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Scouting the Celts' Draft Loot With Jay Bilas

A Daily Babble Production

"The good news is that when you're the world champion, you don't have to put up with that.  You don't need them.  They need you." -- Jay Bilas

Kudos to the incomparable Roy Hobbs for his solid multimedia compilation of two of the Celtics' draft-night acquisitions, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker.   As the Hobbsian wonder mentions, the Celts aren't getting a ton of love from the draft graders, which largely seems based on the fact that the team took two gambles -- one on a player with some discipline-related baggage and the other with impending surgery.  But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of reason to be excited about these two neophytes.

It starts with the above comment from ESPN college basketball maven Jay Bilas, who was kind enough to chat with me shortly after the draft about the prospects for the newest Celtics.  The point about winning the title is dead on.  While there should still be some eye kept toward making sure the team gets better in the long term, there is no better time to take on 'project' players than when a team has been playing successful basketball, has good veteran influences around and doesn't have any absolutely-have-to-fill-them-or-else needs. 

In some regards, this is exactly why I would have liked to have seen the Celts go with DeAndre Jordan with the 30th pick -- an undeveloped big man but a kid with classically unteachable size and overall physique.  But that's the last you'll hear of that in this space.  If ever there were a time to be willing to blindly trust Danny Ainge, it's certainly the present (if a title and top exec honors don't earn our faith, what will?), and the truth is that while Ainge didn't go with a big man, he did go align with the philosophy behind bringing in a guy like Jordan: drafting super-athletes.

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With Giddens, it sounds like the fears are purely related to his past.  Undoubtedly, it's a major red flag when a guy has a suspension on his record for "not being a good teammate."  But in fairness both to Giddens and unabashed homerism (on my part), that was in early 2007 under a different coach.  Bilas was quick to point out that current New Mexico head man Steve Alford "said Giddens did everything he was supposed to do" last year.

Whether the effort will be there as much as it should be and whether the ability to stay out of trouble will come with time remains to be seen, and those are viable concerns.  But Giddens also has the ability to play the game with a much bigger style than one would expect of a 6-5 off-guard.  Giddens shot an excellent 51.6 percent from the field last season at New Mexico, largely courtesy of his ability to slash into the lane and simply elevate over defenders.  That ability to get up there manifested itself on the glass as well, as Giddens pulled down an absurd 8.8 boards per game last season, a year that included 11 double-digit rebounding efforts.   All that in mind, even with all the acknowledged character questions, Bilas' assessment seems fair in its own right: "He's a big-time talent.  He's a freak athlete.  He can defend.  He can make shots.  He can help."

The fact that this guy is a two-guard who shot less than 70 percent from the line in all four of his college seasons (and less than 60 twice) isn't concerting.  Nor is the fact that Chad Ford's draft profile actually includes the term "knucklehead" to describe Giddens.  It means we shouldn't be shocked if there are problems down the road.  But that doesn't make it impossible for a man to turn himself around. the combination of Alford's defense of recent Giddens behavior, the Celtics' strong veteran leadership and emphasis on the ubuntu concept and the fact that the Celts can afford to simply push Giddens as far away as possible if he screws up would seem to make this the perfect set of circumstances for a risk on a guy with the potential to do some breath-taking stuff in the back-court for this team.

Bill Walker is another story as far as the reason behind his slower-than-expected progress but quite similar as far as potential reward is concerned.  Walker tore an ACL back in early 2007 (his third ACL injury), and that was no doubt a huge setback for him as well as a risk factor for teams in the draft.  But from watching him in person this season, there is no doubt that the physical tools are still there. The Kansas State Wildcats often seemed to be better suited to a title along the lines of "Big Mike and the Dunkers."  The 'Cats seemed to have no shortage of complementary players whose main role was to fill lanes and be ready to throw down in the event that the defense overloaded on Mike Beasley and forced him to move the ball.  The difference between Walker and everybody else was that he was more than a complementary part.  Walker is the best leaper of the bunch, and at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, he already has the size, strength and quickness to be a legitimate small forward in this league.

On top of all that, I couldn't be happier with Bilas' comparison for Walker: "He’s not really developed offensively, but he’s really athletically gifted.  He can come in and change a game.  Similar to Jason Maxiell."  Walker still has some work to do on his shooting, but thinking of bringing in another forward with the energetic bulldog mentality that Maxiell brings to Detroit is an absolute pleasure.  Walker hits the boards well for a three-man, and at this point, it's likely that slashing dunks and putbacks would get him most of his points at the NBA level.  With some work on his shooting, he could become a major offensive threat in his own right in time (after all, Bilas calls him a sure first-round talent if not for the injury issues).

Yes, Giddens has had problems in the past.  No, Walker's impendng meniscus surgery isn't cause for celebration by any means.

But if there were ever a time to buy into the concept of 'upside' for a couple of draft picks for the green, that time is now.

Bilas' final verdict on the Giddens and Walker pick-ups: ""They can make the team, and they can help in spots.  Does it mean they’re gonna get into the rotation?  I don’t know.  That’s a pretty tall order.  They could.  It’s possible."

The beautiful part is that the first clause there may well be all this team needs for the season to come.

Welcome aboard, J.R. and Bill (and Semih, too!). 

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