Danny Ainge was at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and saw the Connecticut Huskies upset the Michigan State Spartans to advance to the Final Four. UConn won 60-54, as Shabazz Napier led the team with his sensational 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
But as Ainge's stoic expression indicates, he wasn't there for pleasure, he was scouting players for this June's NBA draft. With two top 20 first round picks, the Boston Celtics will have plenty of flexibility on draft day. Let's take a look at the players Ainge may have been scouting, as well as how they could fit in with the team's rebuilding plans.
Shabazz Napier | G | Connecticut
HT: 6-1 | WT: 180 lbs | Age: 22
It's obvious that Danny Ainge likes "instant offense" players. He had that role during his playing career and he has a history of acquiring similar players as a general manager. In the past seven years, Eddie House, Nate Robinson, Leonardo Barbosa, Jordan Crawford, and Jerryd Bayless have all been sparkplugs for Boston, but the team currently doesn't have someone under contract for that role next season.
The player who best fits that mold in this year's draft class is UConn's Shabazz Napier. He's a classic hot-and-cold shooter, but he can explode at any point of a game. After a lackluster first half against the Spartans, Napier lit MSG on fire in the second, with 17 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
Napier is also a senior with plenty of experience in big games, with plenty of winning shots over the course of his collegiate career. Consistency, height, length, and a natural position might be an issue, but history tells us that Ainge doesn't mind having a player like that on the roster.
If you're Ainge, you've got to think to yourself: "Should I let go of Bayless and instead acquire a second round pick to draft Napier?" Boston would save significant cap space and they'd have a younger player with upside. Napier has his warts, but he's a winner and could be the type of player Ainge thinks a championship contender needs.
Gary Harris | SG | Michigan State
HT: 6-4 | WT: 210 lbs | Age: 19
Boston could very well lose Avery Bradley in restricted free agency, but the 6-foot-4 Gary Harris could be a suitable replacement -- or even a potential upgrade. He didn't pick up a steal or block against the Huskies, but his impact goes beyond the box score. Like Bradley, Harris is a tenacious defender and a role player on offense.
His excellent lateral quickness, active hands, and aggression could make him a lockdown defender once he reaches his prime, but he is also very good playing off-ball. When the Spartans were put into the pick-and-roll, Harris did a terrific job of "showing" on the play, to help prevent high-percentage layups at the rim. He also is great at trailing his man when through screens, as he contained both Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright whenever he was on them.
But Gary Harris is far more developed offensively than Bradley was when he came out of college. Harris is a true shooting guard and is already capable of knocking down perimeter jumpers. Against UConn, he displayed his quick release, as he smoothly hit 4-of-9 of his three-pointers. Harris has struggled penetrating the rim when in the half court, but he's hard to stop in transition.
Gary Harris will probably be selected before the Celtics are on the clock with Brooklyn's first round pick, but they could conceivably trade up a few slots if they insist on drafting him. He would be able to slide right into the guard rotation as a complimentary offensive player with lockdown defensive skills.
Adreian Payne | PF | Michigan State
HT: 6-10 | WT: 245 lbs | Age: 23
The 23-year-old Adreian Payne wasn't particularly impressive in his final collegiate game; he was highly inefficient with 2 turnovers and 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Against UConn's average frontcourt, Payne was unable to score inside, and he instead settled for 10 three-pointers.
Even though Payne is a terrific perimeter shooter, scouts would like to see him put the ball on the floor to penetrate the basket more often. Since his shot is so good, UConn consistently closed out hard, but he rarely dribbled to make a play for himself or teammates. As a senior, Payne may lack the upside other players have in the late first round, though he should still be a solid role player, at worst.
Boston is also looking for a rim protecting big man, not another scorer, which could make Payne redundant. Though he slides his feet very well on the pick-and-roll, he doesn't force turnovers (0.9 blocks, 0.5 steals per) or deter many shots. As a rebounder, Payne also underwhelms with 7.2 per game this season. The potential is there for Payne to be a productive defender (much like Brandon Bass, to make a Celtics comparison), but the rim protection still won't be there.
Players like Adreian Payne deserve to have a role in the NBA because of the scoring and energy they bring, but he isn't much of a fit for the Boston Celtics unless they make a trade this offseason.
Amida Brimah | C | Connecticut
HT: 7-0 | WT: 217 | Age: 20
Amida Brimah's box score has a bunch of goose eggs (besides his 3 fouls), and that speaks to his influence on the game. Brimah has been playing organized basketball for only four years, so his inexperience was taken advantage of when Michigan State was in their transition offense.
Adreian Payne was often left wide open outside when Brimah was on the floor, which may explain why he played only 9 minutes. But Ainge shouldn't overreact to this down performance considering his consistent success this season.
Brimah could be the rim protector the Celtics are looking for, at least as a long-term project. He's a true 7-footer with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, making him a potential NBA player based on his size along. He also blocked 5.9 shots per 40 minutes this season, which was third in the nation.
The block numbers are particularly impressive for a freshman, never mind the fact he has so little experience. Ainge and the team may not view him as a draftable player considering his rawness, but after a consistent season, Amida Brimah could be a player they'll look to sign as an undrafted free agent.