We're back again with another staff roundtable. This time we're talking about the 3rd pick in the draft (assuming we keep it). We'll start off by making our own picks and explaining them. Then we'll transition into a little healthy debate between the members of our staff. Enjoy.
Q: If the Boston Celtics end up keeping the third pick in the draft, which player should they select?
Bobby Manning: Dragan Bender
The unknown of Dragan Bender is beyond intriguing. Whether the passing, shooting, height/length, or the athleticism, he seems to fit the mold of a modern NBA game changer. I was hesitant about him at first, and there are red flags, but when the entire package is considered it is an absolute blessing that the Cs are in position to take a swing on him. When it comes to rebuilding, go big or go home. I'm sure Murray, Hield, and some of these other prospects will be fine NBA players, but it's Bender who has the promise to be a star with all the tools he brings to the table. Ainge has hinted that he doesn't want a project, but remember Kristaps Porzingis was considered a "long-term" build too, and his first-year impact was an earthquake. There's a reason there's rumblings of the Lakers considering him at No. 2, in which case I'd be more than happy to have Brandon Ingram fall back to three, but in all probability Bender will be there at three. If the Cs are keeping the pick, I want him.
Bill Sy: Dragan Bender
This is when I wish NBA free agency and the draft mirrored the NFL because in football, free agency precedes the draft. Ainge has been adamant that if the Celtics use the #3 pick rather than trade it, they'll pick the best player available. That doesn't mean the player that can help the team now as currently constructed, but who's going to be the best player period. This year's class has been widely considered a two-player deep draft with a gap between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram and the rest of the fifty-eight picks, but some consider Dragan Bender to have the highest upside (despite being the youngest eligible draftee). If that's the case, it's has to be Bender at #3. Even though Ainge has said that he'll draft regardless of position, Bender happens to fill a big need for Boston. They reportedly "love him" and unless there are any medical red flags, he'll be in green.
Sean Penny: Jamal Murray
I think the dream is that Ingram slides to No. 3 if the Lakers are enticed by Bender's upside enough to take him at No. 2, knowing that their rebuilding roster can afford to wait on him. The Celtics aren't in that position—they need someone that can contribute now. Murray would give them a skilled playmaker that adds some much needed shooting to the backcourt.
Wes Howard: Jamal Murray
I'm going to go with Jamal Murray as well. The uncertainty tied to Bender scares me as much as it excites me. With Murray, you pick up a young player with a great shot that should translate, who has a great work ethic, and who doesn't shy away from big moments. Additionally, there have been indications that he didn't show much of his playmaking ability at Kentucky so that he could better fit into his role on the team. His defense isn't great, but his effort is there, and being around the great defenders that are already on the Celtics will give him the opportunity to learn from some of the best, accelerating his improvement in that area.
I would say that the concern about picking a player who fits vs. best player available are a bit overblown in this instance. Yes, you shouldn't bypass talent to pick up someone who fills a position of need, but that's not what would be happening here. Every successful team in the NBA will always need great shooters. Even if our roster changes drastically this offseason, that will still be the case.
Lachlan Marr: Jamal Murray
For all the reasons given by Sean and Wes, I like Jamal Murray as well. However for the sake of argument I might throw Jaylen Brown’s name into the mix. Sure, his shooting and general inconsistencies may make him a troublesome prospect, but his scouting reports suggest his shot is far from broken while his physical dimensions and athletic ability are probably some of the most developed in this entire draft class. Plus, to me, his scholarly pursuits add an element of interest. Basketball is definitely a sport where intelligence is rewarded, and you would think a high IQ in general would lend itself to developing a high basketball IQ. Brown has a lot of the tools that can’t be taught, like physicality, athleticism and an innate intelligence. In the right system, he could develop into a versatile wing and a key contributor.
Jeff Nooney: Dragan Bender
I wouldn't pass up the chance to take Bender. It's a cliche, but you need stars to win in the NBA. With his skill set and versatility, Bender has the potential to be an elite player. Boston needs more of that high-level talent. If they strike out in free agency and the trade market, then the draft is the only other option. Given his star potential, I think Bender is worth the risk at #3.
Jared Weiss: Dragan Bender
From a best player available perspective it really looks like Bender is the guy. The one thing that has surprised me so far is that we haven't heard any misinformation about red flags on him yet most likely coming from teams below the Celtics hoping he will drop. Perhaps that will start to happen when he does more interviews and workouts.
Jeff Clark: Dragan Bender
There seems to be a fundamental push and pull between "immediate team needs" and "best upside regardless of the fit or timeline." It would be great if the guy we draft can be both, but that's hardly ever the case, even for the top pick.
Even though it sounds a lot like GM-speak, I do agree that you need to take the best player available regardless of timeline. Even if we can't trade the #3 pick before the draft, you want the guy that most other teams would value if they were asking for a trade after the draft. And if you have to keep and develop him, then that's fine too. You work out the roster construction later, but never pass on a guy just because he might not fit a roster that will change 40 more times before he's done with his rookie contract. Seems like Bender has the most upside with a reasonably low floor, so I'd pick him.
Kevin O'Connor: Dragan Bender
If Bender falls into the right situation with the right role, and the right set of players surrounding him, and he successfully translates his skills over to the pros, he might be capable of a tremendous impact when used as a small-ball center that can handle the ball, space the floor, and defend multiple positions. I'll let you connect the dots and think of the one player in the NBA who does that for a championship level team.
Ok, now let's discuss our picks and debate them with each other.
Bill Sy: Jamal Murray? Really? He's not only not the best player available at #3, but he doesn't at all fill a need, he's awful on defense, and he'd be joining a logjam with Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Terry Rozier ahead of him. To draft Murray, you'd even have to convince me that he's a better prospect than Buddy Hield or Kris Dunn.
Lachlan Marr: I don’t think there’s a right answer here. But to clarify some of my earlier statements, I meant I agreed with Wes and Sean that the best case for Boston is that either Ingram or Simmons fall to the No. 3 spot. Also, I see Bender could be a problematic pick, as despite his possible upside it seems like there’ll be a long time to wait for him to develop, and a No. 3 pick should be used on someone ready to contribute now. Although comparisons to Porzingis have been thrown around, such a comparison is pretty optimistic, and there have been those who have said that unless Porzingis came up as big as he did this season Bender wouldn’t even be being considered for the 3rd pick now.
For those reasons I feel like Jamal Murray might be a better choice for Boston than Bender would be. I don’t think adding another guard to the mix would really upset the balance as much as might be suggested—despite their glut of guards, Boston still needs shooting depth. I could see a good argument for picking Hield for pretty much the same reasons. Dunn, on the other hand, has said he doesn't want to play for Boston, which makes me immediately wary of his attitude.
However I do also really like Jaylen Brown since he has serious superstar upside, athleticism and intelligence. I also found his comments regarding talking with Stevens about the culture of Boston very encouraging. Lots of stuff to like about Brown. Yet Boston would be adding another wing with shooting troubles to a team that already has issues shooting the ball, so I can see how people would have a problem with that pick. You’re always going to be taking on a work in progress with the draft so there’s always a risk. But for me Brown and Murray both seem like they’re more NBA-ready than Bender.
Kevin O'Connor: I'm glad Jaylen Brown was mentioned by Lachlan. He's the real dark horse in this conversation. I believe he's as safe of a pick in the lottery to at least carve out an NBA career because his defense is that freaking good. But with his athleticism and quickness, he could develop into a star on offense if the shot develops and if his decision-making improves. Brown has special characteristics that could make him the best player in this draft.
Jared Weiss: Show of hands here: Who cares about being NBA-ready? If a team wants immediate contributions, then there are plenty of free agents out there to fill their needs. The Celtics are in a very similar position to the Pistons when they drafted Darko. They still won the title despite picking the only guy in the top 5 that wasn't a hall of famer. You make a draft pick with both a 4-year plan and a decade plan. The best approach is to go for a guy that you feel you can establish his value before he hits restricted free agency. Then you complete the plan to build the team around him. So drafting someone like Buddy Hield because you want his shooting to help the team make a finals run in the next two seasons is both unrealistic and unnecessary. They would be better off overpaying a shooter for 3 years and drafting a project that can pay major dividends at the end of that period.
Jeff Clark: Following that sentiment to a logical question, if it turns out that Kris Dunn is really the third-best prospect in this draft, shouldn't we draft him and work out the roster stuff later? I really, really don't like the idea of drafting yet another point guard (especially one with a questionable jumper), but if he really is the BPA (best player available) then you almost have to pick him. The roster makeup does complicate the equation, and you have to take into account what you could get for Thomas or Smart or Bradley or some combination of any of them. Of course if you believe that Dunn is equal in all other respects to other prospects, then you can base your decision more on team needs and fit. But even then, we don't know how this roster will shake out in the next few months anyway. So why worry about fit or the guy being "NBA-ready" anyway?
Jared Weiss: There are a few factors that need to be addressed before making that kind of pick:
1.) What is their long-term plan for Isaiah? His contract is probably the biggest steal in the league, but it runs out in two years. He'll probably be a max player in the summer of 2018, so do you retain him? Do you trade him for another player with a longer contract? While Isaiah at pennies is great, paying him 30% of your cap space (around $35m annually) when he is limited defensively is a tough choice.
2.) If they were to draft a point guard, it would be very difficult to get good value in a trade for guys like Smart, Bradley, Rozier and Thomas. It just kills Ainge's leverage. He could try to move forward again with an overloaded back court, but it's hard to keep Smart if you have both Rozier and Dunn stuck behind him.
3.) Projecting team fit is pretty much impossible at this moment because there could be massive roster turnover on draft night and in free agency. So there's a good chance there will be a new featured player in the front court and another good scorer on the roster by July 10th.
4.) It will just be exhausting having to watch another point guard on this team. I almost want to see them get some stiff seven footer with no skills just to see something different for once! I would rather watch Thon Maker get tossed around out there then another solid point guard who plays intense defense.
Wes Howard: Yes, Jamal Murray, really.
If you want to compare him to Buddy Hield and Kris Dunn, he has two advantages over both of them.
His first advantage is age. I generally don't like to use youth as a significant consideration in prospect analysis, but it can certainly serve as a tie-breaker. He has another 3 years to get to the same level that Hield or Dunn are at now and is already almost there (40% from deep, which is better than any non-senior version of Hield, and .028 more win shares per 40 minutes than the senior version of Dunn).
His second advantage is versatility. Kris Dunn is a pure point guard, as we are reminded again and again. Buddy Hield is a pure shooting guard. Murray, on the other hand, projects as a combo guard. The ability to play at two different positions is not only something that is important in the Celtics system, but it is crucial for a player drafted onto a team with a loaded roster.
As for the issue of being NBA-ready, I think there's an alternative way of looking at things. With players who are described as being "not being NBA ready", you shouldn't be worried too much about whether or not they'll contribute right away. I think the greater concern is whether or not they have demonstrated convincingly enough that they're floor is still that of an NBA player.
The issue with a player like Bender isn't that he might not be NBA-ready, but more a lack of information to ascertain where their floor might be. In Bender's case, is there enough in-game information to show how good he could be. Taking the media out of it, how different is Bender from, say Zhou Qi? They are both tall bigs with good length, who are somewhat worryingly thin. Statistically, Zhou Qi shoots better from deep (although it's a very small sample size), rebounds much better, blocks many more shots, has a significantly higher net rating, and has a much better effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Bender has better assist and turnover percentages, but not by that wide of a margin, plays in a bit of a more difficult league, and is almost two years younger. This isn't necessarily a pitch for Zhou Qi, but it is a reinforcement of Lachlan's point about the hype of Porzingis influencing perception of Bender. Do we really have enough evidence to speak with such certainty of his upside?
Kevin O'Connor: Wes, you said "the ability to play two different positions...is crucial..." in regards to Murray. But Murray can't defend a single position right now. He plays with energy on defense, which is a sign that he can at least develop to be at least passable—effort is great!—but he could be nothing more than a one-position defender in his prime. As for offense, he has an extremely slow first step, so I can't imagine him being a go-to scorer. My point is if you're drafting Murray because of his versatility, you're drafting him for the wrong reasons. You're drafting Murray because you think he can make a tremendous impact as a floor spacer while proving complementary playmaking in a multiple-ball-handler offense (which the Celtics have) as a second or third facilitating option based on match-ups. I just think any fan base expecting something else from Murray is going to be very, very disappointed.
As for "Bender hype," which I think was brought up a few times here: Porzingis' success has had ZERO influence on how NBA teams feel. Bender has been a top prospect in his age group for years, a lottery-level prospect for years, and that hasn't changed at all.
Bill Sy: I think if Kevin's projections on Bender and Murray are right, I'd opt for Bender. That skill set with that size is a premium in this league, and that would be hard to pass up at #3. The X-factor is attitude and locker room fit. Ainge and Stevens have been very vocal about the makeup of this team, and I wouldn't be surprised if they took someone with lower upside but high character. Anybody hear anything good or bad on these guys?
Wes Howard: For what it's worth, I've heard that Murray has been practicing meditation since he was a little kid. That could mean a few different things for his locker room presence, I suppose. My understanding is that Buddy Hield likes to pull pranks, but I don't think they're mean-spirited or anything. Not sure about Bender's personality, but apparently he's fascinated by WW2 history.
In short, I have no idea how they'd be in Boston's locker room.
Jeff Clark: Even though Bender is my pick, I'd be happy with a lot of choices. Chriss or Brown would add athleticism to the team. Murray or Hield would add shooting. Dunn creates roster problems, but who knows what direction the roster is going this offseason anyway?
I don't know if there's a wrong answer at this point. Or rather, we don't know what the wrong answer will be for years. That's true of any draft, but in particular this draft seems very flat from 3 through 8 or 9. Then supposedly it is flat again from like 10 through 30. So how do you pick from a large group of similarly ranked prospects and hope to feel comfortable with it?
I guess you weigh the upside vs. the floor. You consider fit and mental makeup. You project how they'll perform, both this coming year and 4-5 years from now. You trust your scouts and you do your homework. I'm pretty sure that the Celtics are doing all of the above, and I think they've got a pretty good shot of picking a winner.
This is our highest pick since 1997 (Billups), and there's a lot of boom or bust potential here. It should be very interesting to see what happens.
Now it is your turn. Who do YOU think should be the 3rd pick, and why?