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NBA draft recap: Boston Celtics draft class highlights value on versatility

The Celtics’ end game in trade talks may be difficult to assess, but their hopes for incoming draft picks seem to be more straightforward. Versatility is king.

NBA: Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA Draft is officially in the books, and despite many rumored potential trades, the Boston Celtics kept and made all of the picks with which they entered the night. Fans will lament the missed opportunity to acquire Jimmy Butler in the face of the uninspiring haul that the Bulls netted in exchange for him, and rightfully so.

Chicago’s swap with Minnesota was very much a head-scratcher, and it’s hard to believe Boston couldn’t have produced a more appealing package for the Bulls’ star. Alas, the time for dreaming of Butler in green has passed, and the Celtics have, instead, four young, intriguing prospects to learn more about.

It has never been entirely clear what President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge is hoping to do in trade negotiations. He’s teased the fan base for years, consistently hinting at deals for big names. Those have never come to fruition though, and it makes assessing exactly what Boston is trying to do a challenging feat. Examining the Celtics’ draft picks, however, may be more instructive. Take a look at a few key metrics from each of the players Boston selected:

Celtics 2017 Draft Picks

Player Height Weight Wingspan 2-Pt % 3-Pt % FT%
Player Height Weight Wingspan 2-Pt % 3-Pt % FT%
Jayson Tatum 6'8" 204 lbs. 6'11" 50.4 34.2 84.9
Semi Ojeleye 6'7" 241 lbs. 6'10" 52.9 42.4 78.5
Kadeem Allen 6'3" 200 lbs. 6'9" 46.6 42.7 74.1
Jabari Bird 6'6" 199 lbs. 6'8" 53.3 37.8 76.4

Notice any similarities? Everyone the Celtics drafted is long, strong, and has demonstrated an ability shoot at an average or above-average rate. There are obviously some degrees of variability in how well each prospect checks those boxes, but the trend is clear enough. Boston wants players that can play on the wing offensively and toggle between the perimeter and post defensively.

Essentially, they want a bunch of Jae Crowders, and they’re hoping that at least one of them will rate out as a more dynamic scorer (eyes on you Mr. Tatum). That shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. Brad Stevens is well known for his love of versatility, and, in an era where spacing has simultaneously become more important and more abundant, adding anyone that projects as a potential “three and d” guy is always a good move.

The league is getting smaller, more switchable, and increasingly more shooting-oriented. Filling roster slots with players that fit that mold is a smart strategy, and it is one that the Boston seems to be hoping to get ahead of the curve on. Their roster doesn’t project to have many traditional bigs, particularly if they succeed in their pursuit of Paul George, Gordon Hayward, or both.

That could be cause for concern over the course of the regular season. Being versatile often means taking a beating from larger, more traditionally constructed teams. It also often means running them off the floor in lopsided victories (just ask the Warriors). This Celtics’ draft class signals a desire to move towards the highly-praised concept of positionless basketball.

Living into that theory will never be fully possible with Isaiah Thomas in the fold, but in collecting the type of players that Boston targeted in the draft, and continues to target in free agency, the Celtics are developing a stable of versatile wings that will get them as close as anyone in the league can claim, excluding Golden State.

Let’s be clear here: they haven’t built it yet. There is no guarantee that any of the players Boston drafted will cash in on all the potential the Celtics see. Being a versatile two-way player that can credibly defend multiple positions is extremely hard. In drafting a number of players of a similar ilk, Boston has placed a handful of relatively low-cost bets. If they hit on one or two, they’ll be excited. If they miss, it didn’t cost them much.

Tatum is excluded from that math a bit. If he flops, then it will have cost the Celtics a good deal. His success, at least to some degree, seems more likely than the others, though it just might come exclusively on the offensive end of the court. That wouldn’t negate all of his value, but it would fall out of line with Boston’s dream scenario. They’re looking for players that can compete at multiple positions, on both ends of the floor. Their draft haul has indicated as much. Time will tell how many they found.

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