotation role. Hunter’s best night came while battling with the Phoenix Suns’ too-good-for-summer-league guard Devin Booker. The Celtics need shooting, and Hunter can make a case for minutes if he shoots as confidently as he did against Phoenix (making 5 of 7 3-point attempts).
Missed opportunity: Ben Bentil and Marcus Thornton
Bentil had some buzz going into summer league, especially with the notion that he slid to Boston at No. 51. He started strong (11 points versus the Philadelphia 76ers), but then he scored just 21 points on 6 of 19 shooting over his final seven appearances. Thornton, the 45th pick in 2015, shot 29.6 percent (8 of 27 overall) and made only two field goals over his final four appearances. Meanwhile, Malcolm Miller, the athletic Holy Cross product who spent last season with the Maine Red Claws, had a nice summer league showing; but he doesn’t have an obvious avenue to an NBA opportunity, not with Boston’s glut of draft choices ahead of him.