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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics must go fourth with more losing

03.14.14 at 10:32 am ET
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The New England Patriots finally got the message that they needed to do more to win. As you know by now, the Pats agreed to a deal with highly coveted cornerback Darrelle Revis on Wednesday, an uncharacteristic move for the organization.

The Celtics have uncharacteristically been losing all season, but they might have come to grips with another message on the night Revis was brought to New England — they need to do more to lose.

I thought Boston might have been on that path last week after a blowout loss to the Warriors, but the C’s ended up winning their next two games. Maybe this time around it will be different. Wednesday’s 24-point thumping at home at the hands of the depleted Knicks — with Rajon Rondo sitting on the Celtics bench — was nothing short of inspiring for Boston’€™s lottery odds.

Since last week’s draft piece the Celtics have gone from the fourth-worst record in the NBA to a tie for seventh worst to back into a three-way tie for fourth worst. Some, including myself, think the NBA plays too many games, the thought process being that fewer games will put more emphasis on winning in the regular season. However, this season it’s arguable that the last month of the regular season will carry significance, only much more crucial to the clear-cut lottery teams than anyone else.

The three highest lottery spots are essentially locked up at this point by the Bucks, 76ers and Magic, but the next four spots (where the Celtics figure to land) remain wide open. What’s the emphasis on winning the rest of the season? Well, the only answer seems to be “to instill a winning mentality,” as some would say. If you think the difference between winning 30 games and 25 games is going to make Jared Sullinger arrive next season feeling more confident, then you do not know the NBA.

A season like this happened right in front of our eyes in 2006-07, and look how that turned out the next year. So what’s the emphasis on losing? Well, there actually is hard evidence that this is the right move. The team that finishes with the fourth-highest lottery odds will have a 37.8 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 82.8 percent chance at selecting in the top five. The seventh-highest lottery odds only yield a 15 percent chance at a top-three pick; otherwise you pick seventh or later.

Yes, there are no guarantees in the lottery, but I ask pro-winning Celtics fans this: Would you rather miss the playoffs and own the fourth spot in the lottery, or miss the playoffs and own the seventh spot in the lottery?

With the ever-changing landscape at the bottom of the NBA, a mock draft seems almost useless. Instead, this week I will post my current big board as it stands prior to the NCAA tournament.

1. Jabari Parker, freshman, Duke – I wrote about the possibility of the Celtics stealing Parker in the draft last week, and I maintain that he is the best player in the draft (assuming he declares). Parker has been a beast all season, and he finished the regular season with perhaps his best performance. With Duke hosting rival North Carolina, Parker dropped a season-high 30 points and collected 11 boards in a 93-81 victory. He is a can’t-miss star at the next level.

2. Joel Embiid, freshman, Kansas – The big man is battling a stress fracture in his back, and it is worse than anticipated. Embiid will not play until the Sweet 16 at the earliest, and that obviously is only if Kansas is fortunate enough to make it there. This injury doesn’t change his draft stock, though. He still is very smooth on his feet for a 7-footer and possesses a growing skill set reminiscent of Hakeem Olajuwon.

3. Andrew Wiggins, freshman, Kansas – Wiggins has been a letdown overall this season, but he’s still a lock to be a top-three pick. Like Parker, he had a career day to end his regular season, only in a road loss. Wiggins poured in 41 points at West Virginia and finally showed us what it would be like to bring all that potential to life. Shooting 12-for-18 from the field and 15-for-19 from the line, Wiggins dominated all aspects of the game, pitching in eight rebounds, two assists, four blocks and five steals. I rank him third, but that game alone shows why he could be the No. 1 pick.

4. Marcus Smart, sophomore, Oklahoma State – Smart has recovered amazingly from his altercation/suspension just a few weeks ago. He is leading his team to big wins while putting up impressive numbers across the stat sheet. He still has that Derrick Rose/Russell Westbrook ceiling to his game, but even if he never reaches it, he will be a solid player. Most importantly, he returned to school to improve his maturity and 3-point shooting. He had done neither, until after his suspension. Since then, Smart has been a vocal team leader and is shooting 42 percent from downtown in his last five games. Props to Smart for the turnaround, I didn’t see it coming this full-fledged.

5. Dante Exum, Australia – Smart and Exum are really 4 and 4a in my book, but we don’t have the same access to Exum since he is overseas. Both are combo guards, Exum a bit taller at 6-foot-6 and a year younger, Smart is much stronger and explosive while possessing better experience. The teams that land them should both be happy with their drafts, but I slightly favor Smart for the time being.

6. Julius Randle, freshman, Kentucky – Randle has been slipping as the season goes on, as have the Wildcats. But he still is good for a double-double on any given night and has plenty of room to grow the rest of his game. Like Parker and Smart, Randle is physically ready to play in the NBA today.

7. Doug McDermott, senior, Creighton – They don’t call him Dougie McBuckets for nothing. McDermott had a lot to prove in his senior season in order to be a high pick in the NBA draft. He has shown me every bit of what I needed to see. The freshman class stole the headlines on the final weekend of the regular season, but it was McDermott who may have had the finest performance. Hosting Providence on senior night, McDermott went for a career high of 45 points on 17-for-25 shooting in a Creighton win. This guy can play for real.

8. Aaron Gordon, freshman, Arizona – Opposite of Randle — Gordon started off slow but has been getting more comfortable throughout the season. He is somewhat of a “tweener” in the NBA but has a good combination of speed, size and strength to play both forward positions. Once he consistently finds his jump shot, he will become a dangerous threat as a small forward. But the defensive end is where he will become a real NBA commodity; many are already predicting All-Defensive teams in his future.

9. Noah Vonleh, freshman, Indiana – The Haverhill native has been beat-up of late, sitting some games out and accumulating pedestrian numbers when he does suit up. Vonleh has a very nice inside-out game and the size to be a good NBA rebounder and defender. He is grouped with Randle and Gordon as the next three big freshman prospects after the expected top three picks. Vonleh has the least upside of the three in my opinion, though he is still a good player when healthy.

10. Tyler Ennis, freshman, Syracuse – Ennis is a true point guard and a great leader. His contributions can go beyond his numbers, he is never shaken up in any situation as a freshman, which projects very nicely at the point guard spot. Ennis has picked up his scoring of late, but ‘Cuse has been losing games. Ennis is at his best playing within the team, not being counted on to score.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Read More: Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Doug McDermott
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