Crushes don’t always happen at first sight. Sometimes you know a girl for years, and you think she’s really cute, but she has a boyfriend so you stay in the friend zone and don’t let yourself think anything else might happen. You hang out with her as friends, not doing girly things like shopping, but going out for drinks once in a while, simply a platonic thing. She’s funny and has a nice smile, and you think she might feel the same way about you, but again, there’s that whole boyfriend thing, which severely dampens any chances of something romantic happening. Then you and she have one too many drinks one night, and damn it, she looks so pretty, and before you know it, boyfriend be damned, you aren’t in the friend zone anymore.
I watched Kris Joseph play for three years at Syracuse and never had any, um, lustful feelings for him. I considered him a good, solid player, but he played at Syracuse and I never figured I would have a chance to get to know him any better than that. We went out for drinks a few times, if you will, but our relationship never extended beyond that. Even when the Celtics drafted Joseph, our relationship remained platonic. He was an accomplished college player who led the No. 2-ranked team in scoring, but he came with questions about whether he could succeed at the NBA level. I liked his complete game, but I kept things in the friend zone. Who knew if he’d even make the Celtics, so why make things too complicated?
We are now four games into the Boston Celtics’ summer league schedule, and I’m 99.97 percent convinced Joseph will make the opening day roster. Although I’m not sure whether he’ll make an impact this season (remember, summer league stats don’t amount to anything and Doc Rivers makes rookies really earn their time), I’m completely out of the friend zone and falling head over heels for Joseph’s game. No, I don’t hold any illusions that he will one day become an NBA All-Star or threaten LeBron James for next season’s MVP Award. My expectations are tempered — hell, I still want him to officially make the team before dropping to a knee and proposing. But for the 51st pick in the draft, Joseph sure can contribute in several fashions.
You can tell the extent of my man-crush (not to mention Joseph’s multi-faceted game) in that I am professing my love after he shot 6-for-16 from the floor, including 0-for-3 from downtown. Joseph didn’t need to shoot well to make his presence known. The 6-foot-8 small forward (with a 6-foot-11 wingspan!!!) still scored 17 points and snagged 11 rebounds. He lived on the offensive glass. He can take a defensive board and lead the fast break. He can handle on the perimeter, his length should make him a valuable defender, and on most days, he’s also a good shooter. Rarely do teams secure a wing with real NBA length and decent athleticism, who can do so many things, in the second round of the draft. But this year’s draft was deep and Danny Ainge has a knack for unearthing gems. Now, I’ve gone from being cautiously excited about Joseph to being the leader of his fan club. And yes, I know it’s not promised (or even remotely probable) that Joseph can be so impressive at the actual NBA level.
I know this is still the summer. I know that, to earn minutes and even a spot on the team, Joseph will need to compete with Paul Pierce and Jeff Green. I know he will likely face dozens of DNP-CDs and several stints with the Maine Red Claws, if in fact he does make the team. But there are signs he has a future in the NBA. He has played well in each of Boston’s four games, the only player on the team’s roster who can say so. I realize summer league doesn’t mean much and Joseph still has plenty of work to do, but I still would appreciate it if someone could tell me his address so I can send him flowers.
Oh, yeah: The Summer Celtics suffered their first loss Thursday, 93-79, to the Detroit Pistons. Joseph wasn’t the only player to suit up. Player-by-player analysis follows:
Sullinger had an uber-quiet first half with two points. During the first two quarters, his most aggressive possessions came on his first two touches. They resulted in two turnovers, both caused by the athletically gifted Andre Drummond.
Facing Drummond, who possesses length and size that Sullinger isn’t blessed with, Sullinger struggled at times. He had his shot blocked once by a weakside effort from Austin Daye, traveled on one occasion while attempting to avoid Drummond’s outstretched arms, and generally showed why concerns exist about whether he’ll be able to handle the NBA’s best athletes.
But the Celtics made a run in the third quarter, and it came when they decided to scrap their normal offense in favor of running a cross-screen for Sullinger on every possession. Once he felt more comfortable on the block, with the ball, Sullinger made more things happen. He still didn’t do a great job finishing inside the paint, but he drew several fouls, hit 7-of-8 free throws, and finished with 11 points and seven rebounds over 28 minutes. Best yet, the Celtics were able to thrive when they force-fed Sullinger because he tends to make intelligent decisions with the ball.
Sullinger still needs work. He could use to lose 15-20 pounds (and has already hired a personal chef). He didn’t show much NBA three-point range this week, bricking or air-balling several attempts. But he knows how to play, and he does certain things (post-ups, people!) nobody else on the Celtics can do.
For the first time this summer, Moore seemed rushed. Normally, he’s the type of player who wouldn’t hurry if he were 10 minutes away from a train leaving in 30 seconds. But on Thursday, playing against the impressive Piston Brandon Knight, Moore couldn’t get anything going and made several mistakes.
Moore had four turnovers Thursday in 17 minutes after committing just five in 72 minutes entering the day. He posted a minus-16 rating Thursday after the Celtics were plus-38 with Moore on the floor in the first three games. Frankly, Moore looked overmatched against Knight. Not every point or assist Knight notched was Moore’s fault — the Celtics had their share of team-wide defensive breakdowns — but he seemed to struggle with Knight’s quickness and change of pace. Moore also forced shots, which he almost never seems does whether he’s playing in summer league or the NBA.
We’ll chalk this one up to the “11 a.m. start on the third game in as many days” woes and give Moore a clean slate Friday morning.
Johnson (17 points, six rebounds) is tall and athletic, and he shoots accurately with a high release point that makes him difficult to block. He drilled several jumpers on Thursday, including multiple shots that followed an “I’m posting up, but this guy is smaller than I am so I shouldn’t even bother with a move. I’d rather just rise right over his head and get a clean look” thought process. He made things more simple for himself on Thursday, even when matched up against Detroit’s Austin Daye, who has already seen considerable NBA playing time during his brief career.
But he still doesn’t provide much else. He doesn’t possess much of an off-the-dribble game (though he did have one sweep-through move Thursday that drew a foul at the rim from Andre Drummond) and he’s not strong enough to be a force inside. He can run and jump and dunk, but his opportunities to do so will be few and far between unless he begins eating thousands of more calories per day and hitting the weight room for hours at a time.
Johnson has the beginnings of a rough draft that could lead to him becoming a productive scorer from the power forward position. But he needs a lot of work.
Thursday’s performance only served to illustrate how much work Melo still has to do. He didn’t score a single point, managed just three rebounds in 16 minutes, got killed during the first quarter by Drummond and made several mistakes within Boston’s man-to-man defense, which makes sense because he’s only played five years of basketball and spent his college career solely anchoring a 2-3 zone defense. Melo’s mistakes in man-to-man almost all came while hedging screens — on at least three occasions, he left too much space between him and his own man, letting Knight split the double-team and break down Boston’s defense.
Williams received a DNP. I didn’t see anything about an injury, but he only played 13 minutes Wednesday and didn’t get in the game Thursday. On an, er, positive note, he had the same amount of total points and rebounds during his DNP (zero) as he did Wednesday.
Are we sure this is the same dude who almost made the regular season Celtics a couple seasons ago?
The dude can play. But I don’t know if he has an NBA position, and it hurts him that Moore has been with the Celtics for a year and does a lot of the same things.
The Summer Celtics resume play on Friday at 10 a.m. against the Orlando Magic. I’ll be the one wearing a Kris Joseph jersey.