Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Final Four players to watch
|04.05.14 at 10:07 pm ET|
We have reached a new low people! A home loss to Philly with Rondo active. Excellent. #celtics
‘ Julian Edlow (@julianedlow) April 5, 2014
That is my tweet following Friday night’s nine-point Celtics loss to the 76ers in a game in which Boston was favored by double digits. And after sleeping on it, I feel even more strongly that this was the C’s best loss of the season.
Now sitting alone in the fourth lottery position, Boston is coming off of a crushing blowout at the hands of the Wizards and an embarrassing home loss to Philly. Seriously, everyone who came off the Sixers bench I had to Google to find out who they were. This season is not worth trying to figure out anymore.
The only thing worth understanding? Nothing is more valuable than losing these final games. Boston could realistically finish with anywhere from the fourth-best to seventh-best lottery odds, it’s that tight. Look, it sucks to cheer for your team to lose, I get that, but it’s almost over. Next year the Celts are going to be on the rise whether Danny Ainge uses his draft picks or trades them. So if you truly bleed green, you can cheer for just a few more losses before we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
But is anyone even paying attention? The Red Sox are kicking off their World Series defense, the Bruins are at the same point of the season as the Celtics, only as the top team in the East, and the Patriots are working out some of the top quarterbacks in May’s draft.
Honestly, there is nothing on the court worth watching right now when it comes to Celtics basketball. The highlight of the last couple of months came on Monday when Rajon Rondo was in the booth calling the first half of Celtics vs. Bulls. The next big date for the Celtics is May 20 — the draft lottery. So here is something short term and something long term for Celtics fans to pay attention to until the big date.
In the short term, well, fortunately, we have the Final Four. This is our last chance to watch college hoops until next season, at the price of many of the top prospects already being sent home. But Kentucky is an interesting team to watch simply because of Julius Randle. A lot can happen between now and June, but right now Randle is expected to be about the fifth pick in the draft — the Celtics are expected to hold about the fifth pick in the draft. See the connection there?
We know the book on Randle by now, but the team goes much deeper than its best player. Kentucky will try to do what the Fab Five were not able to do, capture a national title while starting five freshmen ‘ all of whom project to the NBA. A big reason Kentucky is where it is today is because of the Harrison twins. Andrew Harrison (PG) and Aaron Harrison (SG) both will be first-round picks when they choose to leave school, as they have really matured during March Madness. James Young is a talented wing player who has struggled with consistency this season, but his potential is obvious. That alone will keep him an intriguing NBA prospect when he decides to declare. Finally, there is Dakari Johnson, the 7-foot project. It seems like almost all 7-footers these days come as a project, but at only 18 years old he is an interesting prospect given his combination of size and skill.
Although the Wildcats steal all the headlines, each of the other three finalists has some sneaky-good NBA talent. UConn has been carried to the Final Four by star guard Shabazz Napier, who still is only projected as a mid-second-rounder by many. Even if the Huskies do not win it all, Napier’s Kemba Walker-like tournament makes him a first-round talent in my mind. Remember that back in 2011 scouts were lukewarm on Walker before he launched himself to the ninth pick with an impressive March.
Florida’s Patrick Young is another upperclassman projected to fall in the same area as Napier, which sounds about right for him. But it’s more of a hidden prospect from Florida who no one seems to be talking about who could have the biggest NBA impact. Freshman Chris Walker came in with high regards but was unable to play until February due to academics. With a team as hot as the Gators were, there was really no reason to force the 6-foot-10 Walker into the lineup. He plays sparingly, but when he does he has an impact. Walker’s stat line against UCLA in the Sweet 16 was seven points, three rebounds and a block in merely six minutes. He is all potential at the moment and clearly would benefit from another year in college. But if he does declare, he is a first-round talent.
And then there’s Wisconsin, almost the underdog at the Final Four at this point. The Badgers usually tribute their success to their coach and their system, and although that plays a huge role, they also have a clear star: Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky does not have athleticism that will blow you away like many of the other players in this draft (he currently does not even project to be taken with a pick), but he does have a skill set that fits the NBA. As much of a pick-and-roll league as it has become, the NBA is just as much a pick-and-pop league, and Kaminsky can do both. At 7 feet he also can score in the low post as well as defend on the other end of the floor. Kaminsky is a junior, so if he feels he does not have decent draft stock he can return, but in my eyes he is an NBA-ready player.
So those are some fun short-term things to watch if you’re a C’s fan. However, the long term leading up to late May is much more unsettling. We know Andrew Wiggins will be on the draft board in June (and quickly taken off the board), but we can’t say the same for fellow top prospects Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
Some scouts have gone as far as to stop scouting Parker because they are already convinced he will be returning to Duke next season. Here is ESPN’s Chad Ford on the stars returning to school: ‘Both are weighing their options. Both are seriously considering returning … with Parker so much so that several scouts are claiming he’s coming back to school.’ Ford did go on to say that all of this is ‘premature’ since both players will have until April 27 to make their decisions. ‘Parker is really NBA ready,’ Ford noted. ‘He could obviously improve if he stayed, but he’s a NBA starter from Day 1. He’ll get minutes, and playing against the best competition is the best way to improve. The only good reason for him to stay is because he loves college, wants to lead Duke to a NCAA championship and is OK just waiting. But as far as development goes, the NBA is his best option.’
This is a scary situation. All this losing, and now two of the best players expected to be in the draft might not enter? Either way, continuing to chalk up losses is the right move, you never know how the ping-pong balls will fall or what prizes this draft class could yield. At the same time, this is something Celtics fans have to monitor leading up to the lottery.
The bottom line is simply this: We know so little right now! This summer is going to clear it all up, and by fall I can guarantee you one thing I know — this Celtics team is going to look completely different.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.