Now that the lottery order has been set, the offseason focus turns to the NBA Draft held on June 23 in New York. Perhaps because of the uncertainty of the new collective bargaining agreement, this year’s draft is marked by who’s not in it as much as who made themselves available.
North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Baylor’s Perry Jones were all expected to be lottery picks and all three decided to stay in school diluting what was already considered a draft class devoid of franchise-changing talent. Consider that the likely top pick Kyrie Irving played exactly 11 college basketball games because of a foot injury.
After Irving, Arizona forward Derrick Williams looks like a ready-made NBA player, if not a star, and then there are a number of talented foreign players, along with points guards Brandon Knight from Kentucky and UConn’s Kemba Walker that will likely make up the bulk of the top 10.
The Celtics have the 25th pick, which doesn’t promise to provide much immediate help. Still, team president Danny Ainge has had an enviable track record of unearthing talent late in the draft including:
2003: Kendrick Perkins via Memphis with the 27th pick.
2004: Delonte West (24) and Tony Allen (25).
2005: Ryan Gomes (50).
2006: Rajon Rondo (21), Leon Powe (49).
2007: Glen Davis (35).
2008: Bill Walker (47), Semih Erden (60).
Like all NBA decision-makers, Ainge has missed on a few — Gerald Green in 2005 and J.R. Giddens over DeAndre Jordan in 2008 — and last year’s top pick Avery Bradley has yet to make his mark. But the name of the game at this stage in the draft is finding players talented enough to become pieces of a rotation and Ainge has delivered on far more picks than he’s missed.
The Celtics are in desperate needs of assets to aid the inevitable rebuilding process that will likely take place after the 2012 season. If Ainge can find a player who can contribute this season that would be a coup for a team with only five players under contract heading into the offseason.
The pre-draft camp in Chicago, which began on Wednesday will help untangle some of the first round clutter, but here’s an early look at some of the players who may be available with the 25th pick based on mock drafts from Draft Express, SI.com and ESPN (Insider).
Reggie Jackson, Boston College: Jackson looks like he made a wise decision to enter the draft after a breakout junior year for the Eagles. He may not be a true point guard, but he can score and he shot over 42 percent from 3-point range. Jackson looks like the kind of player who can step in and immediately compete for playing time.
Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Everyone knows about Jimmer at this point and there will be a loud and lengthy debate about whether his package of scoring skills will translate at the NBA level. He’s not likely to be there when the Celtics pick, but Ainge will have to be temped to take his fellow Cougar if he is.
Josh Selby, Kansas: The talented, and also troubled, Selby went from being one of the nation’s top recruits to a suspension and injury-filled freshman season. Selby shot less than 40 percent from the floor and had almost as many turnovers as assists. He’s the kind of player Ainge has taken chances on before, and he’s likely to be available at the end of the first round.
Travis Leslie, Georgia: Draft Express calls Leslie arguably the best athlete in college basketball and has him going to the Celtics in their recent mock. At 6-foot-4, Leslie is a bit of a tweener without a great 3-point shot. But in the right setting he could be an effective part of a rotation.
Kyle Singler, Duke: One of the few known commodities if only because he played four years at Duke. Singler has decent size at 6-foot-8, but isn’t considered an exceptional athlete. He’s a decent scorer and rebounder, but doesn’t stand out in either area. Singler is a solid, experienced player with limited upside, which is why he would be around late in the first round.
Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA: The easy comparison is Tayshaun Prince because of his thin 6-foot-8 frame. Prince was also drafted late in the first round, but he was a far more accomplished college player than Honeycutt who doesn’t have a defined offensive game. The tools are there for him to become a defensive specialist and at 20 years old, he has time to add to his game.
Davis Bertans, Latvia: He’s 6-foot-10, 18 years old and can shoot the lights out. He’s described as a project who may not be ready to come to the NBA just yet, but a talented project.
Tobias Harris, Tennessee: Harris is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft and doesn’t figure to be around with his mock status ranging from the end of the lottery to the early 20′s. He had a strong freshman season amid in-season turbulence with the rest of the Tennessee program. The 6-foot-8 Harris is already a good scorer with room to improve.
Justin Harper, Richmond: At 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, Harper is one of the best long-range shooting big men in the draft. He averaged 18 points a game and shot almost 45 percent from 3-point range in his senior season for the Spiders capping a college career that saw steady improvement. The Celtics put a premium on big men who can shoot and Harper definitely fits the criteria.
Jordan Williams, Maryland: The comparison has been made to a young Kendrick Perkins because Williams is primarily a post player who has struggled with his conditioning at an early age. Both SI and ESPN have the Celtics taking Williams in their mocks, while Draft Express has him as a mid second-rounder. He made a significant jump in his sophomore season, averaging almost 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Note: Draft Express, considered the best online source for NBA draft news, has extensive scouting reports and statistics and is well worth exploring.