The Celtics’ 2023 summer league entry didn’t have nearly the hype and overall interest that many of Boston’s recent squads packed for the annual trip to Vegas. And, yet, the Celtics’ summer vacation was maybe more encouraging than any in recent years.
Rookie Jordan Walsh displayed an encouraging all-around game that suggested the No. 38 overall pick can eventually be a contributor to the parent club; Jay Scrubb shot his way to a two-way contract; and J.D. Davison got much-needed game reps against other young players trying to find their way in the league.
Ultimately, that’s about all Boston could have hoped for with this group. The biggest benefit for the Celtics might have simply been having much of their organization out west for some bonding time, especially with a new-looking coaching staff.
A handful of thoughts after Boston’s five-game slate out west:
Jordan Walsh showcases potential on both ends
The scouting report on Walsh suggested a “violent defender” who would make hustle and grit his NBA calling card. In Vegas, he showed there’s a whole bunch more to his game.
Walsh averaged 16 points per game while shooting 40.7 percent on 5.4 3-pointers per game. That’s a rather notable spike after Walsh shot just 27.8 percent on 2 3-pointers per game in his lone season at Arkansas. Even more encouraging, Walsh displayed a nice stroke from the perimeter and fired away with confidence after Boston’s staff implored him to be aggressive in the ramp to summer play.
Walsh also showed off his basketball IQ, whether it was with some slick passing or his cutting off the ball. The defense and hustle were as advertised with Walsh utilizing his long wingspan to smother guards and routinely make hustle plays.
Still, it would be unfair to expect a 19-year-old second-round pick to be NBA-ready immediately and it’s likely still going to take some time for Walsh to be ready to joust with pros on a nightly basis. But it’s obvious that all the potential is there, and as he bulks up and as he acclimates to the speed of the pro game, there’s a very good chance for him to have an impactful 3-and-D presence.
As Brad Stevens joked after the draft, we’ll find out real soon just how NBA-ready Walsh is when players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown try to go right at him when training camp opens in the fall.
With each team picking up an additional two-way slot in the new collective bargaining agreement, it opened some doors for younger guys to play their way onto an NBA roster this summer. Scrubb, a former 55th overall pick in the 2020 draft, routinely danced his way past defenders while impressing Boston brass enough to earn a two-way nod.
Scrubb starred at John A. Logan College, and after electing to go pro instead of continuing his college career at Louisville, he was the first junior college player drafted in 16 years. He’s put up loud scoring numbers in the G-League, averaging 22.4 points over 30 total games. The concern was him shooting just 28.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc in 28 appearances with the Lakeland Magic last season.
In Vegas, Scrubb shot 40 percent beyond the arc on four 3-pointers per game. More impressive was his ability to get wherever he wanted on the court, and he shot 46.3 percent from the field overall.
Scrubb is still only 22 years old (he’ll turn 23 in September) but it gives the Celtics another player to toss in their system and see if they can further tap into his potential.
J.D. Davison gets much-needed time
The Davison summer experience was quite the roller coaster. He finished third in assists per game (7.2) in Vegas but also turned the ball over 4.4 times per outing. Davison had one game where he turned it over 10 times, then didn’t have a single giveaway the next game.
Davison's NBA-caliber speed and athleticism are obvious. The 2022 53rd pick is a really intriguing prospect when he takes care of the ball. But his shooting is still very much a work in progress (he shot 26.7 percent beyond the arc and 40.9 percent overall in Vegas) and Boston’s point guard depth chart makes another two-way stint the ideal path to let Davison develop.
Davison doesn’t turn 21 until October. There’s still plenty of time to develop his shot, but his pathway to the NBA is more likely as a speedy playmaker who can confidently direct a second-unit offense.
The other roster players: What happens with Justin Champagnie?
Justin Champagnie, signed late last season and along for Boston’s postseason ride, averaged 13 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game in four appearances. His aggressiveness on the glass was notable but the 22-year-old didn’t exactly distinguish himself the way some might hope a roster player would.
Champagnie is on a non-guaranteed deal and it feels like his future might hinge on whether the Celtics make any more moves to beef up the wing position … Newly-signed guard Dalano Banton made only two appearances after dealing with an injury at the start of summer play but has obvious intrigue given his 6-foot-9 size as a ball-handler.