ORLANDO — The depth of last month’s draft allowed the Celtics to grab a capable player with the 51st overall pick. Kris Joseph is hardly playing like an outsider among the wealth of talent at the Orlando Summer League.
Joseph has blended in well during the first four games, making a positive impression as he vies for a roster spot as a backup small forward.
He is third on the Celtics in scoring (11.8 points per game) and second in rebounding (6.8), showing the ability to score off the dribble and from the perimeter, while rebounding better than expected.
As the Celtics transition to younger talent, Joseph is showing that he belongs.
“We just try to put him in ways to be effective,” said Celtics summer league coach Tyronn Lue. “When he has the ball, we want him to attack and be aggressive. I think he’s doing a good job of that and we hope he continues to play that way.”
Joseph is trying to find his niche, believing he can flourish in the NBA after a solid four-year career at Syracuse. Joseph may have been limited in Jim Boeheim’s offense, but he is finding summer league an opportunity to display his skills.
“The biggest thing is how fast it is, it’s an up-and-down game for real,” he said. “As opposed to a 35-second shot clock there’s a 24-second shot clock, and that’s a huge difference. Just a lot more possessions, a lot more touches, a lot more can happen in the game.
“Now I’m able to grab a rebound and try to push it up the court. At Syracuse, we were [expected] to give the ball to a guard. If I get a rebound here, I can push the ball up myself and create for myself and make a play in transition. That’s a lot of fun for me.”
Joseph said he was often compared with the Celtics’ Paul Pierce throughout high school and college because of his size (6 foot 7 inches) and below-the-rim game.
“We’re not the most athletic guys, he and I,” Joseph said. “We’re not LeBron James athletic or anything like that, but we get to our spots and we’re able to get to the basket, get to the free throw line, and I think that’s big at any level. He demands a lot of attention and that opens up a lot of guys on the court.”
The Celtics allowed 53 first-half points and appeared a step slow in a 93-79 loss to the Pistons Thursday, their first defeat of the summer. Joseph and JaJuan Johnson led the Celtics with 17 points each, while Jared Sullinger, having to defend 7-foot center Andre Drummond, finished with 11 points (2-of-9 shooting) and seven rebounds.
“I thought we got off to a decent start, but our pick-and-roll defense was terrible, our weakside defense was horrible, and I just think we tried to do it all on our own,” Lue said. “We weren’t playing the way we’ve been playing, like sharing the ball. I thought the ball got stuck a lot and guys didn’t trust one another.”
Sullinger has spent the week assigned to centers and has fared well, using his size to create space and his perimeter shot to bring the big men guarding him away from the basket. There were a few interesting exchanges between Sullinger and Drummond, including one in which Drummond shoved Sullinger in the back on a rebound, sending the Celtic flying toward the rim. No foul was called.
On the next trip down the floor, the 6-9, 280-pound Sullinger went right at Drummond, forcing him to reach on a layup attempt for a foul.
“It was good, but I’m used to it,” said Sullinger. “So it was nothing special. We came out sluggish. We looked dead out there. That’s not an excuse, we lost.”
In four games, Sullinger is averaging a team-best 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Not quite yet
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he will not talk about free agency until Saturday, when the club is set to introduce Jason Terry and Jeff Green to the media. The Celtics continue to search for a shooting guard.
Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus remain candidates to return or be used in a sign-and-trade to perhaps acquire Courtney Lee from the Rockets, but the Celtics will have a clearer picture about other teams’ cap space when the Saturday deadline passes for matching offer sheets.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe