Four observations from summer league opener

The Boston Celtics are 1-0 in the Jayson Tatum-era as he helped the team down the Philadelphia 76ers 89-88 in their first game of action at the Utah Summer League. A full box score can be found here.

Great first impression for the third overall pick
Boston ran their classic ” give the ball to Paul Pierce and get the hell out of his way” isolation play at the end of this game, but with one small difference.

The third overall pick from last month’s draft dropped 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting while also stuffing the stat sheet and helping his team in every area of the game, finishing with seven rebounds, a team high three assists and a game high five steals over 33 minutes of action. It was an impressive stat line for Jayson Tatum and would have been the story of this game even without him playing hero ball in the final second of action. With under ten seconds to go, they just gave the ball to the rookie and he delivered in isolation!

What was even better to see is that the “clutch gene” extended past that one shot in the final seconds of action as Tatum finished with 11 fourth quarter points, including six of Boston’s last eight points. This was great to see after Danny Ainge faced so many questions over trading the first overall pick to wind up with Tatum and a future first, but keep in mind that it was just a summer league game.

Markelle Fultz wasn’t too bad either
Truth be told, this was probably one of the more interesting summer league games you’ll ever get just because you had a somewhat compelling storyline. Boston traded the number one overall pick for the third selection and a future first just days before the draft and now here were those two players pegged against each other, proving a dialog interesting enough to even get causal fans who normally don’t care much for summer ball into this one.

While Tatum stole the show by stuffing the stat sheet and hitting the game winner, Fultz wasn’t too bad himself. He finished with a team high 17 points on 6-for-16 shooting while also pitching in with two rebounds, an assist, a steal and an impressive three blocked shots. Philadelphia did give him the ball with the remaining 5.7 seconds after the go-ahead shot by Tatum and Fultz blew right by his primary defender in Abdul Nader to get to the hoop but Jaylen Brown came in from behind with the help defense and blocked his layup as time expired.

Jaylen Brown is too good for this
While the 2017 third overall pick in Jayson Tatum impressed, it almost seemed unfair that the 2016 third overall pick was even in the building for this one. Brown controlled this game from the tip, en route to finishing the evening with a game high 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting and a stellar 3-for-4 performance from three as he used a variety of moves to create wide open shots for himself. He also had a game high 13 rebounds and – as mentioned earlier – blocked Fultz’ buzzer beater attempt with some great help defense.

You might not see too much of Brown this summer as it became clear he’s just too good for this. Boston shouldn’t want to risk injury, so you might see him play a smaller minutes total going forward and he’ll probably sit out a game or two as well. It was really entertaining to watch though. Brown was better than everybody else on the floor and he knew it, which allowed up to see that Brown that many Celtics fans hope he becomes as the 20-year old continues to develop.

Ante Zizic looks good, but…
The 23rd overall pick from the 2016 NBA Draft was absent from any summer league play last year as he was trying to help the Croatian national team qualify for the Olympics at the time, so this is the first time that fans really got a good look at him. He got the starting nod and there were plenty of good things to take away from his Celtics debut. A lot of Zizic’s game makes him look like a ten year veteran. The 20-year old center was very active on the offensive glass and he finished with five rebounds – two offensive – in 18 minutes of action. He also blocked a shot while looking both poised and confident with his game in the post as he shot 3-for-5 from the floor while also getting to the line six times, helping him finish with a total of nine points.

One issue that the big man showed though was a lack of foot speed. He got beat down the floor in transition multiple times during the game, which led to a number of easy buckets for the 76ers. There’s a reason why the “traditional” center has been getting phased out of the league and we all just witnessed it. There’s no doubt that the 6’11” Croatian has the ability to be the best rebounder and rim protector on the Celtics roster next season, but having him on the floor will also open up a door for these faster offenses of today’s game to take advantage of Brad Stevens sending a slower player out on the floor. This is why Kendrick Perkins was out of the league at 31-year old, it’s the reason why a decent player such as Tyler Zeller was so productive – leading the Celtics in win shares during the 2014-15 season – before getting buried on the bench once Boston decided to start Isaiah Thomas and hit the gas pedal on offense.


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