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James Young hype train stalls leaving station

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Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY -- It looked a bit like a receiving line outside the Boston Celtics' locker room Tuesday night as a stream of well-wishers shuffled up to offer James Young encouragement.

Coaches, teammates, his father. Finally, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge slung his arm around Young's neck and told him not to worry about another poor shooting performance. The message to Young was universal: Just keep working and the results will come.

Young, the No. 17 pick in the 2014 draft, missed nine of the 11 shots he took in Tuesday's 76-62 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Utah Jazz Summer League. He finished with nine points, a rebound, and a steal over 20:32. Through two games, Young has connected on just six of 20 attempts and is 2-of-12 beyond the 3-point arc.

This is not the sort of performance that Young nor his support system were hoping for. Dominant at times while on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League last season, many expected a pronounced sophomore leap from Young, especially given his recent commitment to the weight room.

At least for the start of summer league, he's struggling to get himself going.

"I was just thinking too much every shot that I was taking," Young said after Tuesday's game. "I had a lot of open looks; coaches kept telling me to shoot. I just have to be more calm and not think so much."

That's easier said than done. The so-called James Young Hype Train was near maximum velocity before summer league, this after Young noted he'd bulked up by 20 pounds and added 3 inches to his vertical leap since arriving in Boston. Young himself salivated at the idea of summer league and the chance to showcase his development on a national stage.

While we're constantly reminded not to put too much stock in summer league, many Celtics fans have already hopped off the hype train, convinced he hasn't made the sort of progress that will allow him to be an impact player on next year's team.

The first two games of summer league have offered occasional encouraging glimpses. But for every time Young makes a nice defensive effort or goes to the floor for a loose ball, there's the occasional lapse in focus that allows a backdoor cut for a dunk. On the offensive end, Young hasn't shown the ability to consistently attack the basket, maybe waiting for his shots to start falling from the perimeter.

Young is still impossibly, well, young. In fact, he's the youngest player on the Celtics' summer league team and by a wide margin (rookie Jordan Mickey is closest in age, but 13 months older). The Celtics are trying to help him take the next step in his progression and hope he stays the course despite this rocky start to the summer.

"I never struggle with shooters shooting open shots," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "Obviously, the ones you don't want to take too many of are the contested ones, but I thought tonight, for the most part, [Young] was pretty open. So it's just one of those days. Maybe a couple of those layups and free throws late will help him feel better."

After missing his first six shots and going scoreless at halftime, Young got himself going a bit in the third quarter by getting to the basket and the free-throw line. But Stevens was quick to stress that it's Young's commitment on the defensive end that could ultimately dictate his opportunity in the new season.

"I think the biggest thing is, are you a good defender? Because we have a team full of guys that are good defenders," Stevens said. "So you've got to be good to be in the mix. And then [Young is] going to have to make shots. That's No. 1. I mean, we can all want guys to do more or expand their game or whatever the case may be, but the first thing he's got to do is make shots.

"And then you know I think he'll be able to play off of some other screens and some of those actions, or he can curl in the lane, use his athleticism and put it on the floor once and finish. He had a couple of nice little plays in transition. He's gonna get points like that just from his athleticism. But I think, obviously, I don't want to overcomplicate this pretty simple game."

Young missed summer league last year while dealing with the after-effects of a pre-draft car accident. He tweaked his hamstring during his exhibition debut and missed most of training camp. Young spent much of his rookie year ping-ponging to Maine for reps in the D-League. After a brief NBA cameo, he fell out of the rotation by early March when Boston started to make its second-half surge to the playoffs.

Young appeared frustrated on the court at times Tuesday when his shots didn't fall, but seemed buoyed by the encouragement he received after the game. What did Ainge whisper to him in their postgame confab?

"He said the shots were going to fall and to just keep a high defensive energy," Young said. "And basically he said, ‘Keep shooting.'"

76ERS 76, CELTICS 62: NEVER GAVE THEMSELVES A SHOT

Three takeaways after the Celtics fell to 0-2 in summer league play:

Cover your eyes: The Celtics shot a cringeworthy 26.8 percent overall (19-of-71) including a mere 10.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc (3-of-29). Said Stevens: "I think we're better than 3-for-[29]. ... I think the bottom line is, we'll shoot it better. We're a better shooting roster than that. But I think we've got to really work harder to get better shots. Our spacing needs to be a bit better. They've been together for a few days; hopefully they'll throw some in." The 76ers struggled early but shot 41.2 percent overall. Rookie first-round pick Jahlil Okafor had 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with nine rebounds, while Furkan Aldemir put up 11 points and 14 rebounds over 28 minutes.

Smart sits out: After scoring a game-high 26 points in Monday's loss to the Jazz during Boston's summer opener, Celtics second-year point guard Marcus Smart sat out Tuesday's game for rest (and to allow first-round pick Terry Rozier to get increased reps at point guard). "You could tell that we were without [Smart] playing today," Stevens said. "You couldn't hear a peep out of our team. So he's the loud one. He plays loud and he plays aggressive and he's always been tough."

Hunter scoreless again: The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Young, Jonathan Holmes, and Jordan Mickey. Hunter, the 28th pick in this year's draft, is still waiting for his first pro bucket after missing all three of his attempts on Tuesday night. Like with Young, the Celtics are not in panic mode. "[Hunter] was a high, high-level scorer this past year and was asked to do almost everything for his team. So I think he's trying to find that balance because we believe he's somebody that can do even more than score," said Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, who is running Boston's summer squad in Utah. "He threw a great around-the-back pass to end the game tonight. He's got great vision, he's got great skill. He's trying to find his way right now, and we're confident that he will."