SACRAMENTO — Once again, Celtics coach Brad Stevens led a short-handed, trade-diminished lineup on the court Friday against the Sacramento Kings, using all 10 players available, including mostly-on-mothball veterans Gerald Wallace and Shavlik Randolph.
The team’s trade of Marcus Thornton to the Phoenix Suns has also created more of an opportunity for 19-year-old rookie James Young, and that was one of the caveats of Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge moving the veteran shooter.
Young not only played Friday because the Celtics needed his body, he played because they want him to gain experience in the final 30 games of the season. His first half was rather forgettable, filled with nagging injuries and trips to the NBADL.
He showed flashes of being a dependable contributor during a couple appearances, including during a furious January rally against the Charlotte Hornets. But otherwise, we’ve heard more than we’ve seen.
Against the Kings, Young scored 4 points, and had 2 rebounds and a steal in 18 minutes. But the numbers hardly display the much-needed experience he’s gaining. On a couple of occasions, he was matchup against savvy, crafty, wily guard Andre Miller, who was making his Sacramento debut.
So after a season’s worth of chasing freakish athletic swingman, Young was defending Mr. Magoo. On one sequence, Miller posted Young, made a nifty reverse spin, stopped, used a pump fake and then scored a layup with Young only a witness.
It was one of those moments Young can attribute to inexperience, and those rather bewildering moments will help in his maturation.
“I was supposed to play him to not drive but I played him like a shooter,” Young said. “I think that really messed me up. I just have to be more aware of who I’m guarding. He’s a crafty player and he looks at the floor really well, so it’s hard to like be in help defense but yet stay focused on him so he’s a tough guy to guard.”
The rest of the season will be an invaluable experience for Young, whom the Celtics are banking will develop fast enough to become a permanent rotation player next season. The organization knows he can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he spent so much time in the NBADL to work on his defense, ball-handling and gain confidence.
While he appeared a formidable figure on the college level at Kentucky, Young is frail on the professional level. Fellow NBA swingmen are built solid, such as Sacramento’s Rudy Gay or the more physical Derrick Williams.
Young’s need for strength and more build is apparent, and that will be his primary goals this summer. Until then, he will have to go with the body he has and learn on the fly. Always confident, Young appears ready for the challenge and opportunity.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment and it’s starting to finally slowly come on, I’ve just got to make the most of it,” he said. “I’ve just got to stop thinking so much. I’ve been thinking about playing defense and then trying to do offense. I’ve got to out there and play.”
Young is a few steps behind fellow rookie Marcus Smart, who began his NBA sojourn on opening night and, save a 14-game absence with a sprained ankle, has received extensive minutes in his first season. Smart and Young, drafted 11 picks apart last June, are considered the foundation of the organization’s future.
They will be linked for as long as they remain Celtics.
Smart admits that he is watching Young experience the learning curve and making extra sure he offers his cohort advice, because he is enduring the same journey.
“The more I can help him out, the more it will help our team,” Smart said. “With all the recent things that’s been happening to this team, he’s going to get a lot of minutes. So we’re going to need him to pick up things a lot earlier than he was expected to. But he’s been handling it very well. He’s just got to keep working and we’re going to keep helping him out.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.