Back in July the Celtics decided to instill their faith in young power forward Jordan Mickey with a 4-year, $5-million deal. The contract is set to pay Mickey roughly $2.4 million guaranteed per year through 2016-2017, the largest ever first pact for a 2nd round selection like him.
The expectations may not be sky-high for Mickey in his rookie year out of LSU, but there will be some due to that fact alone. At the forefront of his assumptions: cracking a spot on a roster that already consists of 16 guaranteed contracts, especially in the front-court where he resides. No easy task with proven names such as David Lee, free agent signee Amir Johnson, and Jared Sullinger in the way.
If anything is going to power Mickey into the Celtics’ plans this year, though, it’ll be the compelling intangibles that got him to the NBA in the first place. Known for his shot-blocking that earned him All-SEC defensive honors twice, rebounding has also been an area of killer focus for the rookie.
At 6’8” 240 lbs (certainly undersized for the 4) with a 7’2” wingspan and massive motor, Mickey propelled to 15.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and a ridiculous NCAA-leading 3.6 blocks per game in his sophomore year at LSU.
Those stats translated to the summer league where Mickey thrived, averaging 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. Shining as one of Boston’s most consistently effective prospects through the summer, his play prompted Ainge to dive in and commit to the forward in historic fashion.
The journey to the NBA for Mickey involved studying the great inside basketball players of similar stature. Picking up basketball shortly before starting high school, he examined Dennis Rodman’s game and used his incredible leaping ability to become a high-level shot blocker.
From a Boston Globe piece by Adam Himmelsbach Mickey's stepfather James Wright stated:
“I’ve always told him that if he can rebound and play defense, he can play for anybody...we’ve pretty much held fast to that from Day One.”
Wright has played a crucial part in Mickey’s development from the start, helping the latter craft his game by reviewing film while continuing to call him to critique his in-game performances to this day.
|Length gave Mickey the upper hand defensively in college, it'll take much more at the next level. Pic via Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports.|
With that mix of adherence and athleticism, Mickey made massive strides at LSU, blocking shots at a Shaquille O’Neal-level while continuing to maintain a focus on developing the rebounding instinct some of the game's best bruisers had.
Tracking balls, playing gritty defense, and constantly hustling; Mickey finally became the “nuisance” type player he studied while learning the ins and outs basketball
That’s exactly what the Celtics highlighted in the LSU forward, just six selections after attempting to fill their 3-pt shooting need by drafting RJ Hunter, they pulled the trigger and gave Mickey his shot.
Also from Himmelsbach, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said:
“He’s a great shot blocker when you look at his numbers for a smaller guy in height...but then you look at his length and his reach and he’s really, really long and gets off the floor extremely quickly.”
Mickey, as a second rounder, ultimately had a greater freedom to negotiate his rookie deal than first rounders like Hunter. While he pushed for a three-year-deal for greater freedom, the desire to play in Boston and the money they were willing to commit was too strong.
Again via Himmelsbach, Wright said:
“Jordan, his mother, and I sat and talked and decided it made the most sense to just work this thing out, because this is the team he wants to play for”
The background and devotion Mickey beholds is extremely intriguing. Much like Jae Crowder it seems as though he makes up for a lack of natural skill with an uncompromising work ethic and execution on the court, a mentality that drove Boston a year ago.
Overall, his career upside has to be most captivating aspect to his arrival here. Let's not forget another 2nd round pick named Draymond Green who bloomed into a defensive player of the year candidate in his third NBA season with Golden State.
On a team of many unknowns in terms of direction going into training camp, the possibility of Mickey breaking into the Celtics’ rotation in 2015-16 has to be one of the most interesting stories to follow this fall. If he can find time to thrive as a shot blocker and rebounder, it will soften two vital issues that have plagued the C’s for years.
Follow Bobby Manning on Twitter @RealBobManning
Photo Credit: National Basketball Association Bobby Manning 8/16/2015 04:26:00 PM Tweet Edit