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For the Celtics’ James Young, the time is now

Celtics guard James Young (13) has shown promise in the summer league games.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Celtics forward James Young has, in a sense, always been protected by his youth. He was just 18 years old when he was drafted in 2014, so there was an understanding that it would take time for him to develop.

And then as a second-year player last season he was still younger than the team’s four new draft picks, so it made sense to essentially lump him in with those rookies, too.

And even this year, as Young prepares for his third professional season, he is still the third youngest player on Boston’s 15-man summer league roster.

There is something about youth that makes it appealing to wait, to wonder what might eventually be possible. Look at Young’s elegant jump shot. Look at what he could become.


But Young and the Celtics are no longer viewing his situation through that prism.

“It’s time,” president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “He’s had two years to develop and play some games in the D-League and get some minutes in games and practices, and now it’s his time to really step it up and prove that he belongs on a team. The competition is real, I guess is what I’m saying.”

Young, for his part, nodded and agreed with Ainge’s general sentiment when it was relayed to him on Wednesday. He said that his experience as a third-year player is far more important than his age, and that he is eager to take the next step.

“There’s definitely no pressure,” Young said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting on, and it’s finally starting to come, so I feel no pressure at all. I’m just going out there to play, play basketball. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

When the Celtics selected Young with the 17th overall pick of the 2014 draft, he was perhaps unfairly labeled as a knock-down shooter. He made 34.9 percent of his 3-point attempts during his lone season at the University of Kentucky.


And since the Celtics’ primary weakness is outside shooting, there might have been extra urgency for Young to contribute swiftly. Through his first two seasons, though, he mostly scuffled in limited opportunities.

He has made 23 of 92 3-pointers (25 percent) and 17 of 33 free throws (51.5 percent), and his playing time actually dipped from 10.7 minutes per game as a rookie to 6.9 last season.

Still, Young does not believe he has a responsibility to show he belongs at this level. He thinks that will come organically, along with opportunity.

“I don’t have to prove myself to nobody,” he said. “I’m out here to get wins, just to play team basketball, what the Celtics need me to do. I don’t have to prove anything to nobody. Just make my shots, go out there with confidence and just play the game.”

Young has shown promise as a shooter this summer, making 9 of 16 3-pointers with his quick, artful release. The Celtics have been pleased with his defense, and head coach Brad Stevens said Young has been playing more “instinctual.”

Teammates have noticed changes, too. Point guard Terry Rozier said Young is more relaxed on the court, and that he is taking the game more seriously than he did last year. Guard Marcus Smart said that Young “has done a lot of growing up.”


Young said he is seeing the floor more clearly at both ends, and that allows him to communicate more effectively and efficiently with teammates.

“It took me a while,” he said. “It took me two years to get it, just to observe the court and observe the game, watch a lot of film. I’m getting to the point where I know everything I have to do and need to do, and just go out there and just play hard and everything will fall into place.”

Despite Young’s insistence that he feels no need to prove himself, assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said there are times it is obvious that Young is pressing. He has encouraged him to stay positive no matter how hard that might be.

“He’s really hard on himself,” Shrewsberry said. “He puts in time, he works at it, then, like other people, when you do that and you see it and you don’t quite see the results, you get down on yourself a little bit.”

That is a common frustration for a young player looking to stand out in this unforgiving league.

But James Young does not think of himself as a young player anymore. Now, he is a veteran working toward an important chance.

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The Celtics entered the Las Vegas summer league with one of the more NBA-ready rosters in the 24-team event.

They have five recent first-round draft picks and five second-round picks, and there was a belief they should be a contender.


But they went 1-2 in round-robin play, and their run ended with a whimper on Wednesday, as they fell to the Cavaliers, 98-94, in the first-round of the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown had 25 points and nine rebounds and Terry Rozier added 24 points for Boston.

With 1:53 left, Rozier converted a layup off a steal to give the Celtics a 91-90 lead. At the other end, though, Jordan Mickey was whistled for a goaltend. After a missed 3-pointer by Abdel Nader, Diamon Simpson scored inside to give the Cavs a 94-91 lead.

Boston will face the Portland Trail Blazers in a consolation game on Friday.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at