It’s difficult to induce Romeo Langford to speak above his whisper-quiet voice, let alone show excitement or bravado. During the pre-draft process, one of the biggest knocks against the former Indiana standout was his mellow personality, observers questioning his motor.
They never questioned his talent.
It’s been a difficult rookie season for the Celtics’ top pick from June’s draft. He has been beset by injuries, starting with the wrist ailment sustained during his college days that caused him to miss the summer league. He also had to deal with a sore knee and two sprained ankles.
Last week, the Celtics recalled a healthy Langford from the G League and, in the second period last Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks, he was suddenly thrust into a competitive game after playing just 14 seconds this season.
Langford looked lost on defensive assignments, shuffling around like a junior varsity player called up to the varsity. He was being thrown into the fire, a player with immense potential but zero experience being given an opportunity because of injuries to veterans Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward.
Two nights later, Langford, 20, played 18 minutes in a win over the Detroit Pistons and scored his first 6 NBA points. And Sunday at the Garden, Langford played 23 minutes, looking far more comfortable than just days before.
His 8 points in the Celtics’ 119-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets will likely be overlooked, especially since Jayson Tatum set a career high with 39 points. But it was significant. The Celtics are prepping another young player who will eventually contribute more than spot defensive assignments or corner 3-pointers.
The Celtics don’t need much from Langford this season. For most one-and-dones like him, the NBA rookie year is a redshirt year. Langford is expected to spend most of this league with G League Maine, mature his body, get meaningful professional minutes, and polish his game.
The decision to call up Langford last week was an indication the Celtics trust him. He is the most mysterious of the Celtics’ four draft picks, an extremely soft-spoken kid who played most of his freshman season with a bad wrist.
So that affected his shooting. And Indiana missed the NCAA Tournament, so he got less exposure than Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams, and Tremont Waters, all of whom advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament last spring.
So who is Romeo Langford? He is a plus-defender with the ability to glide to the basket. He is an improving shooter after the Celtics strongly suggested he reshape his shooting motion.
“I feel a lot more comfortable; it feels natural now,” he said. “I shoot all the time now. I feel like it’s paying off and it’s working.”
Langford’s shot was considered broken when he was drafted. He shot 27 percent from behind the 3-point line at Indiana and it was uncertain whether that was due to the wrist injury. The Celtics took no chances and assistant coach Joe Mazzulla began restructuring his release, making it more fluid and smoother.
“Growing up and in college, I was bringing [the ball] back to the middle of my head,” Langford said. “At first I was like, ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ But I bought into it because I didn’t shoot the ball that well last year as you can see but I kept on taking it day by day, seeing it improve to now where it’s at, I can’t be mad about changing it.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens likes Langford’s length on defense and his ability to defend smaller point guards.
“His defense was excellent today. You know, just the — if you go back and even watch the Dallas game, it’s night and day what three games of experience will do for you,” Stevens said. “And he may not get to play as much when we have our full roster, but I think what this does, is it gives you great comfort in that if you have to throw him in there for an extended period of time he’s going to do exactly what we need him to do. And he’s a very versatile wing defender; he got his hands on some balls, he chased people off screens, and he played really hard. Like, obviously knocking down those shots is always nice, but I was encouraged by Romeo’s play all, all weekend.”
Fans are getting a chance to see Langford’s potential impact but he won’t raise above his monotone voice talking about it. In a generation of young people who boast about their accomplishments on social media and scream after every dunk, Langford chooses his words carefully. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s really enjoying himself, whether he loves to ball.
Only his actions will show that.
“I really don’t get too excited that often; I try to act like I’ve been there,” he said. “That’s something that my dad, growing up playing football, he didn’t want me celebrating after scoring a touchdown because he said, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’ so I just carry that through all aspects of life. He said I could do all that dancing once I make it to the NBA or NFL, but that’s just not me.”