Boston Celtics: Free Jordan Mickey Part Two?

Oct 14, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Justin Harper (35) takes a rebound away fromm Boston Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) during second half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Justin Harper (35) takes a rebound away fromm Boston Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) during second half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /

Jordan Mickey may be stuck in the D-League for a second straight season

After being drafted with the 33rd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Jordan Mickey failed to crack the Boston Celtics‘ rotation as a rookie. He appeared in just 16 games for a total of 57 minutes. While second round picks aren’t even guaranteed a roster spot, let alone playing time, the lack of minutes Mickey saw was surprising, nonetheless.

He was seen as a possible first round pick in 2015, and was coming off a solid sophomore season at LSU. Simply put, if he was drafted by the right team he had a chance to become an instant contributor and help a team as a rookie. The Boston Celtics was not the right team for the scenario, though.

On a team that owned a mediocre front court, at best, with no true star in it, there was still no room for Mickey. Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson locked down the starting roles, while Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko were the main backups. Veteran David Lee saw action early in the season prior to being waived, while Tyler Zeller played sparingly throughout the entire season.

Even though the Celtics averaged a mere 4.2 blocks per game (tied for eighth-worst in NBA), Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens stuck with their veterans the whole season. They did so knowing Jordan Mickey was averaging a D-League high 4.4 blocks per contest over 23 games for the Maine Red Claws. The unexpected winning that occurred shifted Ainge’s and Stevens’ thinking from development of younger players to getting closer to a championship quickly.

Even without the unexpected season the Celtics had, you could understand the reasoning behind Jordan Mickey needing to earn his minutes early on. Minutes are earned under Brad Stevens, not given. First round picks Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter had to do the same thing, making it only right that Boston turn to their veterans rather than a second round pick with no NBA experience early in the year.

Then the injury bug hit Boston. Kelly Olynyk was hurt right before the All-Star break and Jae Crowder went down with a high ankle sprain. It seemed like a blessing in disguise for the Celtics. While they lost two key components to their success, it did leave a door open for Jordan Mickey. He could slide in perfectly as a power forward or a center in a small ball lineup as his athleticism would allow him to keep up with the fast pace.

Instead Boston played their starters and Jonas Jerebko more, with Tyler Zeller starting to play every game. Mickey would come in during the end of blowouts, one time blocking three shots in just five seconds against the Memphis Grizzlies. That alone shouldn’t put him in the rotation but paired with his dominating performances in Maine, it becomes mind-boggling that he didn’t even reach 100 minutes played as a rookie.

This offseason was hyped up to be a big one for the Boston Celtics, especially in terms of their front court. Despite winning 48 games and taking two from the Atlanta Hawks in the postseason, the Celtics lack of a true front court threat was concerning. Jared Sullinger was inconsistent during his time in Boston and Kelly Olynyk is a catch-and-shoot target rather than someone you can run a pick-and-pop with.

All eyes were set on Al Horford. The Celtics were able to end their long history of failing to attract a star in free agency as they inked Horford to a four-year max deal. Adding top-end talent to the front court was expected, but there was still expected to be room for Jordan Mickey in 2016-17. In fact, this was branded as his breakout year to many.

While keeping Amir Johnson for $12 million and Jonas Jerebko for $5 million were no-brainers, it did make Mickey’s role on the team even more foggy. Horford did average an impressive 1.5 blocks per game last season, but he’s far from an All-Star caliber rim protector.

It’s not to say that Mickey would be top-10 in blocks per game right away and solidify himself as one of the best defensive bigs in the game, but he does own the potential to get to that point one day. Seeing how he’d be able to play in the NBA over a stretch of time with consistent minutes was expected during his second NBA season, especially if he put together a solid summer league.

Mickey missed the Utah Summer League due to a shoulder injury, but he did return for the Celtics five games in Las Vegas. Mickey averaged a solid 9.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and one block per game over five games. He shot 56.3 percent from the field, as well. The injury did hold him to just 25 minutes per night, therefore his per 36 minutes averages were 14.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks.

When it comes down to it, Mickey didn’t solidify himself as the team’s best big man. In fact, Guerschon Yabusele arguably had a more impressive summer league than Mickey. The Celtics don’t need a ton of offense from Mickey, however he wasn’t the rim protector that many envisioned him being in summer league after dominating the D-League the whole year.

Mickey had just one multi-block game and his final game against the Portland Trail Blazers was his lone double-double – 12 points and 13 rebounds. Sure, the injury could have hampered him somewhat, but he wasn’t the same dominating force that averaged a double-double in the D-League last season. His numbers were solid but it wasn’t good enough for a player trying to prove he deserves minutes in the NBA.

The Celtics felt the same way as they later inked Tyler Zeller to a two-year, $16 million deal. It was a puzzling move at the time, and almost ensures that Jordan Mickey will once again miss being one of the 12 players to suit up every night. His 15-man roster spot is seemingly safe at the time, although with second round pick Ben Bentil earning a partially guaranteed deal, Mickey’s time with Boston could be over before it started.

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At the time of the Zeller signing, a possible trade scenario could have made Zeller a sign-and-trade candidate. Or that Boston was going to move Amir Johnson or Jonas Jerebko and wanted more experience than just Mickey to replace them in the rotation. As the time has passed, though, it’s evident that Brad Stevens and the Celtics just like what Tyler Zeller brings to the table, and aren’t likely to strike up a trade right now.

Boston isn’t going to put one of their veteran big men down to the D-League, meaning Mickey is likely going to be the 13th man on the roster and start his second season in Maine. An injury could eventually give him his chance, although the #FreeJordanMickey hashtag could once again be in use.

When it comes down to it, next season could be Mickey’s year. Al Horford and Jordan Mickey are the only two front court players guaranteed to be on the roster next season. But Boston will still try to bring back Olynyk, and will want to add a mixture of Ben Bentil, Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic to the rotation.

While none project to be the rim protector Mickey is, and will need time to develop, the Celtics didn’t seem too concerned about rim protection last season and won’t be in the future if Horford adds even a little stability in that area. Not to mention their desire to also add another top-end talent to their front court alongside Horford.

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It’s tough to watch a guy budding with potential being stashed in the D-League as a rookie, and possibly as a second-year player, but it’s likely going to happen to Jordan Mickey. Bringing back Tyler Zeller signified the Celtics thinking towards his development, but with the picks and stashed prospects coming to Boston over the next couple of seasons, Mickey’s window of making an impact on Boston is closing quickly.