The consensus among the Boston Celtics faithful is that Danny Ainge and the front office should do everything within reason to trade up into the top 10 of the 2015 NBA Draft. There are talented prospects available that fit Brad Stevens' style of play, which makes for an interesting conversation: if the Celtics are trying to move up, whom should they be targeting? Jeff Clark asked that question and over 5000 of you responded. Here are the results:
Assuming Towns, Okafor, and Russell are the first three prospects off the board, here is how I'd prioritize the five players above from a Celtics perspective in the event of a trade into the top 10:
1. Mario Hezonja, Wing, Croatia
Hezonja is the best go-to scorer in the entire draft at the wing position. The 20-year-old was sensational down the stretch for Barcelona in Game 1 of the ACB Finals, though they lost to Real Madrid. But this is typical; anytime he receives an opportunity he flourishes. He isn't fearful of the moment; if anything the moment fears him. Hezonja is The Danger.
When envisioning Hezonja's role on the Celtics, what Ainge said during his end-of-season press conference comes to mind. Here is the full quote:
"We often talk about transcendent players and stars, but I think the hardest skill to find in our league is guys that can score in the fourth quarter, the last six minutes of the game type of scorers. Usually the offensive patterns don't score baskets at that time, usually it's the individuals and the talent and I think that's always a priority, regardless of need by position. But those kinds of players are hard to find and I think that Isaiah is our best at that right now, so it'd be nice to have one or two more of those before the season starts next year, and ideally at other positions."
Hezonja fits that description since so much of his offense comes outside of "offensive patterns." He can pound the ball in isolation and shoot over the top, like he did in Game 1 of the ACB Finals. He does need to tighten up his handle, especially his left hand, but consider this: he's a basketball junkie that lives in the gym and he has improved significantly in the past two years. It's not out of the question he develops into an advanced ball handler by the time he hits his prime. And even if he doesn't, Hezonja is still the best pure shooter in this draft, at 38.8 percent this year, with the ability to drain shots off the dribble, off the catch, and off screens.
There might be concerns about his so-called "selfishness," since he's a reluctant passer, but it's not like he can't pass. When he does, he's actually very good. In the pick-and-roll he resembles Manu Ginobili with his "sling" passes to the rolling bigs and he has shown he's capable of snaking to the middle of the floor and kicking it to the perimeter. As he matures, he should develop to become a good passer, one who isn't afraid to say "it's my turn." Mario demands the ball, and as Ainge said, the Celtics need another guy like that.
To read about why Hezonja is the basketball version of Breaking Bad's Walter White, click here.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein, Big, Kentucky
Willie Cauley-Stein can guard anyone on earth
Forget offense. Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein is one of the best defensive prospects to come into the NBA Draft in a long, long time.
Cauley-Stein is the type of player who is tailor-made for the modern NBA. At 7-feet, he has the quickness of the guard, which allows him to uniquely defend almost any player on the floor. Stevens talked countless times last season about how much he values players that can defend multiple positions. That's why players like Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart thrive for him on the defensive end. They can switch on nearly and pick-and-roll and Stevens can feel comfortable that the defense won't break down. He'd have that same comfort with Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein gets knocked for his offense, but any team that drafts him to score on the low post or drain threes is drafting him for the wrong reasons. You draft Cauley-Stein with the thought that he could become one of the most versatile lockdown defenders in the league. As long as he develops the ability to set strong screens and he continues to finish loudly at the rim, anything else he adds on offense is gravy.
My primary overall concern with Cauley-Stein is that he might lose focus on defense if he's on a team that doesn't emphasize it as a strong performance standard. But that has no bearing on the Celtics, since Stevens' culture makes "team defense" a top priority.
A more realistic Celtics-related concern is his feel for the game. His basketball IQ is average at best and he often makes passes that would frustrate his teammates and coaches. The Celtics clearly value bigs who can be playmakers (Olynyk, Sullinger, Zeller are all good passers at their positions) and Cauley-Stein isn't in the same league. Still, Cauley-Stein's positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
To read more about his Cauley-Stein's with the Celtics, click here. Or if you'd like to read about his freakish athleticism, click here.
3. Justise Winslow, Wing, Duke
It'd be fascinating to see the dynamic between Marcus Smart and Justise Winslow, if the Celtics were able to snatch the product of Duke; both are relentless with all the qualities you look for in a leader. Winslow is an incredible defensive presence and with the way the NBA is moving towards "small ball," his versatility will be of even greater value. As mentioned in regards to Cauley-Stein, Winslow can defend most positions on the floor, which is of great value to Stevens.
Winslow's only prominent weakness is his shooting. If he improves in that area, especially off the dribble, there's no telling how great he could become considering how hard working of a player he is. But shooting is one of the most important attributes for a wing player in the modern NBA and he has been inconsistent from NBA range.
He has shown he can hit shots, at 41.8 percent for Duke, and he certainly has good mechanics to build on, but he doesn't dip the ball and I am concerned that he'll be an inconsistent shooter from above the break. This would severely limit his ability to attack closeouts, which is arguably his best skill due to his ability to straight-line drive or create for his teammates. And the Celtics need shooting after ranking 27th in three-point percentage last season.
4. Kristaps Porzingis, Big, Latvia
It's hard to understand why it took a workout for the Porzingis hype to raise to obscene levels, but that's what has happened on Twitter this past week. I had Porzingis at #10 on my overall big board last year, when most pundits had him late teens or 20s, before he dropped out to play another season overseas; now in 2015 he's ranked in my 5-7 range, and certainly "top 5" for the Celtics in a trade up situation.
Porzingis would immediately make an impact as a shooter in Boston. He's arguably the best shooting big in this class, with the ability to hit shots from downtown off screens and off the catch. Once he improves as a screener, he'll be a devastating pick-and-pop threat. And he's athletic enough that he can roll down the lane and dunk over the top.
Any concerns about his toughness are totally overblown, as are the knocks on his low post game. Sure, Porzingis will never be a banger, but after just one year of working with Audie Norris he has already shown he can hit a turnaround jumper, a hook shot, and a bank shot off the glass. This is a sign of a player who is a sponge to the guidance he receives from coaches, which bodes well for his ability to add new dimensions to his game.
What makes Porzingis a rarity is his ability to also defend at a potentially high level. While he doesn't have Cauley-Stein's versatility, he does have good potential as a rim protector. He has long arms and is a very good weakside blocker. He obviously needs to add muscle, since he can get bullied by the big boys inside, but he also needs to defend with better fundamentals on the perimeter.
To read more on Porzingis' unique skills, click here.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay, Guard, DR Congo
Quite frankly, I am surprised Mudiay even got seven of the vote considering the presence of Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas on the roster. This isn't a knock on Mudiay, but I worry about his long-term fit next to Smart. First, the positives: they'd be a tenacious pairing on the defensive end, and Mudiay at the moment is a better pure point guard than Smart. But Smart does project as a point going forward, and there are concerns about Mudiay's ability to play off-ball.
Even though he shot 34.2 percent from three this past season in China, his free throw percentage of about 50 (at all levels) is more indicative of his true shooting ability. Mudiay shoots the ball on the way down with a low release and a low arc. He consistently misses to his left and right, which suggests there's also a mechanical problem with his hands. In other words, Mudiay needs his jumper form to be completely overhauled, and that doesn't always go well for players.
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