A lot has changed for the Celtics over the last few weeks, going from certain contention for years to come to a potential rebuild thanks to the likely departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. One thing that remains the same for Danny Ainge and the Celtics brass is their attraction to versatile wings with questionable jump shots, and they continued that trend by selecting Romeo Langford with the 14th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft Thursday night.
The 19-year-old wing from New Albany, Indiana was a highly regarded high school prospect, ranked fifth in the country behind Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Bol Bol. Langford elected to go to the University of Indiana and stay home despite an offer to play at Kansas among other top programs. While it’s an honorable decision to play for your hometown school, Indiana’s weak roster contributed to Langford’s stock falling over the course of the season.
Not only that, but Langford suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb (shooting hand) in November and played 26 games through the pain. Still, he managed to average 16.5 points on 44.8 percent from the field. The main statistical blemish Langford had was a 27.2 percent mark from three on 125 attempts. You could chalk that up to the torn ligament in his right hand, but the jump shot mechanics definitely need some work.
All in all, Langford is one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2019 draft. He has the potential to be a two-way star, but if he doesn’t iron out his shot and some bad habits on both ends he could easily bust out. Either way, let’s assess how he fits into the Celtics as currently constructed to see if he’s in a situation where he can succeed.
Langford’s best skills come on the offensive end, but he’s going to have a tough time getting the minutes necessary to use them if he doesn’t defend at the level he’s capable. At 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan, Langford projects as a guy who could guard three positions across the perimeter and give guards problems with his length and quick feet.
The issue isn’t the ability, but the focus. Langford too often falls asleep when he’s not guarding the ball and allows back cuts and unnecessary offensive rebounds. The popular opinion with him is if you put him in the right environment that will demand his focus and intensity on the defensive end, Langford can be really special. It can’t be easy to half-ass it on defense with Marcus Smart on your team and Brad Stevens as your coach.
If everything works out in the intensity department, You could put Langford in any lineup combination and he’ll fit seamlessly. Want to put him in a small lineup to guard bigger wings? No problem. Play him in a big lineup where he picks up primary ball handlers? Why not? It’s hard to take guys out who can give you lineup versatility and put the ball in the basket like Langford can.
Start the video below at 6:21 to see the potential Langford has to be an elite perimeter stopper.
Langford’s offensive skillset is super smooth. He has a fluid handle even though he tends to lose the ball from time to time. Again, that may have had something to do with his thumb. He’s a terrific finisher through traffic and knows how to use his length to his advantage, and while Langford’s shooting mechanics aren’t there yet, he has natural touch on the ball to help him make shots he has no business hitting.
In the Celtics’ offense, Langford would probably fit best as a secondary playmaker on the bench. With Smart, Tatum, Brown and Gordon Hayward seemingly locked in to take on the primary offensive production, the second unit could definitely use some of what Langford has to offer.
He’s strong in pick and roll, and is great at breaking down a defense with a drive. He’ll have to develop his court vision for passes, because at Indiana it appeared he was looking to score whenever he had the ball, which is understandable given the lack of talent and shooting around him.
I could definitely see the Celtics running Langford in a “horns” set where he can use a ball screen to get to the basket or find the roll/pop man.
Start the video below at 2:04 to see Langford’s scoring potential.
Where Langford must develop is his off the ball presence and shot selection. Langford settles for far too many long jumpers when he could easily use his athletic gifts and quick first step to get to the basket where he excels. Emphasizing his finishing ability would help when he often stands around when he doesn’t have the ball. Langford isn’t good enough to have the ball in his hands all the time, so developing a spot up game and taking what the defense gives you on cuts should help open up the Celtics offense in the second unit.
Another way he could provide value to this Celtics team is by getting to the free throw line. The Celtics were 29th in the NBA last season in free throw attempts per game, and Langford demonstrated a consistent ability to draw fouls. He averaged 7.1 FT attempts per 40 minutes at Indiana in 2018-19.
Langford has some work to do to show he can contribute to this team next season. While he doesn’t have many polished skills yet, he has more than enough ability to earn minutes with his defensive versatility and effective penetration. I wouldn’t worry too much about the jump shot. The Celtics have a track record of picking guys with solid strokes and developing them into reliable shooters.
It should be interesting to see if the Celtics add another wing in free agency to add to the group of Brown-Tatum-Hayward-Langford. If they don’t bring in a veteran, it would be a way to show the Celtics’ confidence in Langford’s ability to contribute right away.