WALTHAM, Mass. — The majority of players competing in the NBA’s three summer leagues are rookies — players fresh out of college who are getting their first taste of basketball at the professional level.
There are also some, like Boston Celtics sophomore Marcus Smart, who are taking a second spin through the summer circuit after initially competing as recent draftees.
Then, you have the final and smallest cross-section of participants: players like big man Colton Iverson, who this week began his third summer league tour with the Celtics.
Iverson — who at age 26 is nearly six full years older than his youngest summer teammate, James Young — has been a basketball globetrotter since the Celtics drafted him 53rd overall in 2013. The 7-footer played out the 2013-14 campaign in the Turkish Basketball League, then hopped over to Laboral Kutxa of the Spanish League this past season.
Now, he’s back with the C’s, again trying to prove he deserves an NBA roster spot.
“He’s still huge, so that has remained the same,” Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, who coaches Boston’s summer league squad, said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s just continued to grow as an adult now. We had him right out of college, and each year, he’s come back, he’s added things to his game.
“He’s always been a great guy to have on your team, a great guy to be around. But he’s become a pro and understands what it takes to improve. And his career in Europe, each year he’s made a step up, and he’s gotten better and better. He’s demonstrating that, at least in these first two days.”
Iverson said he’s trimmed down to 252 pounds and believes his time spent overseas has made him a more well-rounded player.
“I’m basically the same player, but I’ve grown with experience,” he said. “Experience is huge. I think I’ve slimmed down, got quicker. I’m just … I’m more mobile. I’m not slow like I used to be, and I think it really shows.”
Mobility is key given the NBA’s trend toward smaller, more versatile lineups, and Iverson said he’s worked hard to become more than a lane-clogger.
“A lot of teams play really well with small ball, but there’s also a lot of teams with good bigs,” he said. “And you need a big guy to play against those bigs. (But) teams need the versatile bigs, and that’s key. So, I’m trying to expand my game offensively and defensively, being able to guard quicker guys.”
Iverson wouldn’t speculate on his chances of finally latching on with the Celtics this season. He’s leaving those decisions to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. He will have the opportunity to showcase his skills for the C’s shot-callers, though, and as an NBA rookie approaching his late 20s, it could be his last.
“That’s up to Danny,” Iverson said. “I have faith that he knows what he’s doing, and I’m sure everyone else does, too.”
“Opportunity is a big one for a lot of guys,” Larranaga added. “And we’re hoping to give him that opportunity this summer.”
Thumbnail photo via Zack Cox/NESN.com