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2021 draft profiles: off-ball guards

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Since Tatum and Brown are primary creators, getting more of a shot-maker than shot-creator in the backcourt would be wise for the Celtics

Loyola-Chicago v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Draft season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. It’s that time where hot takes, exhaustive rankings, unfounded rumors and jumping to conclusions off little information is the daily routine.

For Boston Celtics fans, it also marks the first NBA Draft in 18 years where Danny Ainge isn’t seated at the head of the table. Brad Stevens slides down a few seats, tasked now with constructing a roster built to win around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Stevens knows the cupboard isn’t bare and there’s a clear playoff team here, which is why he moved out of the first round to offload Kemba Walker and make aggressive moves this summer.

That doesn’t mean the Celtics will stay out of the first round, though. Other moves or deals could be on the horizon. Which players stand out as potential fits to trade back in for? What positions do they need? Between now and the NBA Draft on July 29th, we’ll bring you answers to all those questions. We recently set the table for this discussion by previewing some of the Celtics’ most glaring needs this summer.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are undoubtedly the team’s two best long-term prospects, players and creators. As both continue to evolve with the ball in their hands, surrounding them with teammates who accentuate their strengths is paramount to the C’s maximizing their potential. Successful teams of the last decade have rebuilt their backcourt around wing superstars, prioritizing shooting from the guard spot and defensive versatility. George Hill with the Indiana Pacers helped flank Paul George when they made multiple Eastern Conference Finals runs, Mario Chalmers did the same for the big three Miami Heat, and Patty Mills has been a mainstay for the San Antonio Spurs in that spot.

The game has changed over the last decade to the point where backcourt players don’t need to be full-time table-setters. This draft class has plenty of guards who are capable with the ball in their hands but provide the most value as someone who isn’t the first option. Their ability to play multiple positions is why they have so much value to a team like the Celtics.

Jared Butler - 6’3” combo guard, Baylor

Butler was a first team All-American at Baylor and lead them to a national championship. From a basketball standpoint, Butler is the ultimate fit in Boston. He shot over 50% on his catch-and-shoot jumpers last year, has a really tight handle to create when he’s asked to and is a plus defender. The fit is fantastic.

There’s some holdup with Butler’s draft status due to medical red flags that showed up at the combine due to a pre-existing heart condition. That could really alter his draft stock, either dropping him out of the first round or becoming undrafted entirely.

Let’s proceed as if Butler gets a clean bill of health and can play in the NBA. At 6’3”, he’s a little small to be a full-time 2-guard. That said, his defensive prowess and off-ball scoring on offense is crucial next to Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart. When they rest, Butler can anchor the second unit out of the pick-and-roll. He loves double high ball screens. Butler tested the draft waters last year and got the feedback that he needed to improve his self-creation ability. Well, he did that and became an elite step-back scorer.

The health and wellness piece is a priority for Butler before talking about how the Celtics could go about acquiring him. If healthy, I’d expect him to be available in the later part of the first round, if not the early second.

Ayo Dosunmu - 6’5” combo guard, Illinois

A player more in the Celtics range at the end of the first round or early second, Dosunmu has put together an impressive resume of shot-making and offensive creation at Illinois. Long and with a 6’9” wingspan, he’s able to guard up, play off-ball and fit into Boston’s scheme. Ayo feels a little slept on: he was the engine behind a #1 seed in the Big Ten, making great plays out of the pick-and-roll. There could be a really good pickup at the combo guard spot here if Brad Stevens and the front office are angling for one.

The biggest plus about Dosunmu in my mind is his defense. Adding a switchable backcourt presence who can play out of the pick-and-roll when Tatum and Brown sit is purely threading the needle on what the Celtics need. Dosunmu was also a capable, albeit mundane, spot-up threat, making 36.2% of his catch-and-shoot jumpers in the half-court. It’s good enough to fit next to the core but not necessarily be the strength of his game.

It’s easy to fall in love with the fit of a guy like Keon Johnson or Jared Butler in Boston. But Dosunmu provides a lot of the same outcomes without needing the draft capital to trade up to get him. If he’s available early in the second, he’d be a great guy to target.

Jaden Springer - 6’4” combo guard, Tennessee

An NBA-ready body from an 18-year-old who shot 43.5% from 3 as a freshman in the SEC?

If life were only that simple. Jaden Springer is one of the hardest prospects to peg because of his inconsistent production, two-foot jumping insistence and low volume of shooting from 3. There are some who believe he is a lottery pick, and others who push him to the bottom of the first round. If Springer slides, he provides the combination of upside, defensive versatility and high IQ that Stevens has proven to love in the past.

The most important thing to figure out with Springer before trading up for him is how much you buy the jump shot. His volume (46 attempts in 25 games) is fairly low, especially for a role that is primarily off-ball. If the jumper looks good, he’s a 3-and-D backcourt guy who has an awesome frame and makes really nice PNR reads.

The area I’m highest on with Springer is in how he creates for others. He looks really comfortable with the ball in his hands, to the point where I’d feel content with he and Payton Pritchard running the team’s second unit. He and Smart are a smothering, physical backcourt.

Springer’s defense is what raises his floor, the shooting is what raises his ceiling. I currently have a second-round grade for Springer and think he’d be a guy for the C’s to target if he slides on Draft Night. With a need for a little more proven shot-making around Brown and Tatum, there would be risk in getting into the first round just to take Springer.