The third-year man may be on the outside looking in to start the year.
It’s a terrible cliché, but allow me this instance. “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” Ok, ok, terrible start and your eye rolls are duly noted.
Entering his third year in the NBA, the Boston Celtics still don’t know what they have in Romeo Langford. Sure, we’ve seen unexpected flashes of defensive ability, especially as an on-ball perimeter defender, but as far as on offense, Langford is still an enigma.
Thwarted by numerous injuries since being drafted 14th in the 2019 NBA Draft, Langford hasn’t had a chance to work on his game. In an interview with MassLive, Langford spoke on his ability to finally work on developing his play this summer, saying, “I’m healthy for the first time in like two, three summers. It’s been good. It’s good to get my feet back under me. I’ve been able to get a lot more reps and do a lot more.”
To this point, Langford’s career has been reminiscent of a breakdancer: captivating movement followed by a pregnant pause to set up again. We’ve not seen the scoring extraordinaire from his high school days in Indiana, where his scoring aggression was heralded as borderline unstoppable. Instead, we’re left with a patient style of offense akin to a king cobra, slowly deliberating on its prey before pouncing in an instant. The problem is that Langford has been de-fanged in his first two years, and his pounces often result in nothing truly threatening.
This is what I’m talking about when I say Romeo gets knocked off course too easily. Instead of resetting his dribble, he eats the contact and lets the defense manipulate his path. Adding some more muscle, and gaining confidence to beat his man off the dribble are solid next steps pic.twitter.com/4JFpUiiu2I
— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) April 17, 2021
Perhaps Langford’s tough start to life in the NBA has factored into the haphazard performances we’ve seen from him. After all, the former Hoosier came into the league injured, spent his first two off-seasons doing physiotherapy, and was tasked with using his defensive abilities during some key games with minimal momentum. It’s not easy fighting for a role within the rotation when you’re constantly recovering instead of finding out what type of player you are at the next level.
With such unfilled potential and a nightmarish introduction to life as a professional, it has to be worth giving the tires one final kick. New head coach Ime Udoka will undoubtedly have an idea of his rotations, and training camp will provide him with the first brush strokes on his canvas for the upcoming season. Still, at this point, everything is in the testing phase, and minutes will be up for grabs.
Unfortunately, Langford’s body of work over the summer left a lot to be desired. There were flashes of an athletic slasher with ballhandling skills in Vegas, but they slotted in between stretches of anonymity on both ends of the floor.
Romeo goes missing for stretches, not great in games he should be dominating
— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) August 14, 2021
So, where do the Celtics and Langford go from here? There’s no doubt that the third-year wing’s trade value is at rock bottom, and any potential deal could swiftly bite them in the buttocks should he flourish in new surroundings. As a counterpoint, keeping a young player out of a fear of missing out isn’t something to hang your hat on as a franchise – every team rebuilds at some point.
This may be coming far too soon, and Langford could find himself having every opportunity to crack the rotation, but with more experienced players like Josh Richardson and Dennis Schroder in front of him, the question is worth posing. Luckily, we’re not talking about a single-skilled player, nor are we discussing a specialist within a specific role. We’re discussing a player who can slot into three positions fairly seamlessly.
At 6’4″ with a 6’11” wingspan, there’s a multitude of positional roles to test the former standout in. With each test, the coaching and analytical staff can build game quality data to judge how Langford performs in their system. At least that way, the coaching staff can make informed decisions on where Langford is best served within the rotation or if his time in Boston is coming to an end.
With his size and eagerness to penetrate, Langford could still develop into a reliable point-forward or oversized guard off the bench. Or, he could become a play finisher who becomes a viable cutter to provide the offense with decoy actions – but this revolves around Langford becoming more reliable around the rim and floater region.
There’s also the issue of his still developing jump shot. “He has the ability to pass, drive, play defense, and so once that 3-ball keeps coming as he hit at the end of the game, he’s going to be a problem,” Payton Pritchard said after Langford hit a game-winner against the Hawks in Summer League. In a league that values shooting, it’s yet another question that Langford needs to answer in Year 3. Is Langford suffering from a case of the yips? Because we’ve seldom seen the player who can “pass, drive, and play defense.” As a matter of fact, we’ve only truly seen the latter so far.
If Langford has improved his shooting ability, then maybe Pritchard is onto something. New assistant coach Ben Sullivan is known as a shot fixer, and Udoka is a communicator that forges tight bonds with his players; one would hope that with a different coaching approach behind the scenes, we may yet see the true Romeo Langford. The writing isn’t on the wall for Langford yet, and coming off his first healthy offseason, there’s still reason to be optimistic about his future on the Celtics roster.