Many major media outlets didn’t project that Cal men’s basketball alumnus Jabari Bird would have his name called on draft day, but with the 56th overall pick of the 2017 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics selected the 6’6” guard.
After a promising performance in the 2017 summer leagues, in which he averaged an efficient 7.8 points per game across eight contests, Bird became one of the first players to usher in the NBA’s new two-way contract, signing a one-year deal. More on that later.
The rookie had a couple appearances here and there for the Celtics, but the days on which he’d suit up for Boston were few and far between.
Bird made his NBA debut in Boston’s third game of the season, logging 13 minutes and dropping in 3 points, all on free throws. That was in October.
After his debut, Bird waited six months before once again logging more than 10 minutes in a single game as a Celtic.
As a second-round pick selected by a team destined for the playoffs, Bird’s lack of playing time on the big show was to be expected.
With the Maine Red Claws, the Celtics’ G League affiliate, Bird found his wings as a scorer, putting up 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game over 20 games.
Despite his stellar play, a back injury put Bird out of commission for nearly two months, forcing him to miss the back end of the Red Claws’ season.
Bird rejoined the Celtics in mid-March upon recovering from injury, seeing a couple minutes here and there, but as the season reached its conclusion, the rook would have his chance to shine.
After only playing 37 total minutes over nine scattered games, Bird received an influx of playing time, logging 21 minutes or more in three of the season’s final four games.
Against the Chicago Bulls, in his first game playing more than 20 minutes, Bird showed off a little bit of everything, flashing glimpses of his athleticism, shooting, playmaking and rebounding.
Over 24 minutes in an otherwise meaningless late-season game, Bird posted 15 points, three rebounds and three assists.
In those three games down the stretch, Bird averaged 10.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists while hitting 13 of 21 shots from the field.
The rookie may have had to wait all season to show the league what he could do, but when given the opportunity, he responded with some oomph.
Despite Bird’s flashes of excellence down the stretch and the Celtics’ depleted guard depth, he was ultimately left off the Celtics’ playoff roster.
Bird most likely wasn’t left off the roster because his lack of productivity, but rather because of the nature of the league’s two-way contracts.
Players under two-way contracts, such as Bird, aren’t eligible for the playoffs, but they can participate if their contracts are converted into NBA contracts.
At the conclusion of the regular season, the Celtics had a full roster of 15 contracted players, meaning that if they had converted Bird’s contract, the team would have to cut another player.
While Bird could have been a valuable piece for Boston during its playoff run, especially with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward out for the season, the team ultimately decided to keep the roster as constructed, leaving Bird off the roster.
Abdel Nader, the player whom many believed could have been waived to make room for Bird, played 33 total minutes in the playoffs, scoring 12 points on 15 shots.
With Bird’s two-way contract only being one year long, he’ll enter the offseason as a restricted free agent, as the Celtics extended a qualifying offer.
Considering how well Bird played during the season in the NBA and the G League, the Celtics have an incentive to bring him back, especially with Marcus Smart’s future up in the air.
Should Smart depart, a spot could open up for Bird, as the Celtics would be left with primarily Irving, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier at guard.
The Celtics inked 28-year-old EuroLeague guard Brad Wanamaker this week, most likely as insurance should Smart take his talents elsewhere.
Wanamaker averaged 13.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 assists per game in three EuroLeague seasons, but he has never played a game in the NBA.
Bird will once again play for the Celtics during the summer leagues, and a string of outstanding performances could determine his future with the Celtics.
Should the Celtics choose to let him walk in free agency, there will surely be a couple clubs calling for his services.