As anticipation builds for Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama’s debut at the Las Vegas NBA Summer League this weekend, the Celtics will quietly field perhaps the least star-studded roster in the 30-team event.
Boston’s squad includes just one former first-round draft pick, center Udoka Azubuike, who played 68 games over three seasons with the Jazz before being waived this year. But Las Vegas remains quite valuable for the Celtics, and the team’s front office has constructed a roster that includes several players who could parlay a strong performance into a more enduring role.
In 2019, wing Javonte Green was a relative unknown before his strong summer eventually led to him securing the team’s final roster spot. Last year, former first-round pick Mfiondu Kabengele’s solid play helped him get one of the team’s two-way contracts.
“That’s what you always hope to happen,” Celtics assistant general manager Dave Lewin said by phone Wednesday afternoon, “is that you have a guy come in and play well and show you something.”
Point guard Dalano Banton’s spot on the roster is set after he agreed to a two-year deal Monday, but the 23-year-old is expected to make his debut in green this weekend, giving him extra time to acclimate to the system while also showing why he belongs.
He’ll be joined by former Raptors teammate Justin Champagnie, who signed a two-year deal with the Celtics in April and had a front-row seat during the run to the Eastern Conference finals, in addition to participating in all of the practices and preparation that accompanied it. Champagnie, who played just 33 minutes during the regular season and playoffs, has a non-guaranteed contract for next season, so his bigger audition begins now.
But the progress of the Celtics’ second-round picks from the last two drafts, point guard JD Davison and forward Jordan Walsh, will be the primary focus.
Davison was on a two-way contract last season and spent most of the year with the team’s G League affiliate in Maine. Lewin said that while building this summer roster the front office wanted to add a lob threat who could also be effective running pick-and-rolls with Davison, which is partly why Azubuike was signed. Davison is still just 20 years old and it appears most likely that he is headed toward another two-way deal.
Walsh, who was selected with the 38th overall pick of last month’s draft, is the more intriguing prospect. The 19-year-old is a high-energy, athletic, and tenacious defender. His offensive game is still a bit crude, and Las Vegas will be his first opportunity for growth there.
“Jordan’s been excellent,” Lewin said. “He’s doing a great job of learning the system and taking coaching. He’s a super-talented defender and he’s learning how to fit his offensive skill set in the way the NBA game is played. He’s a young kid, 19, one year of college, so the opportunity to get as many reps as he can against really high-level players, accomplished pros, and grown men he’ll face at summer league will really be valuable.”
Azubuike, a former Kansas star, and guard Jay Scrubb, who had stints with the Clippers and Magic over the last three seasons, will also be worth watching, especially now that the NBA has added a third two-way roster slot.
The squad will be guided by Celtics assistant Tony Dobbins. Following a lengthy career playing overseas, Dobbins was hired to work in the Celtics’ video department in 2019 before being promoted to assistant coach a year later. He was one of just three holdovers from Brad Stevens’s staff when Ime Udoka was hired in 2021, and last year he moved to the front of the bench on Joe Mazzulla’s staff following Udoka’s suspension and Will Hardy’s departure to coach the Jazz.
“Joe and Brad both trust him an extreme amount, and our star players really love him and relate to him,” Lewin said of Dobbins. “So it’s great that he gets this opportunity, and I think it’ll benefit him, because he hasn’t been a head coach. I think people will be impressed with what he does.”
The Celtics open summer league play at 3 p.m. Saturday against the Heat. They’ll face the Wizards, Lakers, and Knicks in round-robin action before playing a fifth game after the four-team playoff bracket is determined.