Celtics

Celtics Summer League Preview: Players to Watch

Forsberg: Sam Hauser headlines intrigue in Celtics summer leaguers originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has traded away first-round picks at a feverish rate to build a championship-caliber roster. The only real downside: A lack of marquee names on the Celtics’ summer league roster

But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be interest in this year’s squad. Boston still has a few open roster spots -- and a need to fill them cheaply -- so there’s an opportunity for everyone on this year’s summer team to state a case to stick around (whether it’s as a frugal, end-of-the-bench roster player, or on a 2-way deal).

Before the Summer C's head west, and after a very brief glimpse at end of a practice on Tuesday, here’s an off-the-cuff power ranking of the Boston players we’re most intrigued to see in Vegas:

1. Sam Hauser

His Twitter handle is Big_Smooth10 and, while his jersey number has changed at the pro level, the descriptive portion remains factual. For a team that sometimes makes 3-point shooting look like a chore (Jayson Tatum’s stepbacks aside), Hauser has the silkiest form on his jumper. The ball doesn’t get shot so much as floats gracefully to the twine.

Hauser, who agreed to a new pact with the Celtics this summer, has the size (6-foot-8) and shooting stroke to state a case for NBA minutes. The big question is whether he can hold up defensively. Summer league is far from the best gauge of defense given the pickup-like nature of these games, but we’ll get a glimpse of how much progress Hauser has made behind the scenes.

"Sam has put in a lot of work throughout the course of the year," said Celtics summer league coach Ben Sullivan. "He’s a good shooter, he’s a good person, he’s a hard worker, he’s a pro, he shows up every day, he puts the work in, he puts the time in, he understands the game. There’s a lot of things that Sam brings to the table. He has good size. Sam can do a lot of different things besides just shoot."

2. Juhann Begarin

Begarin, Boston's 45th pick in the 2021 draft, spent last season stashed overseas in France. He’s still only 19 years old but he’s got an NBA build (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) and NBA-caliber athleticism. He was insanely raw in his summer league debut a year ago and we’re interested to see just how much progress he’s made. 

In the brief glimpse of practice that reporters watched on Tuesday, he distinguished himself with his play, including one sequence where he grabbed a rebound and generated a layup in transition: 

"I’ve liked what he’s brought to the table. Good athlete, good size, can pass, can find his teammates, get downhill, finish at the rim, can really defend, competitive," said Sullivan. "So really just getting to know him a little bit and seeing his progression from last year in Summer League to this year and seeing where he’s at. I’ve really liked what he’s done so far."

3. Trevion Williams 

We’re total suckers for slick-passing big men (which might help explain our unhealthy Robert Williams obsession) so we were excited to see the undrafted Purdue product land on Boston’s summer roster.

Let’s start with the negative: The scouting report suggests that Williams has got a lot of strides to make on the defensive end to carve out an NBA role. But his passing. (Drools) Oh my goodness, his passing. Just go watch THIS:

If the Celtics weren’t sometimes one of the worst cutting teams in the league, we’d suggest that Williams needs to be signed immediately. Fortunately, when he’s not zipping over-the-head darts or sneaking bounce passes through traffic for easy layups, Williams does a bunch more.

Like hitting sweeping hook shots, or burying defenders after dribble handoffs, or outmuscling three defenders for a putback: 

He plays below the rim and absolutely must improve his defense in the pick-and-roll. But he’s got great size and can joust with taller players. And that passing. (swoons) Plus, the Celtics desperately need more Williamses in their frontcourt.

4. JD Davison

Does Boston’s 2022 second-round draft pick have any dog in him?

The youngest player on Boston’s summer squad (two months younger than Begarin), Davison is another athletic marvel who needs more time to harness his potential. You can get excited watching his highlight reel then you see his turnover percentage and shooting splits (30.1 percent on college 3s on 3.9 attempts per game) from his lone season at Alabama. Davison was adamant that spacing at the NBA level could help unlock his game. 

"My season at Alabama didn’t go as well as I wanted to but I think I had spurts of what I showed and what I can do at the NBA level," said Davison. "My decision was because the NBA floor is so spaced out for a dynamic guard like me, I think it was the best for me to go out and go to the draft."

There will be heightened interest in Davison because he’s a fresh face, but he’s going to have to prove he deserves even a two-way spot.

5. Mfiondu Kabengele

Another intriguing big on Boston’s summer squad, the 6-foot-9 Kabengele has 51 games of NBA experience with the Clippers and Cavaliers. The nephew of Dikembe Mutombo, he’s a former first-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets (27th in 2019) but hasn’t found an NBA home yet.

The 6-foot-9 Florida State product has a solid outside stroke (shooting 44 percent on 3-point attempts per game last season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers). He averaged 17.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1 block over 29 minutes per game last season in the G-League.

6. Brodric Thomas/Matt Ryan

It feels wrong to have both Thomas and Ryan this low on the list, especially after both were along for Boston’s ride to the Finals. Maybe we’re just suckers for the unknown, which is why guys like Williams and Davison land a little higher on the early intrigue power rankings.

Thomas spent last season with Boston on a two-way deal and got some run in lopsided games in the second half. He distinguished himself at times when the Celtics end-of-the-bench players engaged in 3-on-3 work late in the season. We didn’t see quite as much of the 6-foot-7 Ryan but he shot 40 percent on 9.4 3-pointers in 30 total G-League appearances and aided Boston’s bench celebrations.

7. A.J. Reeves

The 6-foot-6 guard, a Boston native, aided Providence’s run to the Sweet 16 in March. He shot 37.3 percent on 5.8 3-point attempts per game last year and thrived in the catch-and-shoot. Local ties will thrust him further into the spotlight during his summer stay.

8. Bryton Hobbs/Jericole Hellems

Hobbs' connection to Jayson Tatum probably aided his invite … 

Instagram/jaytatum0

… but at an event overflowing with players who can’t legally buy their own beer, we can’t help but be intrigued by a 30-year-old whose only documented pro season appears to be a stint in Lithuania back in 2018.

Hellems is the third leading scorer in history at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis. The only two players ahead of him: Tatum and Bradley Beal.

9. Jordan Bone

We remember being intrigued by Bone at Tennessee, where he was a college teammate of Grant Williams. Alas, he’s played only 24 NBA games between Detroit and Orlando after being the 57th pick in the 2019 draft. 

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