This isn’t the type of Las Vegas trip James Young expected to make in 2017.
Just three years ago, the shooting guard was the 17th player to walk across the stage at the NBA draft, celebrated by Boston Celtics fans who fawned praise on team’s front office for taking a young sharpshooter from Kentucky. The numbers backed them up.
The former five-star prospect made 82 shots from 3-point range and was named second-team All-Southeastern Conference in his lone collegiate season.
However, instead of climbing into his prime as a 21-year-old rising star, Young found himself fighting for his career Friday afternoon as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans summer league team.
In Friday’s 96-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Las Vegas, Young compiled 12 points and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, serving as one of the Pelicans’ most experienced pieces on a team filled with youthful prospects and players eyeing an invitation to training camp.
“I’m just here to pay basketball,” Young said. “For the past three years I feel like I really haven’t had the chance to show my talent and stuff like that. So I’m just going to go out in summer league and really ball. I like it here, so we’ll see what happens.”
In his three seasons with the Celtics, Young never fully cracked the rotation or found a consistent role. Most of his first two years were spent bouncing back and forth between Boston and the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.
He played in just 89 NBA games over three seasons, never averaging more than 11 minutes and converting just 27.6 percent of his 127 career 3-pointers.
“It was very hard at first, but Danny (Ainge, the Celtics general manager) had already talked to me about going to the D-League and try to learn to do what they do,” Young said. “I had the opportunity to work with those guys and try to do what they did with watching film and see all the work they put in. They really helped me my first few years.”
Now, playing in his fourth summer league, his first with the Pelicans, Young has an opportunity to change the narrative on his career. While his shooting will be the primary focus for most fans, Pelicans summer head coach Jamelle McMillan said the focus from front offices will be on the other end of the floor.
“If he can defend at a high level, it would be great for us and for himself,” McMillan said. “He’s a guy who is athletic enough to play multiple positions and he’s proven to us throughout camp he can play the (shooting guard, small forward and power forward) positions, which is huge. He’s a very versatile guy.
“He plays extremely hard, and he’s come in and been an NBA voice for these guys. He’s got the know-how. And anytime you have someone with the know-how on your summer league team, it’s a major plus.”
And if he can rediscover the stroke that made him one of the top prospects of his class, the opportunity to help the Pelicans is obvious. New Orleans is openly eyeing shooters, who can stand around the perimeter and create space for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, with an ability to knock down open jumpers.
It’s partly why Young chose to spend his summer in New Orleans.
“I felt like I had a great opportunity here and my agent set it up,” Young said. “I felt like it was a great fit because there’s going to be a lot of attention on the bigs, so guys who can shoot outside are needed. I feel like I can fit that role and knock down open shots.”
For at least a week in Las Vegas, he’ll have a chance to take advantage of an opportunity which skeptics may believe have passed him by.
“I think he’s up for it,” McMillan said. “He’s got a great spirit about him. He’s excited to play and he’s very active and so he’s been really good.”