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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Mock draft v2.0 has more clarity 05.30.14 at 10:04 am ET
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About a month ago I posted my first mock draft. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, “I was way off!”

Since April, the lottery has provided us the clarity of who will own each pick, while the draft combine gave the prospects a chance to show team executives their talent. The result? A completely different draft board. We think we know the top three picks, but we have no clue in what order. This is a good draft, we know that, but predicting the picks is as tough as any year.

So without further adieu, here’€™s my mock draft 2.0, covering both of the Celtics‘€™ selections.

1. Cavaliers, Joel Embiid (Kansas, freshman) – From all accounts, it sounds like Embiid’€™s back is healthy. If that holds true when the 7-footer goes through his workouts, Embiid’€™s potential will be too high for Cleveland to pass up. Everyone is quick to use the Greg Oden comparison, but Embiid is much smoother on his feet for his size.

2. Bucks, Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, freshman) – The Bucks are absolutely horrible, but they have good young pieces in Larry Sanders, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Since they already have so many players to develop, why not do the same with Wiggins? Personally, I do not see Wiggins as a star in the league. But if the Bucks do, they will roll the dice on him.

3. 76ers, Jabari Parker (Duke, freshman) – Philly makes out great here coming away with a sure thing. Parker is ready to play now and probably would be the best player on the 76ers roster. At worst he is a longtime NBA starter, but I see Parker as the clear-cut best player in this draft. I would be surprised if he did not end up as a less-selfish Carmelo Anthony-type player.

4. Magic, Dante Exum (Australia) – Orlando has long loved Exum. The Magic should have the chance to snag him at No. 4, and they will if they can. This is probably the surest pick in the draft at the moment. There are rumors that Philly would take Exum and No. 3 and look to trade the Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams. MCW’€™s trade value probably will never be higher, but taking Exum over Parker would be a mistake.

5. Jazz, Noah Vonleh (Indiana, freshman) – Vonleh has scouts going crazy over his 7-foot, 4 1/2-inch wingspan. Obviously that is a nice quality to have in a league with as much size as the NBA, but is Vonleh’€™s length important enough to draft over talents like Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon? I’€™m not yet sold, but many are.

6. Celtics, Aaron Gordon (Arizona, freshman) – From all I can gather, Danny Ainge loves Gordon if he is going to use the No. 6 pick. I wrote last week about the players that Ainge will most likely be selecting from with this pick. There are some unique talents on the list, but in the end Gordon’€™s potential, flexibility to play both forward spots, and versatility on both ends of the floor make him the pick.

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Read More: Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics will pick from worthy group of 4 05.22.14 at 9:43 am ET
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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.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Takeaways from combine 05.20.14 at 4:50 pm ET
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The NFL draft combine represents some of the biggest days in a college football star’€™s life. Prospects are held under a microscope and are heavily graded on their performance. The findings have the ability to swing a player’€™s draft stock significantly one direction or the other. The NBA draft combine, which was held in Chicago last Wednesday through Sunday, holds a very different kind of meaning.

Much less stock is invested in the drills at the NBA combine, but they still have it, so I’€™m going to write about it. For starters, the three big names who make winning a top-three pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery so crucial were no-shows. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid felt they had nothing to gain by showing up, which probably was the right call. The last thing any of them need is a fluke injury while showing scouts they can dribble around cones. Their absence made it much less entertaining for those of us who watched all 15 hours of coverage (which might be just me).

As ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla kept repeating, the whole process is really just a job interview. This is spot on. There’€™s not that much you can learn by watching basketball players run and jump that you haven’€™t already seen in game action. Scouts are always enamored with a prospect’€™s measurements, though. If you’€™re an NBA general manager who doesn’€™t know that Aaron Gordon is going to test well on the vertical jump, or that Dante Exum is going to test well in the agility drills, then you haven’€™t been doing your job.

This is why the personal interview process is so important at the combine. But we don’€™t have access to that (the in-depth interviews behind closed doors, at least), so here are some takeaways worth noting.

– The highest max vertical leaps belonged to Jahii Carson and Markel Brown at 43 1/2 inches. No one cared, however, as Wiggins’€™ agent conveniently released an image of his client displaying his 44-inch vertical in his own training session. Looks like it was the right call to not show up, seeing that everyone was talking about Wiggins anyway.

– Everyone, literally everyone, wanted to see Exum. This was the first chance many GMs got to watch Exum in person. Of course, they didn’€™t even get to see him play, just participate in athletic testing. Exum is a high-character kid, as expected he did a fantastic job in his interviews. I would be very nervous using a top-five pick on him hardly seeing him actually play basketball, though. During the draft process he will only be working out alone. Most of the top prospects operate this way, but we have seen all of them compete on the floor in college. People who have seen Exum play the most — Chad Ford and Franschilla — believe he will develop into a star. But have they even seen enough of him?

Marcus Smart is a guy considered a lesser talent than Exum, but I’€™m not convinced that’€™s true. Not to say Exum won’€™t be better, my eyes just haven’€™t seen anything to convince me of that yet. By many accounts, Exum has a similar body at 18 years old to Michael Jordan. So did Lenny Cook — how’€™d that work out? Smart is a passionate player. Danny Ainge says he loves Smart’€™s ‘€œfire,’€ which some look at as an attitude problem. I tend to agree with Ainge here. Smart is a big, physical guard who always plays aggressive. He needs to improve his jump shot, but so does Exum. Let’€™s just say Smart has more of a chance to be Russell Westbrook than Exum has to be Jordan. Exum vs. Smart is almost turning into a Wiggins vs. Parker argument in my mind. Do you want the elite prospect with the athletic gifts? Or do you want the better player right now? Who says Smart and Parker won’€™t still grow in the NBA?

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Read More: Dante Exum, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Marcus Smart
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agents to watch in ’15 05.14.14 at 11:02 am ET
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In my last column, I wrote about some free agents who potentially could catch Danny Ainge‘€™s eye this summer. However, if you expect a 2007-ish rebuild to happen overnight again, I’€™m afraid your expectations are too high. The Celtics are going to take a couple of years to build back up, making 2015 an equally important offseason.

A lot can happen between now and next summer, but a strong free agent class is anticipated. Much like the last column, not all of the names may look like fits now, but under the right circumstances could be in the future. Following is a handful of names that should be on Ainge’€™s radar for 2015.

Brook Lopez First and foremost, Lopez needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’€™s had serious foot issues so far in the NBA, but he also is one of the best scoring centers in the league when healthy. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, something Ainge is looking for in his next big man.

Lopez signed a four-year extension in 2012, but 2015-16 is a player option, so he could choose to opt out if the Nets begin to fade from contention. The Nets have the potential to implode over the next couple of seasons due to age and bad contracts. Even as players begin to come off the books, Brooklyn still should be over the cap for years to come, making the team’s future a delicate situation.

This signing would be a risk, but if the price is right, Lopez could be the perfect fit next to Jared Sullinger … on offense, that is. Defensively Ainge still would need to find a solution. That said, a frontcourt that features and healthy Lopez and Sullinger is scary for any team to face.

Robin Lopez – For twin brothers, Robin and Brook sure have different games. Robin is much more of a low-post defender and shot-blocker than his brother, but he is nowhere near as developed on offense.

With the scoring ability of Sullinger, Robin would be just as good a fit as his brother in Boston. Robin would not be leaned upon to score, allowing him to do what he does best — defend and rebound. He has had a ton of success in Portland this season playing alongside scorers, including in the playoffs. The more I think about it, despite Brook’€™s All-Star appearance; Robin is the Lopez brother to watch in 2015.

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Read More: Anderson Varejao, Brook Lopez, Danny Ainge, Kenneth Faried
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agent possibilities for Celtics this offseason 05.01.14 at 12:33 pm ET
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After a flurry of draft-related news, we finally have reached a standstill. The date for underclassmen to declare has passed, and as expected all the big names are in. So what do we have to look forward to?

The draft combine will take place in Chicago from May 14-18, and it’s something Celtics fans will want to keep an eye on. Many of the top prospects will attend, a great way to gauge how each player looks on the exact same measuring stick. Much of the Celtics‘€™ destiny relies on May 20, when the lottery reveals what pick Boston will hold. Of course, June 26 is the actual draft date, when everything will come to a head.

But the draft is not the only way to acquire talent this summer. Whether Danny Ainge decides to use or trade his draft picks, there is a solid free agent pool that Ainge will not be able to ignore. Trading for Kevin Love is the sexy solution to Boston’€™s problems at the moment, and it’€™s not all that unrealistic. Other stars are bound to be available come draft day as well.

Draft picks and trades rely on different variables, however. You can’€™t make a GM trade you a player, nor can you make a player fall to you in the draft. Free agents, on the other hand, come with far less complications. Of course they can choose their destination (or be matched by their current team if they are restricted), but there is nothing standing in Ainge’€™s way of pursuing free agents this summer.

With that said, following is a look at some free agents who have a realistic chance of at least being on Boston’€™s radar.

Lance Stephenson – Stephenson has had a breakout season for the recently struggling Pacers. At one point, this looked like a team destined to stay together. But Indy is self-destructing in the first-round against eighth-seeded Atlanta. Something will need to change next season.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Kevin Love
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ mock draft a coin flip 04.24.14 at 2:16 pm ET
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If you’re a Celtics fan, then you know this: Boston has never had lottery luck. This year, the C’€™s tough luck started early. With the lottery still almost a month away, the C’s already lost a coin flip to Utah, breaking the tie for the fourth position.

Here’€™s what losing the coin flip means for the Celtics‘€™ draft selection.

  • 1. The Celtics get one less combination for a top-three pick than the Jazz. This is the least of Danny Ainge‘€™s concerns. Utah has a 10.4 percent chance at the top pick, and Boston has a 10.3 percent shot. The C’€™s also have 11.1 and 12.0 percent chances at second or third, respectively.
  • 2. The Celtics cannot pick fourth. If both teams miss out on a top-three pick, Utah receives the higher draft spot. As a result, Boston has a 66.6 percent chance of picking between 5-8 if they don’t win a lottery spot.
  • 3. The Celtics‘€™ most likely spot to draft is sixth. In fact, there’s a higher chance they pick sixth (34.2 percent) than in the top three (33.4). It’€™s safe to say they’ll be in the top seven, although there’s a 0.3 percent chance they pick eighth.

Until May 20, as I say in every draft piece, nobody can be sure of anything. That being said, let’s pretend the Ping Pong balls fall exactly as they’re suppose to, even if they most certainly will not. Here is my mock draft for picks 1-17 as of April 24, covering both of Ainge’s first-round selections.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Jabari Parker latest to enter draft as Celtics go 4th into offseason 04.17.14 at 10:20 am ET
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(Editor’s note: Updated after Jabari Parker announced Thursday afternoon that he would enter the draft.)

The NBA season came to a close on Wednesday night. After six consecutive playoff runs, the Celtics might have had their longest season in recent memory. Not in terms of games played, but in terms of how dreadful it was to watch drag on. The Celtics were here in 2007, and they were unconventionally rewarded, we’€™ll see if they are so lucky this time.

Following a 118-102 blowout loss to the Wizards on Wednesday, the Celtics finished the 2013-14 campaign with a record of 25-57. Just one victory better than the 24 wins that landed the Celtics the second-highest lottery odds in ‘€™07. Of course, they got the worst pick possible (fifth overall), but we all know what happened from there. This season’€™s 25 wins are good for a tie for the fourth-highest lottery position with the Jazz — meaning they split the odds of the fourth- and fifth-worst teams. Essentially, Boston owns the 4.5th spot in the draft.

Here is how this all shakes down: The draft lottery will be held on May 20, but Friday will be the first important date to mark on your calendars. A coin flip will take place, in which the winner between Boston and Utah will have a fractionally higher shot at winning a top-three pick. However, the more important aspect of the coin flip is that if both teams fall outside of the top three, the winner will pick one spot higher than the loser. This scenario is not out of the question after what we witnessed in ‘€™07.

The Celtics‘€™ official odds of landing the top overall pick in the draft are 10.3 percent. They maintain a 33.5 percent shot at selecting in the top three. This leaves the rest of the odds pointing to the C’€™s picking between fourth and seventh, unless they lose the coin flip, and miss out on a top-three pick along with Utah. In this unlikely scenario, Boston would be left picking somewhere between fifth and eighth.

So now that the season finally comes to an end, here is the clarity we are left with: The Celtics can select anywhere between first and eighth in the draft ‘€“ or seventh by Friday if they win the coin flip. The point? Although it is nice to know their final percentages, none of it actually matters until they pull the ping pong balls on May 20. That is when the certainty will be revealed.

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