James Young fell out of the rotation last season, so is it time to give up on him?
Drafted 17th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft as an 18-year-old fresh out of college, James Young‘s NBA readiness was questioned. After struggling to crack the Boston Celtics rotation for the past two seasons, it appears the answer to that question is a resounding no. As a matter of fact, one could argue that Young actually regressed in his second professional season. However, Young – who turns 21 this August – is still the youngest player on Boston’s current roster.
Is it still too early to give up on Young? In a word, yes.
Young was almost the forgotten man on a University of Kentucky squad that was loaded with talented underclassmen. Though he was the second-leading scorer on a team that lost in the national championship, Young played in the shadows of Julius Randle, and the Harrison twins. He put an exclamation point on the end of his freshmen season with a 20 point, 7 rebound performance in the national championship though.
That version of Young has yet to surface in the NBA.
Granted, the opportunities for Young to showcase himself have been few and far between. In two seasons, he has appeared in just 60 games and logged just over 550 minutes. So, what’s the reason?
It’s not for lack of talent. The offensive capabilities displayed by Young in his lone season with Kentucky is what helped him become a first-round selection. That, and a strong performance in the NCAA Tournament certainly helped. He not only showed an ability to score but to do so in a variety of ways. He could hit the three, attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. In 40 games, he attempted seven or more free throws in 14 of them.
For what it’s worth, Young has also found offensive success in the NBA D-League. He’s played in 31 games over the course of two years and has posted a points per game average of 18.7 while shooting better than 40 percent from three. Included in that run have been multiple 30+ point games, and nine games where Young canned five or more three-pointers. Is that a result of the competition in the D-League? Partially, but it’s also proof of the ability Young possesses.
In his rookie season, Young battled with inconsistency and some health issues early on. The transition from college to the pros can be difficult, especially for a 19-year-old freshmen. It’s not wrong for fans to have expected more out of Young, but it’s unfair to hold his rookie season against him. However, last year was disappointing to say the least.
A sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Playoffs showed the Celtics that they still had a ways to go before they could compete with the elite teams of the NBA. One of Boston’s major weaknesses in that series – and is still a major weakness – was the inability to knock down shots. Other than drafting R.J. Hunter, Boston didn’t do much to address that problem, choosing to instead rely on progress from its current players.
That’s why Young’s performance this past season was a big disappointment. Complications stemming from a car accident prevented him from participating in Summer League as a rookie as he wasn’t cleared by doctors until August. This was Young’s first real off-season as a professional. This was his chance to break into the rotation, and he failed to take advantage.
Young was one of the players I kept an eye on entering this past Summer League. Surrounded by a bunch of rookies and NBA-hopefuls, Young had an opportunity to step up and be a leader. Instead, he slumbered through five games and shot less than 30 percent from the field. He never really looked comfortable on the floor, unable to find his shot and get into any sort of rhythm. That carried over into an underwhelming performance throughout the course of the regular season.
After two subpar seasons, is it that he has struggled to earn minutes, or has Brad Stevens simply not given him enough opportunities? This is the debate that currently defines Young’s short career.
After a break-out game against the Charlotte Hornets his rookie season – in which he scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting in just 18 minutes – Young appeared in just six of the next 13 games and shot a combined 4-of-17. He followed that with a stretch of 16 appearances in 17 games, averaging around 13 minutes per appearance. Yet, he failed to make any type of impact. The minutes and appearances are scarce, but so is the production.
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Is it a matter of his work ethic? There hasn’t been anything over the course of two years to indicate that Young isn’t putting forth the effort. Is it really because he is a liability defensively? Is that really the justification for Young’s lack of minutes?
Young is the type of player Boston needs, a wing player who can knock down the three. He needs opportunities though. While he has to do his part to earn those, it may behoove Stevens loosen the reins a little bit. If you have to sacrifice a little on the defensive end for some offense, that’s okay. The Celtics play good enough team defense where they can help mask some of those deficiencies.
Is the age excuse becoming a bit of a broken record? Maybe, but that’s not something that can just be cast aside as a non-factor. While Young’s brief stint in the NBA has been disappointing, I’m not ready to pull the plug just yet. Will the Celtics see it that way? It’s unclear. One thing that is clear is that Young is running out of time. If another year passes and he is virtually non-existent, then it may be time to move on.
The sample size is just too small to make a determination as to whether Young is a bust or not.