BOSTON — James Young said he wouldn’t feel any jitters. Sure, it was his first official NBA game, but the Celtics’ rookie guard insisted it was only preseason. No reason to hyperventilate.
That wasn’t quite the case.
Young indeed was a bundle of nerves when he entered Monday night’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden. And though he did recover to score 10 points in a little under 20 minutes of playing time, he admitted afterward that his emotions affected him more than he expected.
“As soon as I subbed out, I sat down and talked to Marcus (Smart) for a little bit,” Young said. “After that, the jitters were gone, just like that.”
The Celtics are counting on Young to be exactly the sort of offensive spark off the bench that he was in the 98-78 exhibition victory. He missed four of his first five shots (all 3-point attempts) but mustered double figures in scoring by adding two fastbreak buckets and 3 of 4 free-throw shooting.
That sort of shooting inconsistency plagued Young in his one season at Kentucky, where he struggled offensively in the regular season before getting hot in March.
“I thought he was pretty good (Monday),” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Now, I do think he can shoot the ball better — 1 for 5 from three, he’s got to shoot it better — but he’s a good athlete, he can run the floor, he can get to spots, he can shoot the ball.
“The thing he probably does as well as anything is, he makes simple plays. When he gets the ball, he either shoots it, gets rid of it or drives it. This league, and us, put a premium on those movers, and he certainly has a nice feel to be a ball-mover.”
Stevens maintains loads of confidence in Young as a shooter, this 19-minute sample size notwithstanding. The Celtics’ coaches have not meddled with Young’s upper-body shot mechanics, focusing more on improving his unreliable footwork.
“When you’ve got a guy that’s that good a shooter, the worst thing you can do is get too mechanical,” Stevens said. “He’s as fluid as fluid gets. The only thing I’ve told James is, have the right, appropriate wide base every time you catch it.”
Young hears the encouragement, which might be why Stevens is being so effusive with his praise. The rookie admits that his shooting struggles last season were a crisis of confidence, and it took him until the SEC tournament to truly regain that confidence. The Celtics have stressed shot repetitions, rather than mechanical minutia, to keep Young from over-thinking and getting in the way of his natural touch.
There’s give and take with that philosophy, of course. Lots of reps might not seem so hot when Young is missing 4 of 5 from deep in a preseason game. But if it means he hits four out of five down the line in the regular season, the Celtics’ confidence-boosting approach could look pretty smart.
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