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Look Ahead To The NBA Draft: Who’s In The Celtics’ Range?

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In Part II, we explore some prospects who might be on the Celtics radar.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, I took a look at the Celtics’ potentially tenuous situation heading into the draft. I highlighted some of the challenges Danny Ainge and company will face when in comes down to draft time for the Celtics.

Today, I’m going to project the Celtics’ roster needs and looking at some of the players who might be available in their range (currently twice in the middle of the first round and once near the end). We will start with perhaps the biggest hole on the roster as currently constructed.

A Defensive Minded Guard

The Celtics are regularly tuned up by opposing point guards, and much of the finger pointing for this is directed at Kyrie Irving. While Irving certainly has times where he, um, conserves effort for the offensive end of the floor, he’s largely been a neutral to good defender. The Celtics ability to contain guards can be psychologically papered over, as many fans might see stopper Marcus Smart on the floor and assume all is well.

However, given the Celtics propensity for switching and Smart’s typical designation locking up the best wing player, the Celtics don’t have anyone to pick up the ball handler up the floor and dodge screens when Smart is busy elsewhere.

Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are hypothetically supposed to be capable of this, but both have struggled with engagement and have had times, particularly off the ball, where they die on screens. Rozier specifically has been prone to lapses where he doesn’t send the ball handler towards the help. When that happens, a quick guard (like Zach LaVine on Saturday night) can get enough of a head start quickly that the help doesn’t have enough time to react.

Point guards can take a few years to develop, but a guard who can defend, avoid screens, and (ideally) switch across a few positions would be able to see the floor and contribute to the Celtics team as early as next year. If they could at least make spot up threes so they could play alongside Smart and/or Irving, it would be an even better fit to get early minutes. In a perfect world, they would be coming out of Oklahoma State as a sophomore, but we can’t be that lucky every year.

Someone who checks a lot of these boxes is Virginia Tech product Nickeil Alexander-Walker. NAW (lots of good nickname potential here) is a rangy combo guard who differs from the typical “combo guard” mold in that he’s actually a very efficient scorer. He boasts a TS% north of 60%, a rarity among non-bigs and a quick glace through other players who shot similar percentages is littered with NBA shooting greats. He’s also big and long for a guard, something he uses to bother in Tech’s frequent zone defense.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

NAW is still thin for the NBA, however, and putting on weight is ultimately going to determine his defensive ceiling as it pertains to switching. Although he’s shown himself to be slithery in weak side defense, and seems to have the tools, I’d also like to see how he handles screens at a pro level. Even if these questions end up with an answer of “no,” he’ll still be a valuable player at an NBA level simply by being big and able to shoot.

Simply put, Nikeil is the high floor, low ceiling guy, and the question is whether or not you want to spend your mid-first pick on a player like that. Given what the Celtics needs project to be, and no matter what you think may happen with Kyrie Irving, I say yes.

Big Depth

The big positions continue to very quietly be a position of need for the Celtics, even for a team that has five on the roster and likes to play small. Injuries to Aron Baynes this season have both highlighted how valuable his defense is, and how barebones the Celtics big depth is behind Al Horford. Baynes and Horford will both have a player options this off-season and Daniel Theis is a restricted free agent (who has struggled in big match ups). It’s also not totally inconceivable for the Celtics to exit this coming off-season with Robert Williams penciled in as a sophomore starter next year.

Now, serviceable bigs can be found on the cheap in the NBA and this will likely be the front office’s solution, should a worst case scenario unfold. However, the mid to late lottery projects to be flush with big talent, and there’s a strong chance that the best player available is a center like the Celtics’ current biggest project in Timelord. Even if there is positional overlap, I think there are some players who would still be good selections.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jontay Porter may have very well gone ahead of his brother Michael Porter if he had elected to come out in last year’s draft. Unfortunately Porter suffered an ACL tear and will miss all of the year this year, which will hurt his stock quite a bit. Even so, Porter is an extremely high skill big man who could end up somewhere between Kelly Olynyk and Marc Gasol, especially if his conditioning improves. While both he and Robert Williams can pass, their skill sets also complement each other and would allow the two to play and develop together on bench units. If Porter were to declare and slide to the Celtics range, he would bring a unique skill set to the Celtics at the big positions.

If the Celtics wanted to gamble on upside, Oregon’s Bol Bol would be worth a look, as a fluid 7’3” shooter. Bol suffered a foot injury that will keep out of college basketball the rest of the year, but NBA scouts hope that he can be a Kristaps Porzingis type of player at the next level. Staying healthy will be important for Bol, because there’s substantial risk selecting a player as thin and with as many question marks as Bol. However, he’s probably the guy if the Celtics want to swing big and he drops to their range.

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Clarke from Gonzaga is another possibility for the Celtics and would provide a welcome addition to the Ojeleye Factory. Clarke is a dominant, physical defender who would give the Celtics a powerful option for switching around the front court. Clarke currently projects more around the Celtics own selection, but he would be a perfect fit in the Celtics defensive style.

Check back tomorrow, as we will take a look at the Celtics options for asset consolidation, whether that means trading up or trading out.