If for nothing else, the preseason exists to build confidence heading into the regular season. Reps against other teams and in live competition are the best barometer for seeing where you stand before the games start to count.
On Friday night, Romeo Langford tested off the scale, registering a team-high plus-nine in a 21-point loss to the Miami Heat. Langford, who scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with two steals, was far and away the star of the night for the Boston Celtics. He’ll now enter the regular season with a great confidence boost that not only will he have a consistent role in the rotation, but he’ll be primed to succeed within it.
Defensively, Langford always competes. His frame is ideal for locking down other wings, and he has filled out nicely in the weight room. That extra strength allows him to absorb contact with his chest without falling over, a massive trait for help defenders who slide over to the rim.
More than just with his natural abilities, Langford plays hard on that end to maximize what he has. Even in a preseason game, Langford was wrestling with bigger guys who tried to post him, puffing out his chest and embracing the contact. His competitiveness on that end could maximize his regular season role:
The Celtics may be switching more than ever, and having a wing like Langford who can guard up and contain bigger, more physical threats helps head coach Ime Udoka save guys like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown from constant banging. Langford isn’t just a guy who sticks with big wings — he’s great at moving his feet quickly on the perimeter.
Langford can apply pressure, particularly in passing lanes, and is appearing much more comfortable as a help defender. He had a nice rotation to anticipate an extra pass, reading the pressure applied by his teammate to step up and turn his defense into offense:
As a role player, everything starts with the shooting. Langford isn’t known for his ability to drill shots from deep; he’s a career 22.2% 3-point threat and only has ten makes for his career. In order for Romeo to carve out a role in the rotation, that number has to improve.
Langford went 4-of-6 from deep on Friday, including three catch-and-shoot looks that swished the net. He’ll finish the preseason 6-of-7 from the corners, per John Karalis. Romeo’s form is still a bit unorthodox, but it’s the result that matters:
If the jumper is consistent, teams will close out tighter to him on the perimeter. When that happens, Langford’s long strides allow him to blow past guys. Usually, guys who get really narrow with their feet on their shooting form have a difficult time separating when defenders chase them off the line. That imbalanced form costs fractions of a second, but sometimes that’s all it takes.
Fortunately for Langford, even though he’s very narrow with his feet, his explosive athleticism allows him to gain separation. We’d like to see Romeo get all the way to the rim and not settle for these mid-range pull-ups, but the fact he recognizes the proximity of his defender in Duncan Robinson is a massive step in the right direction.
Part of being in Langford’s shoes is in knowing his role. He’s not the big-time scorer at New Albany High anymore, breaking Indiana state scoring records. He’s the guy who has gone three seasons in a row with poor jump shooting numbers, who will be a low-usage role player and just has to make the right decisions when the ball finds him on the perimeter. Sometimes that decision is to let it fly, and to do so confidently when open. Other times it is to attack that closeout and either finish at the rim or kick to a teammate.
Year 3 is where all the excuses are thrown out and the training wheels are far in the rearview mirror. Langford will have chances to step up and earn consistent minutes. There’s a new coach in town with a fresh perspective on his play, fewer wings in the rotation to compete with and now this confidence boost from the preseason.
Langford knows how important that confidence is: “I feel like when I have my confidence, I can do just about anything I want on the court. I’m just able to play freely.”
Momentum is on his side, and we’re all hoping Langford can parlay his capstone showing against Miami into positive minutes in the regular season.