Bird Proves That He Can Soar Above the Competition in Vegas

LAS VEGAS – The Celtics saw potential in Jabari Bird when they drafted him 56th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft and then signed him to one of their very first two-way contracts. Now, as Bird plays for the Summer Celtics as a restricted free agent, the rest of the league is witnessing some of that potential budding into legitimate talent.

Bird was the best player on the floor Saturday night, as the Celtics fell 82-69 to the Denver Nuggets. The second-year wing scored a game-high 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting. He drew oos and ahhs from the crowd with many of his dazzling finishes in the paint, which, from a hang time perspective, were on par with the likes of the great Michael Jordan.

“I mean I idolized MJ growing up,” Bird said with a big smile after being asked about his athletic, MJ-esque finishes. “I watched all of his highlights when he was with the Bulls. He’s just somebody I’ve tried to mold my game after a little bit.”

Bird wasn’t on MJ’s level Saturday night, and he’s unlikely to ever reach such heights, but he was unquestionably the best player on the court while Boston and Denver battled it out.

This performance was no flash-in-the-pan effort by Bird, either. As Summer Celtics head coach Jay Larranaga said after Saturday’s game, “Jabari has done that in NBA games, at the end of the season … He’s an excellent cutter. He’s an excellent shooter.”

He showcased those skills – and then some – Saturday night.

Bird earned every point that he scored against Denver. This wasn’t a performance during which he simply capitalized on open shots; instead, this was a performance during which he was creating his own offense off of the dribble and via off-the-ball cuts before finding a way to finish in traffic in the paint.

Bird, who played all of last season under a two-way contract with the Celtics, is currently a restricted free agent. He said that he is not worrying about that status and is instead concentrating on enjoying the moment and capitalizing on his opportunity to don the green and white in Vegas.

“Just try to have fun with it, that’s the main thing,” said Bird, who is always a ball of positive energy. “I’ve worked hard all summer, I’ve worked hard all my life, and I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves on the court. And I’m just thankful to be with a great organization right now, and they’re letting me showcase my skills.”

While Bird has looked great on offense during two Summer League games, having averaged 19.0 points per game, Larranaga sees an opportunity for improvement. That growth will be earned at the defensive end, the coach explained.

“He’s growing as a defender, which I think is going to be the next big step for him,” said Larranaga.

Expanding on the topic, the coach soon added, “We talk to the group a lot about efficiency. I think in the media and in the league you hear a lot about offensive efficiency and field goal percentage and all of that, but I think defensive efficiency in how you defend the court, how many steps does it take you to stunt at a shooter. And then also just in the preparation of knowing what your opponent is trying to do and knowing his best [ability] is something everyone can get better at.”

Bird’s future growth at the defensive end may help him to earn a role in the NBA. For now, his offensive game is what’s doing the talking in Vegas, and it’s making the Celtics look like geniuses for snagging the athletic and talented wing at the tail-end of last year’s Draft.