A miscommunication last Friday left Boston Celtics second-year swingman James Young at an airport in San Antonio waiting to board a flight back to New England in order to join the D-League's Maine Red Claws for their weekend doubleheader against the visiting Erie BayHawks.
The Celtics even sent out a press release noting Young had been optioned back to the D-League. But when word filtered back to Brad Stevens, the Celtics' coach wondered if it would be better to have Young stay for the end of Boston's five-game trip in case the team needed emergency depth. He was fetched from the airport before boarding his flight.
With Boston already thin on backcourt depth, rookie R.J. Hunter tweaked his hip during Sunday's practice and was unavailable Monday. Looking to add some size to Boston's perimeter defense, Stevens elected to lean on Young, who responded with maybe his best two-way game as a pro.
Consider this: Young, pegged primarily as a behind-the-arc sharpshooter, missed all three 3-pointers he put up, but had a couple of strong drives at the basket -- including a late third-quarter layup -- and used his length to disrupt on the defensive end. He finished with a modest stat line (four points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal), but gave Boston 13 quality second-half minutes.
"James has had a rough go about it because there have been times when he hasn’t played as well and R.J. and [rookie] Terry [Rozier] actually came in and have done a lot of good things for us on given nights," Stevens said. "It’s been tough. But [Young has] just kinda stayed the course and he’s worked. I’ve kinda sensed that, on this trip, he’s just ready. And I don’t know why I say that. I thought he played well in practice, I thought he shot the heck out of it every time I’ve watched. Then we needed a body. I just felt like with their big guards and the fact that we were [switching on screens on Ryan Anderson], he made the most sense."
Late in the third quarter, after the Pelicans had trimmed their deficit from 22 to 13, Young raced ahead after a New Orleans make and was rewarded by receiving a long feed as the Pelicans scrambled back. Young used a little hesitation move to get into the paint and produced a nice left-handed finish over Dante Cunningham.
Early in the fourth quarter, Young got switched on to big man Anthony Davis after getting snagged on a pick-and-roll, but managed to use his long arms to deflect a pass back to Davis in the paint. Despite getting twisted around, Young managed to get the loose ball and started a break the other way before feeding Evan Turner for a layup.
Stevens singled out both sequences as key plays in preventing the Pelicans from making a sustained second-half run.
For the season, Young had played only nine minutes in four appearances before Monday's game. Rookie Hunter had leapfrogged him on Boston's backcourt depth chart early in the year. Young, the No. 17 pick in the 2014 draft, left some Celtics fans exasperated when he deemed himself unavailable late in a lopsided game last month after sleeping on his shoulder wrong.
Regardless, Stevens offered strong praise for Young's development in recent days. Young got a couple of trash-time cameos on this trip, and Stevens went to him to start the second quarter Monday, then came back with Young for a 10-plus minute stint spanning into the fourth quarter.
Is it time to jump back on the Young hype train? If Hunter is healthy, Young's role seemingly remains limited, but Boston's lack of backcourt depth is still going to give Young opportunities. Young might just as soon be optioned back to Maine for an eighth time this season, but Monday's game was an encouraging sign in his development. It will give Stevens additional confidence to go to him in similar situations.
Stevens has often emphasized that Boston will lean on all 15 of its players at one point or another this season and that everyone must stay ready. Young responded well when his number was called Monday.
Not bad for a guy who might have been practicing with the Red Claws on Monday if Stevens hadn't played it safe and elected to keep him on the trip.