NEW YORK — It seems that second-year forward James Young is being passed in the rotation by rookie R.J. Hunter, who has surprised with his instincts and playmaking skills.
Still, that does not mean Young is not making progress.
Although he has not made the same sort of training camp splash as Hunter, Young has shown improvement to coach Brad Stevens, who must decide whether the former Kentucky standout is worthy of NBA minutes or, perhaps, a return to the NBADL.
Young finished with 10 points in 16 minutes in the Celtics’ 101-95 preseason loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, as he continues to look more comfortable.
“His defense has improved, it’s night and day from when he came in [as a rookie],” Stevens said before the game. “Just like in our situation with all our bigs, there’s a lot of competition back there as far as playing time goes. He’s doing a good job. He’s progressing the right way, getting stronger, working on his ball-handling. He works on his shooting. Defensively, just systematically, the game has slowed down quite a bit for him.”
Young, in his second season, remains the youngest player on the roster, having just turned 20 in August.
He is 17 months younger than rookie Terry Rozier and 13 months younger than rookie Jordan Mickey.
“I think the biggest thing is you look at [Young’s] youth and you remember he’s a college junior if he was still in college but a college sophomore age-wise,” Stevens said. “And then you look at the fact that obviously he came from a very unique situation at Kentucky where from what I saw, they did a lot of switching [defensively]. They utilized their strengths as that team to really dominate opponents.
“But as far as learning a whole new style of defense, that’s a challenge. That’s a long process usually. When I was coaching in college, I thought freshmen where just kind of getting it toward the end of the first year. Sophomores were starting to really figure it out by the end of their second and junior and seniors were playing unconsciously.
“As a young guy, he’s certainly playing in a brand new system, and that’s part of it.”
Mixing and matching
For the first time this preseason, David Lee started alongside Amir Johnson as Stevens continues to explore playing combinations. Tyler Zeller started the first three games at center but did not play until late in the first period.
“We’ve flip-flopped pretty much every day [in practice],” Lee said. “Tyler’s done an unbelievable job. Once again, our depth is our strength. Whoever Coach plugs in has a certain level of intensity. The fact that we have skilled guys at the 4 and the 5 makes it so that anybody can fill any spot, so that’s a complement to our bigs.”
Lee has welcomed his expanded role in the Boston offense after losing minutes last season with the Warriors.
“It was a strange year for me last year,” he said. “But an unbelievable ending to it, being able to contribute winning a title, it was all worth it. Either way, a chance to be in a rotation and play, looking forward to that and being in as good of a shape as I can.”
Johnson continued his sparkling offensive play by scoring 8 first-period points. Lee finished with 4 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
New York’s Kyle O’Quinn received a flagrant foul for a hard chop on Jared Sullinger during a second-quarter layup attempt. Stevens then picked up a rare preseason technical for being 4 feet on the floor screaming for a foul against Zeller, who was pushed following a layup.
And finally, former Laker Sasha Vujacic attempted to sell a flagrant on Sullinger as the big man grabbed him around the shoulders to curtail a Knicks fastbreak. After Sullinger let him go, Vujacic continued to spin and then flopped hard to the floor, soccer style.
“I guess he was trying to sell a foul, welcome back to the NBA I guess, Vujacic,” Sullinger said. “I’m past it. It’s whatever.”
The lone players unavailable for Friday were guards Marcus Smart (strep throat) and Rozier (sore left knee). Stevens said Smart went through a workout Friday in Boston and may try to practice Saturday. Rozier, who made the trip to New York, worked out during the team’s shootaround and also will attempt to practice Saturday.
Meanwhile, the chances of Perry Jones making the roster appear slim as he did not play. Stevens did say Jones will play soon. Jones has played 17 minutes in two preseason games, scoring 4 points.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.