As the season grinds to a halt (with only 10 games left), there are a few important issues worth discussing.
Thoughts and Issues:
- I must take a quick moment to wish every injured player on the Celtics (including recently cut Chris Wilcox) a wealth of health and happiness. From a health perspective, this season has been disastrous, and not in a normal basketball sort of way. Heart conditions and concussions are very serious issues and I’m glad the players discovered their problems when they did and received immediate medical help to lessen the risk of future problems. From a fan’s perspective, I have never seen a collection of injuries of this magnitude affecting one team during one season. I’m ashamed to even admit thinking about how these injuries have disrupted the potential final run of the Big-4. These injuries go beyond basketball. We can only wish these players and their families a lifetime of health. Basketball is what it is, and will have to take a back seat.
- Ray Allen as the 6th man.
In my opinion, there is a heavy chance that fans and the media will blow Ray Allen’s recent comments out of proportion. Ray has always been an honest guy, and he was simply being honest about how difficult it could be for the team to learn their new roles in a shortened amount of time. More important, Ray has always been a team player, and by accepting coming off the bench he is once again proving his leadership and maturity. Ray will do whatever he has to do to help this team win. At this time, coming off the bench helps this team win. It adds better balance to the starting lineup and the bench. And, it’s important to note that Ray isn’t losing minutes or shot attempts. His minutes will be up above 36mpg come playoff time and his shot attempts will likely increase as he logs additional time while Pierce is on the bench. It’s a good move all around. Also, more important than starting is finishing the game, and Ray will be on the court for the final minutes of every game.
Finally, I don’t see a move to 6th man affecting Ray’s decision to return next season, if Ainge is even considering bringing him back. Ray’s abilities haven’t deteriorated, but he may be better suited to coming off the bench and leading the second unit. If he returns, he and Doc will have to discuss what’s best for the team. We all know Ray will have what’s best for the team at heart when he makes his decision.
The Celtics’ inspiring display of team basketball over the past few weeks has them in the lead for the Atlantic Division title and the 4th seed. Securing the 4th seed would line the Celtics up for a first round battle with a team like the Magic or Hawks, two teams the Celtics can defeat with relative ease.
Personally, and I know almost everyone will disagree with me, I’d rather see the Celts somehow face the Heat or Bulls in Round 1, though I don’t want them to fall into the seventh seed as a result of poor play or injury. I believe that facing the Bulls or Heat in the first round gives them the best shot at upsetting them [Personal pick = the Heat] and throwing the Eastern Conference playoffs into utter disarray. The Celts will have fresher legs and the element of surprise in the first round, and knocking out the Heat or Bulls in the first round will weaken the entire bracket. Attack the big game prey when you’re healthy and rested. I’d hate to see the Celts get worn down in a draining seven-game series against a younger opponent before facing a Bulls or Heat squad that will probably trample their first-round opponent. As a fan, I am not looking for another second round exit, no matter how valiant the effort. I’m searching for a way for the Celtics to get back to the Finals, and I believe this madness is the way. Knocking out either the Heat or Bulls would lead to a Round 2 matchup against a younger, less experienced team (i.e. Indiana, Philly) or a team the Celts have handled this season and in the past (i.e. Orlando, NYK, Atlanta). I believe the Celts could expose a less experienced team in the second round because playoff basketball is different from regular season ball, and none of those four teams have had much recent playoff success. The Conference Finals would then be a knock-down, drag-out fight between the old-school Celts and the remaining new powerhouse (Miami or Chicago). This is all hypothetical of course, but I do believe it’s the team’s best route for getting to the Finals.
I am in no way complaining about the Celts’ recent terrific play or their climb into the 4th seed. I just think their path is more difficult if they end up facing the Heat and Bulls in consecutive rounds. This is the kind of nonsense we fans think about at this time of year. Of course, all we want is for the Celts to be healthy and playing good team basketball come playoff time. Seeding shouldn’t matter and I hope doesn’t.
- The Draft.
I’m going to throw out a few potential (and realistic) selections that the Celts should consider with their two first round picks. Their picks will land somewhere between #17 and #25 depending on how the rest of the season plays out. #17 is a good position to find a quality player in such a deep draft, and Danny has a way of turning lower first-round picks into solid contributors or trade bait (not every year, but more often than the average GM).
Let’s first look at the Celts’ hypothetical squad heading into the draft. This is all speculation, but I believe they’ll re-sign both KG and Allen for between $8-$10 million per. I’d love for Bass to pick up his option ($4.25 million), and though I believe he enjoys playing with this squad and Doc, I don’t believe he’ll pick up his ‘under market value’ option. However, I believe it’s highly likely Ainge re-signs Bass to an extension because he’d be hard-pressed to find as talented a PF who fits in as well. The rooks (incl. second-year Bradley) are still under contract*, and the Celts will pick up Stiemsma for another season (if KG has anything to say about it). *Moore technically isn’t under contract next season because he was a second round pick, but I believe they’ll bring him back (team option). I hesitate to include Jeff Green because no one knows how his health will be come the summer. I wish him the best, but I’d lean toward him not being able to play. Same goes for Chris Wilcox. If they’re healthy, the Celts may bring both of them back (for the right money/fit), but it’s not something that can be predicted accurately. So, my draft prospects are contingent on the following hypothetical 2013 roster:
PG: Rondo, Moore
SG: Allen, Bradley
PF: KG, Bass, JaJuan
The team will have boat loads of money to spend on free agents, but all the top quality free agents have already re-signed with their teams (Kevin Love would have been awesome!), so Danny will have to either overspend on B-level talent or outbid other teams for RFAs (Hibbert, Lopez, Batum, George Hill, Gordon, Asik), or save the money for future deals. The team has to spend 85% of the salary cap and are nowhere close to that number, so Danny will have to either sign or trade to spend some of his available money, but I’m unsure how he’ll do it. The struggle will be to spend it wisely. I’m leaning toward him going after Hibbert/Asik and Gordon/Batum, but even if he does, it won’t be until after the draft, so size and wing depth will still be focal points on draft night. For those of you pining for D-Will, the only way the team gets Deron Williams is if Rondo is traded, and if Rondo is traded I don’t think Allen and KG will re-sign, and that is too complex a hypothetical scenario to approach at this time. Prior to free agency, however, is the draft, which takes place immediately after the NBA Finals. I’m sure Danny will have key free agents in mind this off-season, but since the draft comes so soon after the season, he’ll have to attack the draft prior to signing guys. This is one reason Danny tends to draft the best available talent.
Now, let’s look at what the Celts can use: Youth, Size, Speed, Depth, Scoring, and Rebounding. Is that all? Yes, the Celts can use a lot of help in a lot of areas, but only in so much that Doc can and will utilize it. Scoring is a need, but bringing in a gunner goes against everything this team stands for. For those of you wondering how MarShon Brooks would be fairing on this season’s squad, the answer is that he’d be warming the bench between Pavlovic and Daniels. For better or worse, Doc does not let young talent go in and take 13 shots per game. Rebounding is a need, but if KG and Bass are brought back then it’s unlikely a rookie PF will have much of an impact. The team tends to draft all-around competent talent with an eye toward the future. The way I envision this off-season going down, the Celts will once again be drafting for the future and depth, as opposed to immediate impact and necessity.
The being said, here are the guys I think the Celts should consider.
Possible Draft Picks (Name, School, Year, Position, Size):
*Underclassmen may not declare!
**I’m not mentioning any International players, as they’re too difficult to project. Who knows if they’ll even be available to come over and play.
***If the Celts have the #17 and #25 picks, then a host of talented players will already be drafted, and they will include a number of players you may want the Celts to draft. Let’s be realistic and look at guys that are generally slotted to go between picks #17-25.
****In recent weeks, Meyers Leonard has skyrocketed up draft charts, and I cannot find a reputable mock draft that has him falling below #15. I’m not including him because it’s unlikely a 7-footer with talent and upside will slide past the middle of the first round. If he does, then the Celtics should obviously consider drafting him.
*****I’ve always been a big Syracuse Orange fan, but I have a rule: Don’t draft Syracuse players! They never turn out well in the NBA. I’m including Carmelo in that statement. They don’t get enough exposure at man-to-man defense and defending the pick-and-roll (which is the NBA’s bread and butter), their offense usually revolves around perimeter chucking and iso plays, and they’re notoriously poor free throw shooters and rebounders. Hakim Warrick was one of my all-time faves and I so badly wanted the Celts to draft him, but he turned out to be just a marginal player. This rule is why I have no Syracuse players on this list, though I was very tempted to add Dion Waiters.
a) Terrence Jones (Kentucky, Soph., SF, 6’9” 240lbs.) – Watching Jones, you can see the unbelievable talent beneath the surface that has yet to be tapped. He seemingly skates the surface of his talent, and in college he gets away with it. The NBA will be a different story if he doesn’t start playing hard and smart consistently. This is actually an issue with a lot of Wildcats, dating back to before Coach Calipari. Cousins, Rondo, Magloire, Mercer, Anderson, Walker, Delk, McCarty… Everything comes so easy for them in college that they expect it to be the same in the NBA. It isn’t, and they’re slow learners. Some eventually learn and become All Star-level contributors. Some don’t learn and become busts with untapped potential. Some, like Walker, skate by their entire career, living in the grey between All Star and bust – they may make a few All Star teams, but they’re always considered a letdown based on their high potential. Jones has the potential to be an All Star and the inconsistency to be a bust. Under Doc, with three HOF-ers around him, you hope for the former…much like Rondo. Jones will be hard to pass up if he drops to #17, which, due to his inconsistency, many analysts believe will happen.
b) James McAdoo (UNC, Fresh., SF, 6’9” 225lbs.) – He is a frosh with huge potential and unrealized athleticism. His game is fluid and he’s able to work inside and out. He’s not big enough to man the post often, but he should be able to score at and defend the SF position. He’s probably not ready for an immediate impact in the NBA – not on a team like the Celts – but he’d be a great piece to match with Rondo, Bradley, JaJuan, and Moore, when looking toward the future. He has the potential to become the best player to come out of this draft, and therefore may be gone before the Celtics select. *He may not declare for the draft, so this is moot if he stays in school (which I hope he does; they all should).
c) John Henson (UNC, Jun., PF, 6’10” 220lbs.) – He’s skinny, but he is an unbelievable athlete with tremendous upside. I like that he stayed in school through his junior season to improve his overall game (and learn something too, I’m sure). He needs to add weight to his frame, so maybe he and JaJuan can spend the summer working out together.
d) Terrence Ross (Washington, Soph., SG, 6’6” 195lbs.) – He’s a prototypical shooter/scorer who lacks experience. He’s not yet a solid dribbler or iso player, but he can come off screens and hit open shots. I’ve watched him play a few games and he has a bit of an IT factor when it comes to offense, but is less talented on the defensive side. A team like the Celts (with KG around) will beat defense into him, but it will take time. He’s a bigger, more talented E’Twaun Moore, and could be a good backup to Allen, but he won’t be ready to start as a rookie. If Ross is drafted and Allen unsigned, the Celts will need to sign a free agent SG (Gordon?). Ross is a couple of seasons away from being an everyday contributor.
e) Arnett Moultrie (MSU, Jun., PF, 6’10” 230lbs.) – Great size and build for a power forward. Can step right in and bang with the big boys. Not overly skilled offensively or defensively, but he has tremendous potential to be a solid NBA contributor, albeit probably not a game-changer. Shoots 55% from the field, which is very efficient for a college player. I like that he’s a junior with NBA-ready size. Analysts are split on where he will land, with some projecting top-10 and others late-first.
f) Tyler Zeller (UNC, Sen., C, 6’11” 240lbs.) – My only concern with Zeller is that he has likely already reached his potential. He’s a senior who plays in a pro system, which is a good thing; however, he likely won’t improve much when he enters the NBA. He’s big, but can still be pushed around by college players, so true centers in the NBA may destroy him. He’s quick, but not exceptionally quick, so NBA power forwards will likely go around him. With this Zeller (and not his younger bro Cody), you’ll likely get what you see, which makes him a rather safe bet for a pick in the 20s. But, when have we seen Danny play it safe?
g) Tony Mitchell (North Texas, Fresh., PF, 6’9” 220lbs.) – Reminds me quite a bit of Perkins. He’s not as big and won’t be able to thrive at C, but he has the build and tenacity to really bring it every night in the post, especially on the defensive end. Scouts say he’s one of the best defenders in the draft. He’s also a terrific rebounder and shot blocker for his size. He brings almost nothing on the offensive end unless it’s within three feet of the basket, but he will make himself a presence on defense. Danny and Doc may take a flier on this 19-year-old, giving him an opportunity to learn from KG, much like Perkins was able to.
h) Perry Jones III (Baylor, Soph., PF, 6’11 235lbs.) – First of all, I love his length. However, he’s not a C and is barely considered a PF. Many consider him to be a long SF. That’s fine because the Celts need depth at SF and increased team length. His numbers across the board have dipped in his sophomore season, and despite an increase in shot attempts he is averaging fewer points (at an obviously lower FG%). However, it is nice to see a sophomore average 13ppg and 8rpb, and you hope that under Doc he learns to assert himself and attack the basket. One final caution: How does a near-7-footer average only 3 free throw attempts per game in college? All Jones has to do is catch the ball on the block and attack the basket. His attempts should be between 4-5 per game, minimum. Not a good sign. But, length is impossible to teach and his potential is sky high.
i) Doron Lamb (Kentucky, Soph., SG, 6’4” 200lbs.) – He’s a bulk scorer with a terrific jumper and confidence out his wazoo. He’s a bit slight for a SG and doesn’t have the handle to be a PG, so he’s stuck between positions, but the Celts need scorers and this kid can score. However, if he doesn’t up his tenacity on defense, he’ll never see the court under Doc.
j) Thomas Robinson (Kansas, Jun., PF, 6’8” 240lbs.) – If I were a GM in need of a PF, I would absolutely draft this kid. He’s talented and intelligent. He scores efficiently (17ppg, 52% FG) and rebounds (11rpg). He’s a terrific team defender and a capable one-on-one defender. He’s a bit undersized at PF, but makes up for it with instinct and a knack for being in the right place on offense and defense. He’s a gamer. He’d be better off going to a good team with a well-run organization because he’s not the type of player that can ‘save’ a Wizards or Hornets team, but he can be an excellent contributor to a competing team. Though Ainge does tend to draft the best talent available, he is unlikely to draft Robinson if he retains KG, Bass, and JaJuan (big ifs all around). *I think he played his way during March Madness into being a top-5 pick.
k) Draymond Green (Mich. St., Sen., PF, 6’6” 235lbs.) – Every team is going to overlook this guy and he is going to be NBA gold. I screamed out DeJuan Blair’s name three years ago and every team until San Antonio at #37 abandoned logic and drafted someone else. He was the steal of the draft. Green could very well be the steal of this draft. Green is tenacious on offense and defense, and has the ability to play inside and out. His heart and desire to win surpass his size and speed limitations. Though he’ll probably never develop into a star, he’s the kind of leader you want on your team. With two picks in the first round, Ainge may be able to take a flier on a guy who may never develop into a top-3 scoring option for the Celts, but will undeniably win games with his hustle, intelligence, and grit.
l) Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt, Sen., SF, 6’7” 225lbs.) – Not the sexiest pick, but the kid did average double figures on 50% FG all four years at Vanderbilt. He’s the type of player who likely already reached his ceiling, but could easily come in and begin contributing immediately. He belongs on a team like the Celts, Spurs, Bulls, or Thunder; teams who know who they are and who they’re looking for. Most years, he’d probably be a late-first, early-second round pick, but this year he’s being slotted in the late-teens. It remains to be seen if Danny will select a solid contributor who doesn’t show much potential for game-changing growth. He’d be a good choice with the Celtics’ second first-round pick, depending on who is available.
m) Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt, Sen., C, 6’11” 255lbs.) – I watched Ezeli in the tourney and placed him on the list because I liked his hustle and tough play. He’s not an exceptional athlete and will never be a force on offense, but he has traits the Celts can refine and utilize; size being one.
Wildcard) Austin Rivers – I don’t think he’ll drop to #17 because of the hype surrounding him, but I’m also hesitant to say the Celts should draft him if he did. First, I think it would be extraordinarily awkward for Doc to coach his own son (on a professional level). It is illogical to believe that family and the NBA would co-exist tranquilly for a long period of time. I also think he’s overrated, being only a freshman and scoring at an inefficient rate. A talented scorer? Absolutely. A well-rounded player? Absolutely not. IT factor? Yes, but at what cost? He is raw and needs to learn, and I fear the success of him learning under his Dad. He supposedly has a brash, arrogant attitude, and the Celts already have a ‘supposedly’ brash, arrogant young player in the back court. The combination of Rondo, Austin, and Doc may make for good headlines (and exciting highlights), but I don’t think it translates to consistently good basketball. *I wrote this prior to the recent national debate on this subject, including the Boston Globe video with Ryan and Finn. **I’ve seen a number of writers on this site saying that Ainge should consider trading one or two picks to move up and draft this kid. All I can say is, “Are you all insane?” Would anyone revere this kid if he wasn’t Doc’s son? He’s not the top-rated SG on any draft scouts’ list, so why would the team trade a pick or two to get him? I believe fans are currently obsessed with him because they believe a father-son duo would somehow breed magic, while it’s much more likely to breed failure.
Second Round Top-10:
*If I correctly understand the Keyon Dooling trade, the Celtics can potentially pick up a second second-round pick if the Bucks’ pick falls below #44. Meaning if the Bucks make the playoffs, the Celts get a second pick in the second round, right around where their current pick sits.
**Celts’ own pick should be around #47.
***I have NO IDEA what Doc would do with 4 rookies and 2 second-year players.
****The second round has recently turned into the place where teams grab four-year college players who have likely reached their potential but can contribute due to high basketball iq and hustle. You know, solid contributors who could add quality depth to your team, but who most likely won’t develop into game-changers. Most of the ‘high potential’ guys go in the first round – that’s the boom or bust mentality. The past few years the Celts have selected in the second round seniors E’Twaun Moore, Luke Harangody, and Ryan Gomes; 22-year-old Semih Erden; and junior Gabe Pruitt. Danny may stick with that mold with one of the picks and shatter it entirely with the other.
a) Jae Crowder (Marquette, Sen., SF, 6’6” 235lbs.) – Marquette players certainly do bust their tail, but Crowder lacks elite athleticism and he’s not a superior talent on offense or defense. Size may be more of a necessity, but, if the Celts are prepared to take a flier on a hard-playing gamer who will hustle every night, then Crowder may be their guy.
b) Henry Sims (Georgetown, Sen., C, 6’10” 255lbs.) – Sims may be the perfect second-round pick for the size-starved Celtics. Not many four-year big men slide to the second round, but because of the depth of this year’s draft, and Sims’ sometimes passive play, he may very well fall to the Celtics. The Celtics never ask too much of their centers, so Sims will not need to be explosive offensively. He’ll need to be sound offensively and tenacious (and intelligent) defensively. I believe he can be those things. One final note: Sims averages the highest assist rate per 40 minutes of any big man in the country. That interior passing will fit in well with the Celtics’ game plan.
c) Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas, Sen., PG, 6’3” 180lbs.) – If Danny and Doc believe that Rondo is not the long-term answer and Bradley is not a natural PG, then they may go ahead and draft a seasoned PG with upside. Taylor is that PG. He has size and speed, and is talented enough to run the show, space the floor, and play solid defense. He’d be a good pickup in the second round.
d) Darius Miller (Kentucky, Sen., SF, 6’7” 230lbs.) – He has a NBA-ready body and a skill set that is solid, if unspectacular. He will not develop into a game-changer and isn’t likely ever to become a starter, but he could develop into a solid contributor off the bench. Due to his body and four-year experience, he’s likely ready to be able to take the court as a rookie.
e) C.J. Leslie (N.C. State, Soph., SF, 6’9” 210lbs.) – A few weeks ago, Leslie was pegged to be available in the second round. After N.C. State’s run to the Sweet Sixteen, Leslie may be elevated to a first-round pick. If he is available to the Celts in the second round, it may be foolish for them to bypass him. Leslie is explosive and quick. He has become more efficient offensively and is a willing contributor on defense. He is young and has a lot to learn, but he is the type of the talent the Celtics need to look at in this draft.
f) Jeff Withey (Kansas, Jun., C, 7’0” 235lbs.) – Playing big minutes for the first time in his college career, Withey is highly efficient on offense (54% FG, 79% FT) and intelligent on defense. Hey, he’s 7-feet tall and you can’t teach size.
g) Robert Sacre (Gonzaga, Sen., C, 6’11” 260lbs.) – He’s a 3-year starter for a big-time program who is known for being an old-school center. Not known for explosive athleticism, he is a smart defender and shot blocker, and is often called the ‘best free throw-shooting big man in college’ (80%).
h) Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan, Soph., SG, 6’5” 185lbs.) – Considered a ‘star in the making’ by many analysts. He’s a poor three-point shooter and needs to improve his efficiency across the board, but he plays with exceptional energy and he’s intelligent. He’d be a worthwhile project if drafted in the second round.
i) Trey Burke (Michigan, Fresh. PG, 6’0” 180lbs.) – A PG may not be a necessity, but Ainge often takes the best talent available, and Burke may be that come pick #47. For a freshman who handles the ball constantly, Burke is efficient at scoring and dishing, averaging 14+ppg and 2-to-1 in assist-to-turnover. Taking a flier on him and having him learn under Doc and Rondo would be acceptable, though it would leave the Celts with a tiny backcourt.
j) Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure, Sen., PF, 6’9” 220lbs.) – The kid has a NBA-ready body and mind, but a lack of game-changing ability. He’s undersized for a PF, but his instinct is terrific. If given the chance, he could become a contributor for a contending team. But, if the Celts go hard after size, he’s not lengthy enough to warrant a flier.
k) Yancy Gates (Cincinnati, Sen., PF, 6’9” 260lbs.) – He has the body and hands to be a NBA player, but lacks a polished offensive game and can become befuddled during the course of a game. He enjoys shooting the 16-footer (ala KG), but only hits it at a 30% clip. Defensively he’s talented and has shown the ability to learn on his feet. Despite his limitations, he still has good upside and would be a nice body to toss in the post for a few minutes.
The final ten games find the team splitting their time between Boston and other cities, with several matchups against potential playoff opponents. Once again, it’s not an easy group of games, with two back-to-backs and their only back-to-back-to-back. It’s actually a cruel finish to the season, but it should get the Celtics playing their best ball together, unless it completely wipes them out physically. Doc is going to have to manage minutes over the next few weeks, sacrificing wins if necessary. All that matters is that the team is playing well and staying healthy.
I hope my next update finds them with a record of… Heck, I don’t care what their final record is. I’m already looking forward to the playoffs. All I hope for now is a healthy squad. Go Celtics!