With three first-round picks, a second-rounder, and a glut of young players already on the roster, the Boston Celtics can only get so young while chasing Banner 18. Without rehashing what the offseason holds (as Keith Smith, Bill Sy and myself discussed in a winter primer), Ainge will have to make some sort of move to clear picks or find takers for their 2019 rookie class, as there aren’t enough roster spots to accommodate everyone.
In looking at the 2020 Draft for the Celtics, the 14th pick is far-and-away their best bet to add a player of immediate impact. Franchises knocking on the door of an NBA Finals berth rarely snag a lottery selection, so its one the Celtics should covet. This may be Ainge’s best bet to thread the needle between long-term upside and short-term return on investment.
For our draft coverage at CelticsBlog this year, we’ll break players down into one of three categories, inspired by our fearless leader, Brad Stevens: guards, wings, and bigs. We’ll also discuss players in terms of their strengths and their improvement areas, shying away from the phrase ‘weaknesses’ because basketball players are works in progress, and the identified areas are certainly within their control to sharpen.
With all that said, we’ll start with a glimpse into some of the wings who might be sensible fits for the Celtics when they are on the clock with the 14th overall selection - Saddiq Bey, Aaron Nesmith and Patrick Williams. Other names like Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton, and Isaac Okoro are unlikely to be available, but could also be targets to trade up for.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova
As a sophomore at Villanova, Saddiq Bey shot 45.1 percent from 3-point range while hitting more than half of his twos. He’s an efficient offensive player from a college known for teaching fundamentals and producing solid, role-playing pros. Add to that a 6’10” wingspan and evidence of high-level defense and it’s little surprise Bey is highly touted as a lottery prospect.
Bey is the definition of a 3-and-D prospect. He drills shots while standing on the perimeter, he’s a strong-bodied defender with long arms and quick hands, and plays with a really high basketball IQ. He can guard 2 through 4, runs the floor in transition and is level-headed during big moments.
As a shooter, Bey doesn’t provide as much utility coming off screens as he does standing in the corners or on the wings. At Sidwell Friends School in D.C., Bey was a late-bloomer and played some point guard. He’s a smart creator when he attacks closeouts, and that ability to move the ball and not be scoring-minded at all times blends well with this Celtics core.
What I love most about Bey’s profile is the pedigree coming from Villanova. Not only do they consistently create great role players (including Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson), but they teach the fundamentals in such an important way. Bey’s lack of elite athleticism isn’t as large of a concern because of his training under Jay Wright, how he finishes on balance at all times, and the similarities in their system and NBA offenses.
The aforementioned lack of athleticism makes a few scouts sour on Bey as a true defensive stopper. He doesn’t have the foot speed to contain point guards at all times. He was used there at Villanova at times, but relied on his length to contest shots, which won’t fly against elite shooters.
Bey doesn’t have elite speed, but he’s also a one-speed player. He doesn’t attack closeouts or the rim with burst, he’s somewhat reliant on using his frame to bully smaller guys to the hoop and he jumped at dribble moves a little too often.
Moving from Villanova, where he was the team’s top offensive option, to the NBA should mitigate some of the offensive concerns as he settles into a catch-and-shoot role. If Boston is looking for a defensive-stopper and shot-maker, Bey certainly fits the mold and could bolster their wing depth and add to their roster’s strength.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt
Aaron Nesmith played only 14 games for the Vanderbilt Commodores this year before suffering a season-ending injury, but those 14 were amongst the best shooting performances we’ve seen from a collegiate sniper. Nesmith made 52.2 percent of his treys, hitting seven or more in four total games.
Now, Nesmith provides a fascinating paradox within the draft community. As a shooting specialist, is his performance an outlier on a small, half-season sample size, or is it such an overwhelmingly strong output that even a regression is better than what other shooters provide?
Simply put, Nesmith is in there to hit triples. He’s good on the move, he’s good spotting up, and he’s got a long enough frame to drill shots over late-arriving defenders.
At Vanderbilt, Nesmith played for former NBA hooper and G-League coach Jerry Stackhouse. Under Stack, Nesmith was utilized in many NBA-style shooting actions, thriving in each. The examples of success within NBA actions brings comfort to coaches that the learning curve for how to be impactful within a pro offense will be small.
The Celtics need a little more outside shooting, and that’s what Nesmith does best. An attraction to a 6’6” shooter checks one of the biggest boxes we have, and the gravity he provides goes hand-in-hand with slashing wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Nesmith isn’t a defensive liability, but he’s not a strong enough athlete or on-ball stopper to garner the ‘3-and-D’ label. Boston has plenty of wings who can handle the major assignments to protect Nesmith, so this may not be a massive problem in terms of fit.
Nesmith is a true 6’6”, but he’s stiffer on his feet and poor laterally. He doesn’t do himself many favors with the path he takes on defense, the poor changes of direction and how he gets up out of his stance so often. There isn’t a lot of athletic upside to his profile.
Offensively, you know what type of role you’re going to get. He’s not a playmaker, isn’t adept at putting the ball on the floor and attacking closeouts and rarely makes contested layups.
The question is whether he’s good enough at his specialty role to still have positive value. A lot of that comes down to how much Ainge would buy his 14-game sample. I’m a tad skeptical on it, so I think taking Nesmith at 14th overall would be an unnecessary reach by the Celtics. Long-term, I struggle to see him moving into the Gordon Hayward role as third cog on the wing and ever playing 28 minutes a night on a championship-level team.
Patrick Williams, Florida State
A guy who looks the part, Florida State freshman Patrick Williams has been one of the most intriguing draft prospects due to his combination of size (6’8”, 6’11” wingspan) and defensive aptitude. Playing in the Seminoles’ switch-heavy scheme, Williams showed glimpses of success in areas most NBA teams want their 4-man to have.
In other areas, Williams is incredibly raw and is far from making an NBA impact. Drafting him in the lottery would require patience with the 19-year-old’s development, though the positional upside is strong. In a few years, he could be the 3-and-D 4-man who plays some small-ball 5 in super tiny lineups.
Everything with Williams starts on the defensive end, where he has athleticism to stay in front of quicker wings and the strength to battle with true 4’s. He really sits down in a stance and guards his yard. He’s also a pretty polished help defender, making instinctual plays and protecting the rim as a weak-side shot blocker.
As an offensive piece, Williams would be a jack of all trades, master of none as he reaches his potential. There’s some upside as a pull-up scorer, flashes of creation off the bounce as a passer and an ability to move without the ball. Next to Tatum and Brown, those traits are paramount. He’s a really good offensive rebounder for his size, which never hurts.
There’s a principle I firmly believe in when it comes to judging prospects: be good at what you do often. Williams doesn’t have the typical scoring prowess of an NBA-level alpha, so his role will be one dictated by how he makes open treys and layups, defends, moves without the ball, and avoids turnovers.
In watching his performance at Florida State, there is still a lot to clean up in many of those important areas.
Offensively, there’s little about what Williams demonstrated that is ready for NBA impact. He gets a wild amount of shots blocked for someone with a 6’11” wingspan, and that was even in a fairly subpar ACC this year. His 3-point shooting was a mess; he made 32 percent of his triples, but had several ugly misses and air balls and finished the year with one make in his last five games.
On defense, the switchability was also inconsistent. There were many instances where smaller guys took him off the bounce and beat him to the rim. As the Celtics look to add another switchable frontcourt piece, the ability to stay in front of smaller guys consistently is paramount.
I think most scouts love the idea of Williams and what he could become. To me, the film tells a different story. If the Celtics had the roster space to be patient with his development and could put that effort in, he’d be a solid grab in a mediocre draft class. I’m not sure if that plan really fits what the Celtics need to get out of this draft though.