James Young Long-Term Project For Celtics, With Big Potential Payoff

James YoungBOSTON — No matter whether Marcus Smart plays a game in green, he brought a worthy buzz of excitement to TD Garden when the Celtics snatched him with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA draft on Thursday.

If Smart ends up staying a Celtic, he will be one of the top rookies to watch next season, not just for his skill but for his style. Smart brings a relentless, physical presence far beyond his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. On the other hand, if the Celtics end up trading Smart, it would likely bring back an equally exciting piece in return.

With the selection of James Young at No. 17, the reaction was rightfully more tepid.

Young, an 18-year-old swingman out of Kentucky, simultaneously owns the best and worst labels for a draft prospect. His “athleticism” and “upside” are through the roof, which is both why he was a first-round pick and why he was still available when the Celtics’ second pick rolled around. Those terms, after all, are basically code for “hasn’t done anything yet.”

They also mean he has potential, though, loads and loads of potential, which it is now on Young — with the Celtics’ help — to fulfill.

“I take that on as a challenge for myself,” Young said. “I feel like I have a lot of potential to be a lot better, a lot stronger. I’m only 18, so as the years go on, I feel like my game’s going to improve greatly and go to another level.”

Young was streaky for the Wildcats last season, as is to be expected from one of the youngest freshman in the country. His shooting peaked and valleyed from game to game, although he did get hot during the postseason to become a key part of Kentucky’s run to the NCAA championship game.

“He’s got a stroke that’s just going to get better and better,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s a young guy, but we felt like he was a very, very undervalued scoring wing in this draft. Everybody in the room had him ranked a lot higher than 17, so we were very surprised he was available at 17. We were thrilled he was available at 17.”

Young already has a connection with Smart. They were roommates at the NBA draft combine in Chicago, and Young said their games and personalities could complement each other. Both have excellent length for their positions, with Smart bringing the rim-attacking aggression while Young attacks scrambling defenders from the wing.

The duo would also bring one quality that does not show up in a lot of scouting reports, Young said, but a quality Celtics fans will appreciate.

“Just the way (Smart) plays is tough,” Young said. “That’s how Boston players are. I feel like he fits in great with that. I’m tough, too. Me and him bringing that toughness together in the backcourt is going to bring a lot of problems for the other team.”

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