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Austin Ainge on draft: “need is a bad evaluator”

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No matter where they wind up selecting, the Celtics will have to balance the need to fill out their roster with the realities of who might be available with their pick.

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Armed with a trio of first-round picks (No. 14, 26 and 30) in the upcoming draft, the Boston Celtics have been a prime candidate to package those picks in an effort to move up into the top-10.

We now have an idea who such a pursuit might be for. According to’s Sean Deveney, “the Celtics have been enamored with Auburn wing Isaac Okoro all year and would target him if they move up and he is on the board.” Okoro is a lanky wing defender whose defensive switchability would do wonders for plenty of teams. But are the Celtics one of them?

Boston’s success in 2019-20 stemmed primarily from the trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. All three could dribble, pass and shoot on offense while guarding multiple positions on defense, making the Celtics that much more versatile at both ends.

Assuming Hayward opts into his $34.1 million player option, all three will be back next season. Along with Marcus Smart filling in some wing minutes, that doesn’t leave Okoro with much playing time to make the type of impact that justifies whatever pick the Celtics would use to bring him in. Not when there are so clearly other areas around the roster that could use an upgrade.

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

A backup to Kemba Walker seems more pressing than ever given the 30-year-old’s injury issues, for which one mock draft has the Celtics selecting Cole Anthony. Another has RJ Hampton brought in to spark the second-worst scoring second unit in the league last season. And because Boston can never have too many experiments at the center position, perhaps Precious Achiuwa is given the chance to earn that spot moving forward.

“We are trying to do good deals, not just deals,” Danny Ainge explained in a Zoom call with the media last Wednesday. “I know there are a lot of opinions on what we should and shouldn’t do, but it’s hard to get deals done.”

The Celtics are not your average lottery participants desperately seeking the highest upside to help get them to the playoffs. Coming off a run to the Eastern Conference Finals, their needs are specific and addressable through this draft.

Why swing for the fences with Okoro when a single is all you need? Ainge might view this pick as a set up for a trade down the line. Or maybe he’s of the belief that supreme talent figures out a way to mesh. Boston’s Director of Player Personnel certainly thinks so.

“As they say,” explained Austin Ainge. “Need is a bad evaluator.”

Every draft selection must be made with a balance between selecting the best player available and filling a positional need. Too much of the former could do more harm than good for teams with a core already in place. Leaning more toward the latter is the safer bet, but one that might reek of a reach the smart teams avoid by trading back to obtain assets they wouldn’t otherwise have while getting the player they always coveted.

“It’s not a great draft, but it’s a deep draft,” Danny Ainge said. “Not every rookie is the same. Not every rookie is a 19 or 20-year-old. Some are ready to step in and play a role. That will be a factor with these picks.”

2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

These normal draft night tasks seem nearly impossible for a class that offers little indication of who will be taken No. 1 overall and the order that will follow. Evaluations are made even more difficult considering the limited availability of the in-person information that can ultimately swing a team’s decision, the type that compelled Ainge to acquire Rajon Rondo in the 2006 draft.

If Okoro is the target for Boston, it might simply be an acknowledgement of these unique circumstances that await the entire NBA on Wednesday night.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Ainge said. “That’s why we scout all year, and watch players throughout the course of the season, and try to prepare for this moment.”

“There’s a lot of unknown factors. Draft day, the 19th and the 20th are gonna be crazy. We’ll be resting up and ready for that battle.”