The 2016 NBA Draft was just 9 months ago, which is way, way too soon to evaluate under any circumstances. However, we do have some data points to start formulating some opinions on the quality of that draft.
The Celtics headed into the draft with a staggering 8 draft picks (3 first rounders and 5 seconds). It seemed unfathomable that they would keep all the picks and a quantity-for-quality trade or two seemed likely. They simply didn’t have the roster space to accommodate 8 rookies. As it turns out, the only consolidation trade that happened was a couple of 2nd rounders traded for a (likely) future 1st (more on that later). Instead, Ainge went the draft-n-stash route with 2 of his 1st rounders.
Let’s break it down pick by pick.
#3 - Jaylen Brown
This pick was initially booed. Not necessarily because of anyone’s feelings on Jaylen Brown himself, but rather because there was a building expectation of an impending trade for Jimmy Butler. The Bulls reportedly wanted Kris Dunn and when his name wasn’t called, that was a signal to the fans that the trade was officially off.
Ainge passed on selecting highly touted prospects like Dunn and Dragan Bender and went with the raw but talented kid from Cal.
Thus far, nobody from this draft class is having a standout season and it is too early to make any definitive calls on any of them. With that said, objective viewers Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux did a podcast re-draft of the 2016 draft and they picked Brown 3rd once again. They still had Simmons at #1 despite his injury and they put Jamal Murray at #2 based off his surprisingly solid first season.
Personally, I’ve lost all resemblance of objectivity and I’m positively giddy about Jaylen’s progress in this his rookie season (in particular the visible improvements he’s displayed since the All Star break). He seems to have all the talents that you can’t teach (athleticism, instinct, aggression, intelligence), lacks only the skills you can teach and learn from experience (improving jumper, situational awareness, etc.), and all reports indicate that he’s a very hard worker who has been praised by Brad Stevens for being well prepared for games (which is a little like Monet telling someone “hey, great impressionism!”).
At this point, I’m forcing myself to be vague and non-committal on my expectations for him because I don’t want to either set ceilings too low or get my hopes up too high. For now, I’ll just content myself with being very satisfied with this pick thus far.
#16 - Guerschon Yabusele
This was easily the biggest head scratcher pick of the night and I still don’t know exactly what to think about the “Dancing Bear.” It made sense for Ainge to go with a draft-n-stash player, but draft projections had foreign prospects like Luwawu, Korkmaz, and Zizic ranked ahead of him.
With that said, Yabu went to China and dominated (against modest competition).
Yabusele averaged 30.3 minutes, 20.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per game in 43 games with the Sharks, while only starting four games. He shots 52.7% from the field on 14 shots per game and 36.4% from three on 5.2 attempts per game.
He sprained his ankle in the Chinese league playoffs but hopes to join the Maine Red Claws when he’s recovered. He was in Boston and answered some questions from the media yesterday.
#Celtics draftee Guerschon Yabusele said he has not spoken to C's about plans next year, but reiterated ideal goal is to make the team.— Scott Souza (@Scott_Souza) March 15, 2017
I just asked Guerschon Yabusele which NBA player is a good comp for his game. Draymond Green was the answer. pic.twitter.com/EBL8leCWIL— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) March 15, 2017
The jury is still out on Guerschon, but he has an intriguing blend of size, quickness, and skill that at least makes him worth a long look in summer league. If he’s not ready, he could very well spend another season stashed overseas.
#23 - Ante Zizic
Zizc, on the other hand, is very likely to be signed to the Celtics as soon as the team can lock him up. His size, rebounding, and aggressive style are exactly what this team needs going forward. Draft experts and GMs have said that if Ante were in this year’s draft, he’d be a top 10 selection.
“He has been someone who has sort of caught everyone’s eye here,” said one international scout. “He was supposed to be a long-term project, but he has come out and shown a lot of improvement since he was drafted. He has the usual things he needs to do, like (improving) his jump shot, like getting bigger, adding some muscle. But he is very athletic for his size (6-11, 255), he runs the floor so well, he is tough, he holds his own against older guys and he has good hands and footwork inside. He’s come a long way, defensively, too.”
Austin Ainge was positively glowing about the kid in a recent interview. (via the Globe)
"He just turned 20 in January, and he punishes grown men physically," said Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge. "He hits hard and he's a physical presence out there. As much as I loved Ante and believed in him, I was surprised how much success he had this early in Euroleague."
It would seem that he’ll have a spot in the Celtics rotation next year and his talent set could be just what the doctor ordered.
#31 & #35 traded for future Clippers pick
This trade seems pretty simple on the surface but in the details it is very complex due to multiple owed picks, pick protections, and the Stepien Rule. I conferred with Lucas Hann (Clippers blogger) and it boils down to this.
The Clippers will be making the playoffs this year so their 2017 pick will go to either Orlando or Toronto. That frees up their 2019 (lottery protected) pick to go to the Celtics. Barring a massive meltdown, that pick should be in the 20’s. If for some reason they lose all their free agents and Doc Rivers trades himself to another team and they fall into the lottery in 2019, that pick would roll over to 2020. If the team is still in the lottery, the pick becomes a 2nd rounder.
So basically Ainge traded 2 early 2nd rounders that he couldn’t fit on the roster for a pick that should end up being a late 1st rounder in a couple years. That’s decent value.
#45 - Demetrius Jackson
Jackson was projected by some to be a 1st round pick, so he seemed to be a good value where he was selected. In limited minutes this year Jackson has shown flashes of ball handling and passing ability but also seems very raw. He also happens to be buried at the deepest position on the roster so there’s no surprise that he’s spent much of his time this year at the end of the bench and in Maine. The Celtics see something in him though, because he was signed to a 4 year, non-guaranteed, team-friendly contract. Basically, if the Celtics trade multiple guards, he’s a cheap, deep bench option to keep around.
#51 - Ben Bentil
The offensive minded Bentil apparently didn’t show enough defense in summer league and wasn’t willing to spend a season stashed overseas so he was waived. He’s since bounced around between the D-League, China, and 10 day contracts with the Pacers and Mavericks. This deep in the 2nd round you take a chance on a guy and see if it pans out. This one didn’t.
#58 - Abdel Nader
On the flipside, sometimes you get more than you bargained for at the end of the draft (see Isaiah Thomas). Nader doesn’t appear to have IT4 kind of upside but he wowed everyone in the Summer League with his steady production and has had a solid season in Maine with the Red Claws. Expect him to make a return appearance this summer and a long look in training camp in the Fall.
Currently Jaylen Brown is playing critical rotation minutes and has a bright future. Yabusele, Zizic, Jackson, and Nader have each gotten valuable developmental minutes while taking up only one roster spot (Jackson). Also, the C’s are owed a future 1st from the Clippers. Nobody can be sure how these guys will develop and/or translate to the NBA game, but so far it seems like a good haul.
One big criticism of Danny Ainge decision to stand pat this summer was that the value of his assets would diminish once picks turned into actual players. So far, it seems like the cumulative value of those picks has only increased in the last 9 months. At least in theory. The true test is when they either play meaningful minutes for the Celtics or get packaged in a trade.