SALT LAKE CITY -- As the Boston Celtics deliberated the necessity of trading a core player to make room for Gordon Hayward on Wednesday night, the recent No. 3 picks who stand to benefit from such a deal were in action in the Utah Jazz Summer League.
In theory, signing Hayward should bury Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics' high lottery selections the past two years out of California and Duke, respectively. But in order to sign Hayward to a maximum contract, Boston will likely have to trade a highly paid player. According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are discussing deals involving starters Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder and sixth man Marcus Smart.
With four other players from last season's playoff rotation unsigned (Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko), renounced by Boston (Kelly Olynyk) or having agreed to sign elsewhere (Amir Johnson, headed to the Philadelphia 76ers), there are minutes to be had. Given their pedigree, Brown and Tatum are likely first in line as part of lineups that take advantage of the Celtics' defensive versatility.
Because he has an additional year of experience, Brown assuredly starts ahead of Tatum in the pecking order. A little more than a month ago, Brown was defending LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals (and saying he wasn't afraid of the challenge), which makes summer league opposition seem tame by comparison. Still, this setting gives Brown the opportunity to develop parts of his game that weren't featured in his smaller role during his rookie season.
In each of Boston's first two games, Brown has been assigned to defend a dynamic young guard on the other team: No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz of the Philadelphia 76ers at times Monday and second-year San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray on Wednesday. With second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson sitting out against the Spurs -- his partially guaranteed contract could be part of clearing room for Hayward -- the Celtics even had Brown initiate the offense early in Wednesday's game.
In particular, Brown has been able to showcase the ability to create off the dribble that gives him the potential to eventually outgrow a 3-and-D role and become a featured part of the offense. He has an excellent first step, though isolation plays tend to bog down when Brown isn't able to get past his defender right away.
Still, Brown dominated in Monday's game, scoring 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He was much quieter Wednesday, attempting just six shots and scoring six points. The one unfortunate common denominator between Brown's two games was turnovers, as he has totaled 11. He has a tendency to dribble himself into trouble, and his spin move frequently results in turnovers.
During his first two summer-league games, Tatum has shown the scoring ability that led Boston president of basketball operations and GM Danny Ainge to say after the draft that the Celtics would have taken Tatum with the No. 1 pick, had they not traded down with the 76ers. He has combined for 44 points on efficient 18-of-35 shooting, including the game-winning basket as the Celtics beat Philadelphia on Monday.
Tatum has been creating offense in a variety of manners. Thus far, he looks most comfortable in the corners, possibly because the shorter corner 3 is more makable for him than the longer, above-the-break NBA 3. On one play Wednesday, Tatum sidestepped a closeout, stepped back and knocked down a 3 from the angle.
Later in the game, a post-up showed the kind of polished skill that Tatum fans believe will translate better in the NBA than at Duke. After shimmying in the post, Tatum squared his shoulders and knocked down a difficult turnaround jumper. Another impressive one-on-one play from Tatum saw him create space against bigger defender Davis Bertans with a step back, making the jumper. (Later, isolated against smaller San Antonio first-round pick Derrick White, Tatum was unable to create separation and missed badly as White contested.)
Brad Stevens will have fun with Tatum's ability to finish powerfully at the rim. One after-timeout play for Boston resulted in an uncontested dunk for Tatum. He also threw down in traffic and had a tip dunk.
Considering how well Tatum finishes above the rim, it's somewhat surprising that he struggles to score when there's more traffic in the paint. Perhaps because of his athleticism, Tatum hasn't had to develop the craft to finish over and around defenders. Brown struggles in this regard too, though he has done a good job of drawing contact around the basket and getting to the free throw line.
Neither Brown nor Tatum will be able to entirely replace a departed Celtics starter next season. That's OK. At 20 and 19, respectively, they're still early in the development process. As they continue to build on what they've shown this week in summer league, Boston's two No. 3 picks can help the Celtics continue to improve well after the team made its big splash in free agency.