There was a time in the not-so distant past when Boston Celtics rookies were essentially afterthoughts on a veteran roster. Someone such as Avery Bradley -- now, ironically, the longest tenured player on Boston's roster -- spent much of his rookie season on the bench and in the NBA Development League before elevating to his current starting role by the end of his sophomore campaign.
The Celtics are young now. In fact, 17 of the 20 players that the team is set to bring to training camp check in at age 26 or younger (Bradley is still only 24). Two players -- Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko -- are 28, while David Lee is the team's elder statesman at 32.
Twenty percent of Boston's roster next season will be comprised of rookies in June draftees Terry Rozier (16th overall), R.J. Hunter (28), and Jordan Mickey (33). And despite Boston's youthful roster, it's unclear exactly what kind of roles these first-year players will garner out of the gate.
To start Week 2 of our 2015 Celtics summer forecast, we asked our blogger panel: Which Boston rookie will have the biggest impact during the 2015-16 season?
It seems unlikely that any of the three rookies will have the sort of immediate impact of, say, Marcus Smart, the No. 6 pick in last year's draft who aided Boston's second-half surge after elevating to a starting role. But it's likely that at least one of the three rookies will carve out a contributing role this season.
Our panel voted heavily in favor of Hunter, who collected 75 percent of the vote. Second-round selection Mickey grabbed 16.7 percent of the ballots and Rozier -- the team's top selection -- finished with only 8.3 percent.
Like much of our panel, this writer elected to go with Hunter in large part because his greatest skill -- perimeter shooting -- is something Boston so desperately needed last season. What's murkier is where his opportunity will come from, particularly if second-year guard/forward James Young elevates to a more consistent role.
In NBA.com's annual survey of incoming rookies, Hunter finished second in both the "best shooter" and "biggest steal" categories. But rookies often struggle to consistently knock down shots in their first NBA season while adjusting to a deeper 3-point line, and Hunter is going to have to do that quickly to generate consistent floor time.
Mickey was one of the bright spots at summer league. Despite being undersized, he can protect the rim -- another area of weakness for Boston in recent seasons -- but the Celtics' frontcourt depth is working against him, especially considering the team's biggest offseason splashes were adding big men Johnson and Lee.
Don't sleep on Rozier. There's a case to be made that Rozier, with his speed and defensive talents, has the best chance to crack coach Brad Stevens' rotation. Rozier could compete for the minutes that previously went to backup point guard Phil Pressey in recent seasons. Rozier has plenty to improve on at the NBA level, but his burst and commitment on the defensive end could create an immediate opportunity, particularly if Boston's backcourt depth is thinned by injuries or in-season moves.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Jordan Mickey)
Rozier isn't likely to get huge minutes off the bat. Hunter's best skill (shooting) is notoriously more difficult for rookies as they adjust to a longer 3-point line. That leaves Mickey, who could fill Boston's most pressing need: rim protection. His length and athleticism, as well as his developing timing, make him a consistent threat from the weak side against driving guards, and Boston's lack of rim protection might allow him to step into an immediate role. Hunter and Rozier might eventually be better players than Mickey, but his initial impact could be significant.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (RJ Hunter)
This is a no-brainer: Hunter. Of all the individual skills, Hunter has the best one -- shooting -- and it happens to be one of the Celtics' biggest needs. They ranked 27th in 3-point percentage last season and Hunter can help cure that problem, provided he's given an opportunity. Hunter has a high basketball IQ and can be relied upon to make "the right play" on defense, so that end shouldn't be an issue in limited minutes. Rozier could carve out a Pressey-like energy role because of his defense and it's hard to see Mickey playing over any of the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, but he likely won't receive the minutes that Hunter might.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Terry Rozier)
Hunter could carve out a role as a 3-point specialist, while Mickey might earn minutes as a hard-working rebounder and shot blocker. It'll be a more difficult path for Rozier, who on paper seems somewhat redundant to Smart and Bradley. But the C's reached on Rozier in the draft for a reason, and he showed glimpses of impact potential in summer league. Rozier likely will be the first rookie given a chance to play on a regular basis, an opportunity I expect him to take advantage of.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Hunter)
All the rookies are facing an uphill battle for playing time, so the answer to this question might depend upon what moves happen this season. But if the roster remains the same, I tend to believe that Stevens will find a way to get Hunter's jump shot involved in the offense. As the son of a coach, I could see him doing the little things needed to get into the lineup sooner.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Hunter)
The betting man might take Mickey or Rozier knowing that Stevens' interest in rewarding active defenders, but Hunter's ability to shoot is a quality difficult to find on the Celtics' roster. Though Hunter's lithe frame could limit his opportunities, his excellent court sense, shooting and length will earn him time at a relatively barren wing position.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Hunter)
The Celtics are a deep team and while all three rookies bring specific skill sets, it's hard envisioning those skill sets alone allowing them to break into the rotation. The one skill most sorely lacking on the team, however, is 3-point shooting. Hunter is uniquely positioned to give the team what it needs most this season. If he can adjust defensively he should see time and make an impact.
Nick García, CelticsLife (Hunter)
By taking Hunter, Danny Ainge addressed the Celtics' need for an outside shooter. Exactly how much playing time he ends up getting this season will depend on other factors besides his own ability to adapt to the NBA, most notably the development of Young. But Hunter still has a clearer path than either of Boston's other two rookies. Rozier is going to have a hard time getting on the court with Smart and Isaiah Thomas ahead of him, and Mickey should be spending time in the D-League.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Hunter)
Hunter is the pick here simply because he's more likely to get playing time, while Rozier and Mickey will probably be shuttling to and from Maine. If Hunter consistently hits from beyond the arc, and plays with the poise he displayed in summer league, he'll be in the mix to become Bradley's backup on the depth chart.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Hunter)
Hunter provides something that the Celtics just don't have in abundance: shooting. Rozier will probably have the better career, but if we're talking about immediate impact, it's Hunter's ability to spread the floor and be a playmaker off the dribble that could get him minutes. Those minutes may not be consistent, but if Stevens needs a punch off the bench, he could go to Hunter to fulfill last year's Gigi Datome role. Datome played sporadically, but when he did see the floor, he found a way to score -- and score in bunches.
KWAPT, Red's Army (Mickey)
Mickey is the most polished of the rookies, in my opinion. His shot blocking and rebounding are desperately needed and I look for Stevens to utilize those talents by giving Mickey a good amount of minutes this year.
Alex Kungu, CLNS Radio (Hunter)
With Smart, Bradley and Thomas getting a bulk of the backcourt minutes, there will still be some leftover time at the backup shooting guard spot. Hunter's Day 1 shooting ability, and high basketball IQ, make him a perfect fit for this role. Getting bigger will be the main focus here, but he's a savvy defender with great length that should allow him to hold his own against second units.
Your Turn (?????)
Who do you think will have the biggest impact as a rookie? Sound off in the comments.