Is James Young Already Overrated?


When Danny Ainge drafted Marcus Smart and James Young with the 6th and 17th picks in the 2014 NBA Draft, Celtics fans were giddy, and rightfully so. They could see the future. It had felt like a million years since the Celtics had drafted two players in the first round with the pedigree and raw talent that Smart and Young possessed. While they weren’t getting the cream of the crop in either Wiggins, Parker or Embiid, fans felt that Danny Ainge was starting to put the pieces in place.

Sure it would take a while. Rajon Rondo was a constant thorn in their side, on the verge of getting shipped out of town. Sullinger and Olynyk were still raw, yet improving parts of the Celtics frontcourt. And Brad Stevens, the patient, yet assertive head coach oozed subtle confidence each and every time he spoke to the media.

It seemed without question, that Ainge got great value with Smart at the 6th overall pick. Basketball gurus everywhere applauded the selection, saying that Smart’s size and competitiveness would translate well to the NBA game. And for the most part that’s rung true. In his first season, Smart has shown flashes of brilliance and lapses of judgment, where you could probably just chalk it up to ‘being a rookie’. It’s clear that Smart is a key to the Celtics future and Ainge and Stevens have continually voiced their happiness with Smart’s progression.

But, then there’s James Young. Most of the draft analysis I can remember was positive on the pick. Even Bill Simmons couldn’t hold in his excitement when the Celtics drafted Young. Young was a star in his one year at Kentucky, but it was clear that at 18 years old, he would need some seasoning before his game was NBA ready. A few highlights of a Draft Express scouting report on Young:

    • Looking ahead, Young’s impressive skill and extreme youth should help him continue to grow into a capable perimeter scorer, but he’ll need to shore up his shot selection to improve his efficiency and may experience some growing pains if he isn’t able to make some adjustments early on.
    • As much as Young’s ability to get shots off over the defense made him a dangerous scoring threat, it also limited his efficiency. Making 34.9% of his shots from beyond the arc on the year, the lefty struggled from the perimeter for long stretches, due in large part to the number of contested jump shots he attempted. Almost three-quarters of Young’s 199 catch and shoot jump shots this season were defended.
    • Lacking elite blow-by quickness to beat the defense to the rim and the advanced ball-handling repertoire to create separation for his pull-up jump shot consistently, Young has plenty of room to grow on the offensive end at the next level.
    • The same can be said for Young on the defensive end, where his lack of focus and fundamentals are limiting factors at this stage. He’s a solid rebounder for his position, and plays with some energy at times, but is still figuring things out on this end of the floor.

These scouting reports are showing to very accurate; in his limited time with the Celtics, Young has shown us a few things. He can shoot (but he’s streaky), he doesn’t create much on offense, and he’s atrocious defensively. Kevin O’Connor at Celtics Blog wrote a piece on Young recently, noting some of the same things about his defense

With Young not producing offensively, you’d expect him to be making an impact elsewhere, but that is not the case. Young’s jittery defense has cost the Celtics on multiple occasions, as teams have occasionally made it a priority to attack the rookie. That’s because statistically Young is one of the worst defenders in the entire league.

I found a few folks on the Kentucky Sports Radio website discussing Young and his college career. The comments weren’t pretty.  Here are a few snippets of what they had to say:

He was too much into his “brand”, even before he set foot on campus, and never seemed like a team player….His game seemed to flucuate as much as his hairdo, and he and his “family” were wearing the JY-1 apparel before we even commited to UK.

His defense was the worst on our team (Kentucky), he is extremely streaky (besides the tournament when he put 6 or 7 games in a row together), he lazy and often doesn’t run back on defense. In college his talent could cover these major flaws up most of the time, so i can see why he’s not ready for the NBA yet.

Young was the king of not hustling or contesting shots like ever. His passing was atrocious! And his defense was even worse than his passing. I remember coach Cal had the nerve to put him on Russ Smith in the tourney. Of course Russ went crazy then they had to put Alex on Russ. He’s one of the worst defenders I’ve seen at any level.

He is a taller version of Doron Lamb. To be in the NBA you have to do something at an elite level. James should be an elite shooter, but he doesn’t work hard enough and either did Doron.

He is a terrible passer, and not a good defender. His poor defense is especially frustrating because he should be a lock-down defender with all of his talent and athleticism.

As you can see, the Kentucky fans had a lot of not so great things to say about their former Wildcat.  But, I’m starting to wonder if everything that they are saying is true?  Each and every time I watch Young, I see a few things. One, he is very raw, and that’s expected since he’s only 19 years old. So, part of me says to take it easy on the guy–he’s a rookie and he’ll improve. But, if the stigma of a poor work ethic is legit, then we are going to have a very big problem on our hands. If Young doesn’t work to improve his game, both offensively and defensively then what we have here is a wasted top 20 pick.

If you want an example of his defensive woes, here’s a good one.  Just totally owned in every way:

Now I want to like Young and I want to be optimistic about his future. But this guy needs to really step it up off the court and on, to show that he’s committed to this game and to this team before I go all in on James Young. Prove me wrong 3-Pac, prove me wrong.

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Hunter Thomas
As a lifetime New England sports fan, Hunter was determined in October of 2005 to finally start using that passion and determination to create the site now known as Celtics 24/7. Formerly known as Celtics Pride, Celtics 24/7 has become one of the most well-respected and followed Celtics websites. Our motto “For Fans, By Fans” rings entirely true as we’ve built and grown a community of passionate and enthusiastic Celtics fans. It all starts with you–the fans, and I appreciate every single person who supports us on our journey to the top.
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