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How Danny Ainge Has Utilized NBA D-League To Strengthen Celtics' Youth

These Maine Red Claws youngsters are almost ready to make the jump.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The draft process, or the general motives behind the moves made by Danny Ainge are not always immediately understood.

When the Celtics took Terry Rozier in the 2015 NBA Draft with their first draft pick, many were confused by the strategy of this pick. Why take one of college's best with their first rounder, when they had acquired Isaiah Thomas, and drafted Marcus Smart?

Another move found confusing was giving LSU forward Jordan Mickey the highest contract a second rounder had ever received, and adding a talented player to a loaded front-court rotation.

Just as usual, Ainge has proven everyone wrong, assigning both of these players to the Maine Red Claws, quickly developing into young stars of the D-League. Both of them have performing brilliantly at the D-League Showcase, including a win against the Bakersfield Jam, where Rozier notched 23 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, and Mickey scored 16 points, along with four blocks, and 10 rebounds.

Nothing stuck out more than Rozier's pure confidence and leadership in his playmaking role, attacking defense fearlessly and looking for his teammates. Mickey has been a dominant force in the paint, on the glass, and on defense, swatting shots and defending the rim in a way reminiscent of former D-Leaguer Hassan Whiteside.

His midrange jump shot has also looked improved as of late, and many have been heralding him as a center who could thrive in a small ball lineup, almost like how Draymond Green has with the Golden State Warriors, and people are catching notice: especially Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

"I'm really curious, but we do have a [frontcourt] logjam," said Stevens. "That's the reality of our situation. And, to his credit, he's made the most of it by staying in a rhythm by playing up there and I think he's done a lot of good things. Some things that will really be able to translate, I think. And some things that he just needs to continue to improve upon. He's closer to ready than ever before because of his continued work.", the coach said of Mickey, via ESPN's Chris Forsberg.

With the deadline approaching, it's well known Ainge is not afraid to pull the trigger on an attractive deal, and a deal trading one of the big men on the Celtics could open a lot of minutes for Mickey, especially with the coach backing his accomplishments.

In the case of Rozier, he has seen a few opportunities as the backcourt doesn't go as deep as the backcourt, with a few minutes available at point guard. Coming off the Marcus Smart injury, Rozier could be very useful energizing the bench unit in the absence of Smart.

Padding skill positions seems to have worked well this time for the Celtics, giving them options beyond who's just immediately available. But, maybe the quick move isn't the way to go. Keeping Mickey happy with a nice contract, spanning thee years with a payout of $5 million, will let him develop for as long as he needs to, or however the Celtics want him to.

Perhaps he and Rozier stay stashed in Maine for another season, or they could be called up this season. The Celtics approach is a classic approach to the D-League and young players, giving them an environment to experiment with their game, without fear of losing precious and few minutes.

The D-League route is a smart route for a team with so many young and raw players, and has been for a while. Being loaded with young players currently, and having 3 first rounders and 5 second rounders in the 2016 draft, it's always good to have options

Of the players on the active Celtics roster, 6 players, including guard Avery Bradley, have been assigned to the Red Claws in the past few years. Development has worked out for him, is working out for players like James Young and Marcus Smart, and looks bright for Jordan Mickey and Terry Rozier.

The interesting part is the true potential of Mickey, most of the players going back and forth between Maine and Boston were first rounders, a few being lottery picks. Mickey is different, because he is showing dominance as a second rounder. Nurturing this growth is going to be a key task for the Red Claws and the Celtics, but could pay off in the future with Mickey being a steal for his draft position.