R.J. Hunter and James Young will have one more chance to strengthen their case for final Celtics roster spot (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)
With one final exhibition game left on the schedule, the battle for the last roster spot has intensified. James Young and R.J. Hunter figure to be battling it out to the end.
The Celtics have until the end of the week to determine who will fill out the back end of their 15-man roster and Young and Hunter have both made strong cases for themselves in their last two games.
Hunter, who has made the strongest statistical case of the two, scored a game-high 17 points against the Knicks on Saturday, capping off an impressive shooting performance. He scored 6-of-8 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from deep and not only knocked down open jumpers but made strong takes to the rim and got to the free-throw line.
Young, on the other hand, followed up Saturday night’s Celtics win with his best performance of the preseason Monday night.
It may not have been as flashy as Hunter’s 17 points at Madison Square Garden, but Young (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, one steal) was able to make the most of his 16 minutes by stuffing the stat sheet in the win over the Nets at TD Garden.
He also looked a lot more comfortable on the floor, compared to the beginning of the preseason.
“I’m way more confident in my game,” Young explained. “A lot of people are backing me up to just go and be aggressive, so that’s really helped me.
“I’m just trying to do a little of everything — scoring, rebounding, passing, and not to do too much at the same time. Whatever coach has drawn up for me I just do it and help out the team.”
Both Young and Hunter are scoring at a similar success rate — making the choice between the two very difficult. Throughout the preseason, Young has averaged 5.1 points, 3 rebounds and shooting 45 percent from the floor in 15 minutes per game. While Hunter is averaging 6.1 points, 1.5 assists and shooting 44 percent from the floor.
However, Young has been an efficient 3-point scorer — shooting at a 42 percent clip, whereas Hunter — who is recognized as a precise 3-point shooter — is shooting 27 percent from downtown.
Brad Stevens has certainly noticed the improvement, thus making the decision of cutting one of the two that much harder.
“They all really had good moments,” Stevens said. “As I said before the game, those are hard decisions because everybody’s improved. I thought they all played well at times.”
Although there is a chance the Celtics wind up keeping both guys and waiving second-round pick Demetrius Jackson — it seems high unlikely. The young point guard has played well in the third unit and gives the C’s another back up guard to develop behind Terry Rozier.
It’s not common to see two first-round picks battling for a final roster spot but it’s the predicament the Celtics find themselves in with 16 guaranteed contracts and only 15 roster spots.
However, Stevens understands the amount of pressure weighing on Young and Hunter and knows how important it is to not get too carried away individual performances.
“It’s hard, we really take that [pressure] into consideration,” Stevens explained. “That’s one of the reasons why you don’t jump to conclusions after one game or one practice of one performance because that’s a lot of weight on people’s shoulders. And I have a great deal of respect for everybody in that locker room, as I’ve said many times before, just to be able to put that jersey on — whether you’re on the final roster or not — you’re a special basketball player.”