Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics will pick from worthy group of 4
|05.22.14 at 9:43 am ET|
The sobering truth of the Celtics‘ 57-loss season is now settling in. All it was worth is the No. 6 overall pick in June’s NBA draft. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers won the lottery for a third time in four years since LeBron James left for Miami — this time with a 1.7 percent chance — seriously? Anyway, there’s a lot of chatter about whom Boston should use the pick on, as well as what to trade it for.
If Danny Ainge chooses to (or is forced to) use the pick, he most likely will be left with three worthy prospects to select from. But before discussing them, let’s be clear. Using this pick signifies heading into a full-on rebuild; one that probably doesn’t include Rajon Rondo. If I’m Ainge, I use the pick (along with any assets it takes) to go after Kevin Love at all costs.
Pairing Rondo and Love would put the most difficult stage of getting back into contention behind us. Boston likely still would have a few assets left over, along with the cap space to find the third star it takes to win in this league. For argument’s sake, let’s say Ainge goes the opposite direction. Here’s how the draft should shake down.
Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are essentially locks to be taken in some order with the first three picks. And the Magic are one of the teams most intrigued by Dante Exum, making it tough to see them passing on the Australian guard when they pick fourth.
The Jazz are the mystery team. Will they keep the fifth pick or trade it? Regardless, the team in that spot will be picking from four players, in all likelihood. Which leaves Ainge taking one of the remaining three top-level prospects. The following are the four players projected to be taken with picks 5-8.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana, freshman: 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks
As I mentioned in my last column, Vonleh was the big winner of the combine — to the point that he is viewed as the player most likely to be picked fifth overall. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, I see Vonleh as the eighth-best player in the draft. Still, he would be a decent fit in Boston. This is primarily because he is a much different player than Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk.
Vonleh is a great shot-blocker and has the tools to be an elite NBA defender. That skill set is a value on its own. Add his developing post game with his ability to stretch the floor, and the Haverhill native could be a good fit back home.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, freshman: 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 blocks
Gordon probably is the best overall athlete in the draft aside from Wiggins. He can play both forward spots, meaning he could play in the frontcourt alongside Sully or Olynyk. But his ability to play small forward would also allow for the three of them to share the floor together.
Like Vonleh, Gordon should be an elite defensive player at the next level. He can lock down on the perimeter, and assuming he gains some weight, should have no problem defending in the paint. If Gordon reaches his ceiling, he has Blake Griffin-type potential. That’s tough to ignore with any pick in the draft, let alone the No. 6 pick.
Julius Randle, Kenucky, freshman, 15.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Randle probably is the biggest name of the bunch. He entered the season with the most hype, put up the best numbers (among power forwards) and carried his team to the championship game. If Ainge does want to take one of these three forwards, it will be tough to pick because they are all different.
Randle is more of a traditional power forward and bullies his way to the rim (picture a more athletic Zach Randolph). In ways, this could make Randle the best fit for the Celtics. Sullinger and Olynyk are both bigs who like to step away from the basket and shoot. Randle is the opposite. He is going to feed off of banging in the post, creating contact and rebounding in the NBA. Although undersized, Randle and Sully would have the potential to be one of the best rebounding duos in the league.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, sophomore: 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.9 steals
Smart is a year older than the other kids in this scenario, and he is the most NBA ready. Picking a guard may not be in the Celtics’ best interest with Rondo still around, but again, if they go the route of using the pick, there is a good chance Rondo will be on the move anyway.
Smart needs to become a more consistent shooter to develop into a star. But he fills up the stat sheet and is a two-way player with all the tools to continue that in the NBA. Some believe he has an attitude issue. Ainge has described it as a “fire” that he likes about Smart.
If the pick is mine (and you are forcing me to use it) I am taking Smart slightly ahead of Gordon. That’s just one man’s opinion, though. There really is no wrong answer in this scenario.
However, history does tell us that Ainge is not high on using his top-10 draft selections. Remember the Ray Allen trade for the No. 5 pick in 2007? Don’t forget just one year earlier, Ainge moved the No. 7 overall pick for Sebastian Telfair. Expect Ainge to do the same this time around — only hoping for the results to mirror the Allen trade rather than the forgettable Telfair move.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.