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Character profile: what the Celtics target in the draft

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Free throw rate? Steals? Shot profiles? When evaluating the draft, the Celtics may be less concerned with what happens on the floor and more interested in what a player has in their heart.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Spoiler alert: drafts are unpredictable. Experts and analysts will mock them up six ways to Sunday, but you just never know how it’s going to go. Teams have different needs and timelines and as much planning as even the best front offices can do, the ripple effect of one pick to the next can be devastating in real time.

That doesn’t mean teams don’t do their homework. Measurements at the combine matter. Analytics can help predict a player’s ceiling and floor. The hours of tape that a player compiles in high school and college or abroad are dissected and studied. At CelticsBlog, Sam Sheehan and Alex Kungu have been putting together a draft board for Thursday night. In a vacuum or in a video game, we know what the Celtics value. When armed with the #1 pick last year, Boston targeted Jayson Tatum, a scorer at all three levels whose length could eventually be an asset on the defensive end. He’s the prototypical player in Brad Stevens’ system.

But for future Celtics--particularly those selected outside of the lottery where it gets more difficult distinguishing between one player over another--it may not matter so much how many jump shots they make or what their wingspan is. When you think about the championship teams in the 80’s, the Big Three, and these Brad Stevens’ squads, there’s a through line of grittiness and toughness. The common denominator has been Danny Ainge. Search for “Danny Ainge fights” on YouTube and you’ll find video after video of Danny’s chippiness from his playing days and somehow, he’s translated that as a basketball executive and built teams in his image.

As Sam Vecenie points out on a CLNS podcast with Sam Sheehan, Danny Ainge is targeting someone with a “super competitive drive.” He points out that players like Donte DiVincenzo, De’Anthony Melton, Khyri Thomas, Josh Okogie, Jacob Evans III, Bruce Brown, and Grayson Allen fit that mold.

You can see it in the Celtics’ draft workouts. Kenrich Williams pointed out how different Boston’s approach was, stating that it was “more based on defense and how tough you are.” There’s the notorious “Boston Marathon” where draft prospects have to run suicides for the last three minutes of the workout. Teams also have the chance to interview players at the combine. On the latest Hoop Collective, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz of ESPN and formerly of DraftExpress talk about how much a sit down with a prospect can change their outlook almost immediately; after meeting with teams after at the combine, Donovan Mitchell skyrocketed from a late first round pick to into the lottery.

Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge has said that the Celtics have worked out around sixty players and have narrowed it down to ten or so in order to make the 27th pick on Thursday. Don’t get caught up in highlight reels and stats if you’re trying to predict who that pick might be. We’ve seen the Celtics’ emphasis on character profiles pay off last season. When evaluating Terry Rozier, DraftExpress’ Eric Weiss said that “Terry Rozier has a very uncommon trait for “Assertive” players that, when combined with a winning Environment & Opportunity, leads to an awful lot of NBA success.” He was right. Check out these Draft Class profiles that the team has put together for Rozier and Marcus Smart:

“He’s really athletic and he’s really tough. I love those kind of guys.” “I just think he’s an at an elite level of toughness, athleticism, and drive.” “He plays with great desire.” “He gets the juices going and he’s of the great competitors.” Those aren’t just buzz words for Boston. That’s the foundation of their rebuild.