LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League ending wasn’t what the Celtics could have envisioned, a 33-point loss to the Sacramento Kings in the championship game Tuesday night. The team will return to Boston, however, with several accomplishments attained and goals met.
The summer goal for the Celtics was to develop their younger players and expose them to more prominent roles. In other words, because the core of the summer league roster was made up of legitimate NBA players, they should be the best players on the floor in all of their summer league games.
The good news for the Celtics is that Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Payton Pritchard, and even Carsen Edwards looked as if they took major steps in improvement and were more polished.
They also found out that second-round picks Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin have NBA potential and were able to represent themselves well against high-level competition and will have more of an opportunity next season.
“They’re competitive, they want to get better, and they want to be held accountable,” said Celtics summer league coach Joe Mazzulla. “It was a lot of fun coaching them.
“I’ve been trying to treat everything like an NBA season, the way we watched film, the way we communicated in practice, the types of practices we ran. They all handled it very well. Now it’s a matter of not only physically but can they take mentally what they went through these 10 days and apply it when training camp comes?”
Langford, entering his third season, likely had the most to prove during summer league because he has an opportunity for a key role next season. The Celtics can definitely use his length and defensive prowess off the bench. But he needed to show he could stay healthy and also be more aggressive offensively.
He did both until the final game, when he sat out with a right wrist strain. It’s the same wrist that surgery caused him to miss the first two months of last season. Langford averaged 11 points in three games on 44 percent shooting and 38.5 percent from the 3-point line. He looks more comfortable and adjusted to NBA competition and the Celtics are going to need a more mature Langford this season.
Nesmith tallied 33 points on seven 3-pointers in a win over Denver and appears ready to take the next step. What was bothersome in the 100-67 loss to the Kings in the summer league title game was his poor decision making when he was blitzed at the 3-point line. The Kings game was an excellent litmus test for the Celtics, as Sacramento knew all of Boston’s strengths and weaknesses. Nesmith drew major attention with his seven 3-pointer game and the Kings forced him to become a driver and playmaker by running him off the line.
Nesmith countered by launching contested threes at times. It was definitely a learning experience.
“I did a better job of being a more multi-dimensional player, moving the ball, putting the ball on the floor, finding open teammates, taking confident shots,” Nesmith said. “That’s where I think I expanded. That’s what I’ve been working on, having a first, second or even third move sometimes.”
Nesmith was able to get on the floor during his rookie season because of his defense, but he’ll need to add more reliable scoring. The hope is, like Langford, that Nesmith can be a reliable reserve who can carve out minutes as a wing.
Pritchard was one of the best players in summer league before that final game where he scored just 6 points. The Celtics want him to become more of a playmaker who can fill in at point guard. He finished with a 3.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and looked comfortable running the Celtics offense.
Pritchard left the Celtics summer league team for a few days to participate in a Portland, Ore.-area pro-am, where he made national headlines by scoring 92 points. While it could lend credence to Pritchard being a local legend in Portland, it also conjures up the debate about whether Pritchard can play point or whether he’s an undersized shooting guard.
Mazzulla appeared satisfied with Pritchard’s performance in Las Vegas.
“Coming into [Tuesday] he had 26 assists and four turnovers, so I thought he had great game management,” Mazzulla said. “I thought he got his teammates better in every game.”
Edwards is the player with the most to lose because his roster spot is not guaranteed with the acquisition of Kris Dunn and the Celtics seeking more production off the bench. Edwards played with aggression and poise at times but still shot just 34.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from the 3-point line in five games.
He attempted the most shots on the team and didn’t score as efficiently as the Celtics would prefer. But he did finish with 4.4 assists per game in trying to adjust to playing point guard. After an inconsistent performance in Las Vegas, Edwards’s status with the Celtics remains uncertain.