The Boston Celtics have reportedly shown interest in both Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond. Their greatest position of need is a wing, but that doesn’t mean wings are available. Should the Celtics give up any assets to improve their front court in a trade, or is it best to hold onto everything and scour the buyout market?
Vucevic has two years remaining on his deal after this season, with each year being cheaper than the last. He’s owed $26 million this season, $24 million the next, and $22 million in 2022-23. It’ll be a long time before the Celtics ever have cap space, but every dime spent is accounted for in the NBA, so maybe his declining deal will have some relevance down the road.
His impressive rebounding numbers have become increasingly slanted towards defensive rebounding throughout his career. Basketball Reference has the Celtics ranked fifth overall in offensive rebounding and 25th in defensive rebounding. Individual rebounding stats generally don’t mean anything to me, but I could see Vucevic as a slight improvement on the boards if Boston were to get him, mostly because the Celtics don’t have a lot of height. Thompson is the Celtics’ leading rebounder right now, which frankly says more about the Celtics than it does about Thompson.
Offensively, Vucevic appears to be a massive upgrade, but does that mean he’ll be just as effective in a diminished role? Vucevic alone cannot inject life into a stagnant offense. That’s not a slight at Vooch, but more of my own grumbling at how the Celtics don’t have a great offensive system.
If the Celtics trade significant assets to acquire an All-Star, and then subject that player to standing at the top of the arc waiting for their turn to shoot, we’re entering disaster scenarios when that player’s contract is up in 2023 after mortgaging the future on a losing bet. If Vucevic had more of an Al Horford skill set where he can manufacture some of his own offense while creating opportunities for his teammates, I wouldn’t worry about his role, but I don’t see how he fits in without those tools.
The price to get him would probably be Kemba Walker and picks, which is not a deal I would even consider. However, I would consider tossing a young player and a couple future firsts to Orlando because Vucevic will be 31 in his contract season when Jayson Tatum is 25 and Jaylen Brown is 26. It would be really testing the boundaries of Boston’s ideal championship timeline, but it’s not unthinkable to think that would be a strong contention year.
Andre Drummond does not fit into Boston’s TPE, and is therefore not a trade candidate. However, if Cleveland never finds a suitable trade partner, he would likely become a buyout market candidate.
Drummond’s free throw percentage has stabilized around 60%, which is pretty bad. The Celtics have had issues closing games with Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams on the floor because of how easily their opponents can interrupt their already-struggling offense by sending one of them to the free throw line. Boston’s offense is mostly designed to succeed in the playoffs, where clutch free throw shooting becomes even more important. If Drummond can’t close playoff games, I don’t see much point to adding him.
The rest of his offensive game doesn’t get any better than his free throw shooting. I don’t know how this flew under my radar for so long, but his shooting numbers are remarkably poor. Not every center needs to start shooting threes to become a good offensive player, but the problem with Drummond is that he doesn’t shoot threes and he’s still inefficient. Robert Williams and Daniel Theis are Boston’s most efficient scorers (remember: efficient does not mean explosive) at .722 and .639 true shooting percentage respectively. Their high numbers are pretty self-explanatory.
Rob’s point are almost entirely dunks and layups. Theis’ shot profile is a little more diverse, but most of his attempts come within 10 feet or from three, where he shoots 37% on a couple attempts per game. About 95% of Drummond’s field goal attempts come within 10 feet on the basket, and yet his true shooting is at .500. And if you’re tired of being inundated with advanced stats, Drummond is a center who doesn’t shoot from distance and is also shooting under 50% for the season. Don’t be swayed by his consistent 17 points per game output if it takes him 15 shots and five free throw attempts to get there.
It’s true that Drummond grabs a million rebounds. I just don’t know how you can look at that and find the strength to ignore everything else. He fails the eye test and the stats test pretty easily.
I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking Nikola Vucevic would make the Celtics significantly better. I’m not convinced it’s the right fit, but I don’t have enough evidence to say it wouldn’t work. Drummond is out of the question. I’m not negotiating this point at all. He has no business shooting under 50% as someone who takes 95% of their shots within 10 feet.
I would much rather the Celtics offer whatever assets they can part with to make a play for Harrison Barnes and take care of a position of greater need at the wing. My other worry is that I suspect teams will begin to ask for Robert Williams as Boston’s best asset in trades, which isn’t a piece I would readily part with if the player they get in return doesn’t accelerate Boston’s championship contention timeline.
I’ve mentioned in other articles that I’m all in on Horford, which might be my most insane take in a long time. Horford’s playmaking would make a big difference in Brad’s offense because we wouldn’t have to change anything to accommodate his skillset. Just give him the ball and he’ll help our other guys cook.