Things seemed so promising for Carsen Edwards after the night of Oct. 15, when he appeared to cement a role in the Celtics’ rotation after hitting eight 3-pointers in a span of 5:26 at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Arena.
Edwards looked ready for the NBA grind, appeared to be another Danny Ainge draft steal that would make a smooth transition to being a reliable scorer. About 4½ months later, Edwards is waiting for another opportunity to showcase his skills. He was given a chance to play second-unit minutes in the first month but he struggled offensively and became a target of opposing teams defensively.
Edwards has played more than 10 minutes in a game just once since Dec. 9, when he logged 12 in a blowout Celtics win over the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s been reduced to a cheerleader at the end of bench when he’s not playing for G-League Maine. He did not play in Saturday’s 111-110 overtime loss to the Rockets.
It’s been a difficult rookie season for Edwards, especially in comparison with rookie cohorts. Grant Williams has etched a role as a backup forward/center. Romeo Langford has become a defensive ace off the bench and energy player now that he’s fully healthy, while Tremont Waters has flourished in Maine and could be ready for a second-unit role next season.
Edwards is working to regain that confidence that allowed him to score 30 during that preseason win. He was a prolific scorer at Purdue and the Celtics drafted him with the express purpose of turning into a high-volume scorer. So far, Edwards has averaged 2.9 points per game, shooting 32.4 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from the 3-point line.
Those types of numbers won’t garner much playing time.
“It’s been tough but I think the main thing I’ve kind of focused on is perspective,” Edwards said. “It’s tough not playing but at the same time it gives you a way to learn and kind of grow.
“I understood that my rookie year wouldn’t be easy. It wouldn’t be smooth. It’s not like I’m surprised, I’m just trying to make the best out of what I’m given.”
The Celtics are deep in the backcourt. Brad Wanamaker has been a solid backup to Kemba Walker, while Marcus Smart has also spelled Walker and can play both backcourt positions. Jaylen Brown and Langford are the shooting guards.
So where does that leave Edwards? Not with much opportunity, especially when he isn’t shooting well. So he has been relegated to working with assistant coach Kara Lawson on skill work, showing up to practices and shootarounds early for extra shooting, and working on his patience.
“I understand the idea of development and playing but there’s a lot that goes on when you’re not playing where you say, ‘OK, what do I need to do to crack it?’ ” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Sometimes I’m just on a good team. They’re playing a certain way and we have a lot of guys at his ‘position.’ He knows that.
“We’ve seen it over and over where rookies in the league don’t play, but in their second year they’re great, or the end of the first year they’re great, because they are getting better, not just in front of everybody’s eyes.”
The behind-the-scenes work is what Edwards hopes pays off. But it’s difficult for a rookie to earn playing time on a playoff-caliber team, especially when he struggled with his first opportunity. The 5-foot-11-inch Edwards appeared to let his defensive deficiencies affect his offense.
It’s been just as much of a mental hurdle to adjust to inconsistent playing times and the NBA life as it has been physical.
“The transition’s tough,” he said. “We had more than just that one preseason game and I didn’t play perfect in every game in preseason. If anyone expected me to do that [hit eight threes] every single game, they didn’t look at it clearly.
“We have so many good players here. In the preseason, I would get more of an opportunity than the regular season, so I’m just continuing to work and try to build something every day.”
When asked what he’s improved on, Edwards said it’s had nothing to do with his skills.
“Being a better teammate, just being on the bench, trying to be supportive at all times,” he said. “It’s been a little tougher for me. A lot of people here never really been in that role like that are new to the league. Also just continuing to be better at seeing the game at decision making. I feel that has improved just from all the basketball I’ve seen.
“In college, I was playing a lot more free but here you’ve got so many guys who can score at a high level. I’ve got to build trust with the staff to believe I can do all those things.”
Stevens said there is still a possibility Edwards can make a contribution this season. All has not been lost on his rookie season.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of discussions about that,” Stevens said. “There’s no way that book is closed yet on this year. He could easily be a guy that breaks into the rotation by the end of the year or certainly in a playoff series if you’re struggling to put the ball through the net.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.