By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
SALT LAKE CITY (CBS) — The Celtics kicked off their Summer League slate in memorable fashion on Monday night with a 89-88 win over Markelle Fultz and the Philadelphia 76ers at the University of Utah.
While the results of these games don’t mean a thing, there is a lot to dissect from a Celtics personnel standpoint over the next couple of weeks. Battles for roster spots will be settled, while questions about positional flexibility and NBA readiness will begin to be answered.
With that in mind, here are three early impressions from what we saw Monday night, highlighted by the debuts of a couple highly touted rookies in green.
1. Jaylen Brown looks like a man among boys.
One thing that was readily apparent from the opening tip of the Celtics summer league opener: Jaylen Brown was a cut above other players on the floor. The second-year wing showcased an expanded arsenal of offensive moves all evening, punishing Sixers defenders in transition while also getting to the spots he wanted in the post. He finished the night with 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including an encouraging 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Outside shooting has always been a concern for Brown, but he shot a respectable 33 percent during his rookie year, making any kind of growth in year two a major plus.
The other eye-catching number of Brown’s night was 13 rebounds, including 12 on the defensive end. His career high on the glass in his rookie season was just eight, but Brown embraced playing small-ball 4 for a lot of this contest and hitting the boards. There were a lot of hiccups in his game (7 turnovers, 6-of-10 from the free-throw line) but the bottom line is that Brown didn’t look like he belonged on the court in this game, simply because his skill-set was too good for it.
2. Jayson Tatum is already channeling Paul Pierce.
Celtics summer league head coach Jerome Allen was blunt when asked about what the play call was on Tatum’s eventual game winner.
“I was really just trying to give him the ball and get everyone out of his way,” Allen explained. “Just like I drew it up, and I didn’t draw up anything. It was a big shot. Not easy.”
The isolation mid-range jumper that gave the Celtics an 89-88 win highlighted a promising debut for the C’s No. 3 overall pick. Tatum showed a polished inside/outside game for a rookie, going 8-of-17 from the field with a couple of impressive takes towards the rim. His athleticism doesn’t stand out, but he’s already showing the patience and poise that earned him rave reviews from his coach.
“He’s an old soul with a pro-like approach,” Allen said. “He doesn’t get rattled or show a lot of emotion. Just plays at his pace, like he’s been here before. He’s 19, and I have such appreciation for that because it was his first summer league game, and he made plays, and not only that shot. He was aggressive, shared the ball, defended, rebounded.”
It’s just one game, but he checks a lot of the boxes the Celtics need to improve upon from an offensive standpoint.
3. Ante Zizic plays like a grizzled veteran … in a good and bad way.
The Celtics rode the 6-foot-11 big man for heavy minutes in the first half before switching over to small-ball down the stretch. The center played a physical game, setting mean screens on the perimeter, and got his hands dirty on the glass (5 rebounds in 19 minutes). He showed a solid handle on the perimeter with both hands while also navigating handoffs adequately too.
The question that remains to be seen is whether Zizic has the speed to stay on the floor for big minutes. He works hard, but he was beaten down the court regularly by opposing bigs. His post game is deliberate and crafty, but his lack of lift makes him prone to blocked shots too. The pros outweighed the cons in his game, but there may be a painful adjustment period for Zizic from summer league to regular season speed of game.