Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Tough March schedule should benefit Celtics in lottery
|02.28.14 at 10:44 am ET|
Wednesday night provided an interesting perspective for the Celtics on the 2014 NBA draft. Boston returned to the Garden and defeated the Hawks, ending a five-game losing streak — which both hurt and improved their draft picks.
The Celts earned their 20th victory of the season, moving past the Lakers in the standings in the process. Boston holds the fifth-highest lottery odds, but don’t forget about the Brooklyn/Atlanta pick that Danny Ainge owns as well. Not only are the Hawks coming off a loss, the Nets got slammed by the Blazers by 44 points Wednesday in Portland. Boston gets whichever pick is less favorable between the two teams, and as of Thursday afternoon, those are the two worst records of playoff teams.
If only one of the two picks end up in the lottery, the higher pick would belong to Atlanta, but if both teams miss the postseason, Boston would be in luck. Although it is highly unlikely, Wednesday night reminded us it is too early to rule out the Celtics owning a second lottery pick.
Although there is some silver lining in beating a team like Atlanta, the real value remains in the Celtics‘ own first-rounder. One thing we are learning this season is that each loss makes a difference, and Wednesday would have been a good night to lose. Had the C’s lost, they not only would have had the fourth-highest lottery odds, they would have been just one win ahead of the Magic.
Orlando was able to collect a victory Wednesday over the 76ers, opening up an opportunity for a new team to get a taste of the bottom three for the first time in weeks. The Lakers appear to have the inside track, but the Celtics have a tough month of March. Boston plays 10 of 15 games against teams above .500, including the Pacers twice and the Heat. That doesn’t even include two games against the Nets and a game at New Orleans — the Celtics are 0-13 on the road against the Western Conference this season.
Boston has a golden opportunity to land in the top five of this draft, and the brutal March schedule is the key to getting there. Wednesday just proves how important each night in the NBA will be to lottery odds/draft order as we go down the home stretch. But for now, here is what the draft lottery (plus the next two picks) could look like if it were held today.
1. Bucks: Joel Embiid (Kansas, freshman) – Embiid remains the top prospect based on pure potential. In his three games since returning from injury, Embiid has averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.3 blocks — all while committing significantly less fouls. He is simply too rare of a prospect for Milwaukee to pass up.
2. 76ers: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, freshman) – Wiggins still has not posted the overall numbers that he was expected to, but he is starting to back up some of the hype. He has become much more consistent of late, scoring 14 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games. Wiggins also finished off Texas Tech with a game-winner, a good sign after his competitive drive has been questioned. Philly is loaded with young talent; even though Wiggins may be a project, he will have time to develop there.
3. Magic: Jabari Parker (Duke, freshman) – Parker has been fantastic recently, just as he has been all season. Parker’s 19 points on eight shots that helped take down then-top-ranked Syracuse is becoming a typical performance. Even when Parker struggles, like he did shooting 3-for-11 against Virginia Tech, he still seems to find a way to dominate. Parker did so in coming up with 12 boards, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
4. Lakers: Julius Randle (Kentucky, freshman) – The Lakers always have it easier than everyone else. They will have Kobe Bryant back next season and most likely will attract key free agents over the upcoming summers. Therefore, they take the best player on the board, which is Randle. He will be a double-double machine at the next level. Much like Parker, even when he has an off night he still contributes. Randle only had eight points in his last game against LSU, but he corralled 15 rebounds and hit the game-winner in OT.
5. Celtics: Dante Exum (Australia) – Exum remains the mystery man of the draft. All that’s really available are YouTube clips — we can’t watch him play like most of the other top prospects. However, scouts who have seen Exum play say that he is tremendous. He is 6-foot-6 and can play both guard positions, giving him both the size and skill set to play alongside Rajon Rondo. Obviously one of the top three picks would be more welcomed in Boston, but Exum surely would become a fan favorite. He really has his head on his shoulders. Get to know Exum in this video.
6. Kings: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, sophomore) – Smart has been playing very well since returning from his suspension. His talent is simply too much to keep him out of the top 10 of the draft. He fits a need for the Kings and would give them a big strong guard who is well-rounded.
7. Jazz: Aaron Gordon (Arizona, freshman) – Gordon has been playing well of late and could fill a need for the Jazz. He has Blake Griffin potential, so Gordon could be another young big to add to Utah’s core. However, Gordon is improving his shooting — he is still so young that he could develop into small forward in the NBA ‘ exactly what the Jazz need.
8. Nuggets: Noah Vonleh (Indiana, freshman) – Vonleh has a ton of potential but is thought of as a class below the prospects that are going in the top five. He would be a good fit in Denver, yet also has the ability to leap ahead of guys like Gordon or Smart come draft day.
9. Cavaliers: Rodney Hood (Duke, sophomore) – The Cavs have been missing a small forward since LeBron James left town. Hood would be the perfect fit and can also play the four spot if the Cavs wanted to go small.
10. Bobcats (from Pistons): Doug McDermott (Creighton, senior) – I’ve been saying all along, the Bobcats can’t afford to blow this pick. McDermott is a sure thing in terms of being an NBA role player at worst. Don’t blow it, MJ.
11. 76ers (from Pelicans): Gary Harris (Michigan State, sophomore) – With Evan Turner gone, Philly is in need of wings. Even with Wiggins in the picture, Harris would be a great addition. The 76ers would now just be sitting back waiting to see if all their lottery picks can come to life.
12. Magic (from Nuggets): Tyler Ennis (Syracuse, freshman) — Jameer Nelson is on his way out, and Ennis is the perfect solution. Orlando already has some decent young talent, now add Parker and Ennis and the Magic are really onto something.
13. Timberwolves: Wayne Selden (Kansas, freshman) – The Wolves just need to take the best wing player on the board here, and that is Selden. He goes relatively unnoticed behind Wiggins and Embiid, but the Roxbury native has all the tools to be a solid NBA guard.
14. Grizzlies: Dario Saric (Croatia) – Saric has been called a “point power forward” by many scouts. The Grizz have a record of 32-24 yet find themselves in the lottery. They can afford to take a risk here, and if Saric falls to them, they will.
15. Hawks: Jerami Grant (Syracuse, sophomore) – Grant is very athletic and could be a Josh Smith-type player in Atlanta, just on a much more affordable contract. Grant has the upside of Smith, but that also comes with the inconsistent jumper.
16. Celtics: Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky, sophomore) – WCS is a legit 7-footer who can block shots and grab boards. He was projected as a much higher pick earlier in the season, but if he fell to the Celtics it would be a good fit.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.