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CelticsBlog Draft Big Board: Picks 1-3

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The CelticsBlog staff gives their best fits for the team in the upcoming draft.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

We are now less than ten days away from the NBA draft, and while the Celtics don’t have the built-in, singular draft ammo of the previous four years, it still figures to be a truly exciting draft for the Celtics. The Celtics own pick number #27, but a bevvy of future picks, a single year remaining on Terry Rozier’s contact, and a talented draft at the top make for a night where anything is possible.

Hmmm, seems like I’ve heard that before. Anyway, I digress.

We polled CelticsBlog staffers to give their opinions on what they think the Celtics’ personal big board might look like, asking everyone to pretend they are Danny Ainge. Everyone logged out of their Janos burner accounts, gave their best impressions and made their picks. We compiled the results into one single big board, which we will be updating each day between now and the draft. Alex Kungu and I will be discussing the picks, and what we might think the implications and thinking might be with each selection, including some additional thoughts from other CelticsBlog staffers.

Today we’ll focus on the top three picks of this mock draft and dreaming big. After all, you never know what can happen with Danny Ainge in the GM chair.

#1 Luka Doncic

Basketball: Luka Doncic Sipa USA-USA TODAY NETWORK

Sam Sheehan: First on the board we have the “formerly consensus #1, now not so much” European ball-handler in Luka Doncic. Personally, this is where I have him because I see him as a “high floor” guy with a lot of upside and few weaknesses. It’s hard to imagine a scenario sans Lakers pick where the Celtics get him, but I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about the lineups.

Alex Kungu: Doncic is an intriguing player who has drawn a lot of fans with his next-level passing ability and rapidly developing shot-making. He seems to be everything you would want in the modern NBA as a versatile wing who can wear many different hats, but for whatever reason teams haven’t reciprocated the love. I have some theories on this, but why do you think he’s “dropping”?

SS: I think it’s just scary to be the guy taking the Euro. There’s always pressure when a front office has a high pick, and it can be easy to play it safe. Even as international scouting has gotten better and better, it’s still a little bit of a crap shoot when it come to projecting how these guys are going to look when they end up in a different class of competition. That said, Doncic was dominant at a young age in one of the top leagues in the world and he’s also done it in international play. On a team level for the Celtics, he would transform them into a veritable hydra of play making and shooting. In my opinion, this would be a Golden State level of unguardable. Am I way off base here?

AK: In a situation like Boston where he would be surrounded by elite level scoring there’s no doubt that the Celtics would have the perfect blend of versatility and high IQ players that could help them rival the Warriors...in theory. I’ll be the first to admit that Doncic is more talented than a lot of people give him credit for, but he does have some athleticism concerns. Playing in a league headlined by savvy NBA castoffs doesn’t exactly help ease concerns for NBA teams. Also, the fact that he’s so into junk food gives me some serious Markelle Fultz PTSD.

SS: Yeah, but Dwight Howard also loved sweets! (thinks) Okay, point taken.

I do think that draftniks in general tend to underrate skill, thinking that athletic guys can “pick skills up later” when in reality, few ever do. However, we’ve seen dudes like Kelly Olynyk slide pretty seamlessly into the league, and Doncic is way beyond that athletically. Raymond Felton is still getting checks because he’s a smart player, proving you don’t need that athleticism. Even in a worst case scenario, I think his floor is a “Jeff Bezos-man’s” Spencer Dinwiddie and that’s a pretty great player. What do you think that Doncic’s fit is on this Celtics squad that is flush with talented 6’3”-6’7” perimeter players?

Basketball: Luka Doncic Sipa USA-USA TODAY NETWORK

AK: I’m actually not completely sold on his fit. Don’t get me wrong, his skill-set is exactly what Boston has been putting a premium on throughout this rebuild, but there are limits. With guys like Brown/Tatum/Hayward all set to play 30 plus minutes with Smart being plugged in across the depth chart board we don’t have many minutes to spare. Part of developing as a player requires having a role that you can grow into. Some of the reason I think the C’s didn’t re-sign Gerald Green and looked to deal Crowder was because they understood that they didn’t need to carve out roles for their young guys to succeed. Boston may have a system that fits Doncic’s game, but they don’t have the role to really let him develop. Without consistent minutes, the overall upside of the player can get murky. I would bet if the Celtics were in the early lotto this round, they’d have a hard time getting wings to work out for them.

SS: That’s a great point, and one that had me waffling on my own big board when thinking about what Danny Ainge might do in a hypothetical where all these guys were on the board. The answer, as we saw last year, is “trade down”, and I think that speaks to a larger point about Ainge being confident in his own player evaluations. I do think that Doncic would probably be the top player on the Celtics board in a vacuum, and I wonder what that would mean as it pertains to trades, should a pick become available with Doncic still on the board....

AK: How far would Doncic have to drop before you think he could become a “trade up” candidate for the Celtics and what would you be willing to give up for him?

SS: I think if he falls past Memphis at #4, you’ve got to start taking a serious look at it. Even then, you’ve got be doing your due dilligence on the picks above that, even if they are too high. Not even the most herculean effort to be unbiased would let me include either of the Jays in package for him, though, as there’s something to be said for KNOWING THAT guys can play in the playoffs. That said, I would throw the rest of the pick platter and Rozier out there to get him. Kings, Memphis, Clippers, or even all of them. I know full well the history of how the Celtics flirted with disaster in the attempted Justise Winslow trade up, but I can’t see all of these picks being as valuable. Do you think I’m too locked on this draft?

AK: I think it’s correct to give full due diligence, but I personally wouldn’t trade up for him. There’s other players that we’ll get to later that I would though. Overall, Doncic could very easily become the best player in this draft and I’ve got the impression there’s a lot of smoke screens going on regarding how interested some of the top teams are in him. He might just be too overqualified for the role the Celtics would be able to carve out for him.

Staff Thoughts

Daniel Theis’ emergence out of the Euroleague should ring a bell here. The NBA’s competitive runner-up in quality of play has long produced a steady stream of serviceable talent. Luca Doncic likely balls in the NBA, but to what degree? Between his pick-and-roll prowess, affinity for drawing free throws and sharp wit for placing passes he could take over the NBA in the manner Isaiah Thomas and James Harden have. In a 6’8”, 228 frame he overshadows both. All those bode well toward him being an excellent top pick. The speed of the game could lower his ceiling but he’s the real “safe” pick for the Suns, to use a phrase I hate. Sacramento would love to see him fall.” -Bobby Manning

#2 DeAndre Ayton

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Buffalo vs Arizona Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

SS: Next we have DeAndre Ayton, the Arizona big man who comes in with a thick, jacked frame and seems to have the prototypical body built to be honed by long hours in the Ojeleye Factory weight room. Consensus seems to be that he’s the top big man prospect, and should the Celtics actually find a way to acquire him, it would seem to be a great fit for a team that needs young bigs. My big question, given how imperative Al Horford has been to the Celtics success, is ‘can Ayton learn to play defense at level that would be passable in a championship scenario’, as they may have in the years to come?

AK: This is a little difficult to project because it’s more of a mental thing than a skills question. We know Ayton has quick feet, a strong frame, and is a fluid athlete. His problems on defense revolve around how he defends within the team concept which has been disastrous. We’ve seen fluent bigs like Karl Anthony Towns, Andre Drummond, and Kenneth Faried not fully be able to grasp team defense. How he’ll be able to adjust could really come down to his coaching situation which is even a bigger question if he goes #1. In the scenario he plays for the Celtics, I’d imagine the team could find a way to make him passable. But chances are we’ll never have the chance to find out.

SS: That said, here in the comfortable fantasies of the CelticsBlog, we can bring in Chris Harrison and imagine a perfect world where Arie was never named the last Bachelor and the Celtics found a package that landed Ayton. I think there’s no denying that he is about as gifted physically as a center prospect can be, but given how important it is for bigs to play good defense in the league today, even the most talented guys can get themselves in trouble. I think the KAT comparison is apt, as we’ve seen how limiting it can be for an otherwise high-upside squad like the T-Wolves. I like Ayton, but I had him down at 6 on my own board, just because I think that bigs like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mo Bamba are better suited to play defense in today’s league and aren’t as scary of a proposition. That said, I’m effectively doubting Brad Stevens, which, according to new DOJ stipulations, is technically treason. Is outrageous to write off his Celtic fit below these guys because of the defensive questions?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Buffalo vs Arizona Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

AK: I wouldn’t write it off because I think if you give Brad Stevens an alien like that he’ll find a way to put him on an MVP track. Ayton was playing out of position as a 4 in Arizona, but even then showed some potential in space that makes you think he could survive a few dribbles against some of the bigger perimeter defenders. Also, though KAT has turned out to be a bad defender, a lot of his problems were getting out of position to chase blocks. Ayton hasn’t really shown that he has that problem and maybe if you can teach him to harness his athletic gifts into positional defense you could get away with him being a passable defender. But there’s just so much unknown.

SS: Offensively, he’s got a lot of touch for big, and his bounciness projects him as plus rebounder in the NBA. I’ve seen the shot doctors say that they think Ayton’s jumper will translate out to the 3 point line and that he’ll be able to score in a variety of ways. With all these other fundamentals, including surprisingly solid passing, is there anything besides the defense that would give you pause selecting him if you were the Celtics?

AK: Nothing, there’s a reason why the Suns have all but promised him to be the #1 pick. He’s the type of guy that keeps guys like Aron Baynes employed. he’s a fluid athlete with ability to score at all three levels. There’s no “wait till he grows into this body,” he’s as complete as a big as you could want aside from the defensive question marks. Joining the #1 defense would just be the perfect step for his development.

There’s been a lot of talk about the C’s looking to potentially get the Al Horford “replacement.” If you can make a decision that Ayton could be your guy, how do you determine the cost to bring him in?

SS: My concern with that, is that Al Horford is a truly unique player. There really aren’t a lot of guys who can do all the things that he can do. I think if you are trying to ‘replace’ him you either need a truly dominant big (like Joel Embiid) or a Big tailor-made to today’s NBA league (Clint Capela types). There’s also the ‘both’ option, which is simply Anthony Davis. Ayton could fall into the former category and end up a better player than Al, but if he’s “good, not great” the fit of some of the other bigs might be better for today’s league and the Celtics specifically. I think there’s so many quality bigs in this draft that Ainge would likely only trade up for one that slides. I don’t think that’s Ayton.

Staff Thoughts

“The serious red flag of “safest” pick sits here. Picking to not go wrong can lead you wrong, as Philly veered for now with Fultz. Red flags emerge with Deandre Ayton despite his otherworldly physique shining first. As a franchise cornerstone, it’s worrisome his offensive game is predicated around him needing to be fed the ball. That led to halves where he disappeared in college, especially in Arizona’s bracket-busting loss to Buffalo. There’s plenty of fantastic attributes here from a good face-up game to a sheer force of will that some see as resembling Shaq. But at 250 pounds and carrying defensive concerns with a startlingly low block percentage for his size, bust concerns creep in. It doesn’t help that the league’s veering smaller and most busts historically play in the front court.” -Bobby Manning

#3 Mohamed Bamba

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas vs Nevada Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

SS: To close out this post, we’ll discuss perhaps the polarizing player at the top of the draft, the unique Mo Bamba. His otherworldly length is truly Gobert-esque and his work with Drew Hanlen refining his shot have some (okay, me) dreaming of him as the floor stretching version of the Stifle Tower. On top of all this, all the reporting on his interviews are that he’s an extraordinarily intelligent and high character young man. Some of the comparisons I saw brought up Jaylen Brown’s name and I effectively morphed into the Vince McMahon gif on the spot. I’m a Mo stan who had him third on my own board for this exact reason, but what am I glossing over that makes him more of a risk?

AK: Mo Bomba is one of my favorite prospects. Working with Hanlen has me excited for the potential of his jumpshot, but the key word here is potential. Bamba flashed an inconsistent motor, and that jumper that looks great on YouTube videos, but isn’t game-proven quite yet.

The Bamba party, to me, begins with what he brings defensively. The wingspan, standing reach, athleticism, etc. have DPOY written all over them. Providing that type of value makes him a fit on any team, adding spacing on top of that puts him in contention to be the best player in the draft.

SS: It’s boring to be in agreement, but I’m seeing the same things. It’s pretty rare for guys with his tools who also work hard to fail, and I don’t think most casual fans appreciate how cerebral great NBA center defense is. You’ve got to be able to read the floor and make lightning-fast decisions. By all accounts, Bamba is not only a hard worker, but a deeply smart guy who could unlock the NBA defense in a way other guys can’t dream of. To play Devil’s Advocate, he was able to survive switches in college and is a fluid athlete, but I am concerned about that translation. The NBA guard brand of athleticism is on another level, and one of the first things team’s will test him on is how he does in a spread pick-and-roll switch situation. That’s become a huge part of big NBA defense, and the Celtics in particular need that from their big players.

AK: I think when we think about that in terms of bigs there’s sometimes a tendency to go “well can he stay in front of Damian Lillard?” or some other elite perimeter player. The real answer is that none of these guys are really built to defend players that quick, and there’s a real adjustment to not only the NBA spacing, but understanding how much room you can give some of these perimeter guys in order to stay in front of them while still being able to contest their looks.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Texas Tech v Texas Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

As of today, I don’t think Bamba can defend the elite of the elite, but I’m confident he can adjust fairly quickly to guarding the tiers below them. Because of his size the margin of error is large enough that his only job is to keep people in front of him because he can basically get a solid contest up from distances that normal people shouldn’t be able to. As long as he can fight the habit to want to rely on his arms to reach or gamble the defense should translate quicker than most anticipate. I’m actually worried about the other side of that and think where he can struggle is on the interior. Bamba is only about 225 lbs which, for comparison’s sake, is the same weight as Jaylen Brown and only a few pounds lighter than Marcus Smart. If he can’t hold his own on the boards or can be easily bounced around, that’ll be his downfall rather than his perimeter defense.

SS: A great point, and it’s particularly troubling if you are a Celtics squad that has had their struggles recently rebounding the ball. The Celtics are able to switch everything and have plus rebounders at a lot of the perimeter positions like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier; all of whom measure well in NBA.com ’s contested rebounding percentage. That said you still need a guy who’s tall and can grab the ball out there. His Slenderman length should spare him exposure on the glass, but he may be a foul liability against guys like Joel Embiid and, well, that’s problem given how Philly and Boston’s playoff fates project to intertwine. Of the guys we covered, he’s definitely the most likely to slide, and I think he’s the most “Danny pick” in this draft besides Luka, do you see a realistic path to the Celtics trading up for him?

AK: The path to get Bamba is him falling to out of the top 5 and maybe at the ORL selection. The Magic are one of the view teams in the upper lottery that are looking for a point guard and could be interested in a package centered around Terry Rozier, the 27th pick, and maybe the Memphis or the Sacramento pick depending on how highly the Celtics value Bamba. But before you swing any deal for Bamba you need to make sure he’s someone who will come in and have a good mentality about working even when he’s not getting much play time because the Celtics are legitimate contenders that need their more raw players to make big strides off the court and even bigger ones when they’re on it.

Staff Thoughts

“Big risk, big reward kind of guy that could end up being the best player in this draft, or could be a big swing-and-miss. The size and athleticism are off the charts and if he can shoot and put it together on the NBA level, wow.” - Jeff Clark

“A player you fear gets taken off the court in crunch time or worry you’ll miss on while they become Kevin Durant. The x-factor of this draft. His measurables squash the competition, and there’s a very cool photo of his arm raised to the top of the backboard on a dunk. In a draft swooning over Deandre Ayton, he could become the best big man. His work with Drew Hanlen, the magician, and his blooming three-point shot bode well. His playmaking will ultimately decide if he’s worth the hype. A worthy gamble in the top 4 if you ask me.” -Bobby Manning

Check in through Draft Night, as we will continue to update the board and reveal our best picks heading into next Thursday’s NBA Draft on June 21st, 2018.