Ever since Brad Stevens pulled the trigger on the trade sending Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford, Celtics’ plans for the draft have changed. Involved in that deal was Boston’s 16th overall selection in the 2021 NBA Draft, which is now in the possession of the Thunder. Without that pick, Boston won’t be on the clock until 45th overall, drastically dropping their odds of finding an immediate impact player to come in and help right away.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t players out here I don’t like for Boston. A few names have already come up in draft previews, such as Quentin Grimes out of Houston or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl from Villanova. They have wider draft ranges, where they could be available at 45 or go as high as the first round.
There are also a few names within reason that could fall to the Celtics at #45 who have incredibly high ceilings. If there isn’t the win-now type of guy who gels with this roster on the clock, don’t be surprised for the C’s to go the long-term route and take a filer on a riskier proposition.
We’ll go over just a few names who we believe fit the Celtics within each category, prioritizing guys who are most likely to still be around when the C’s are on the clock and wouldn’t require a trade-up.
The Earlier Impact Names
Herb Jones - 6’7” athlete, Alabama
Jones is a defensive whiz kid, a truly multi-positional lockdown defender who would survive in the NBA guarding the 1 thru 4 spots. He’s a high-IQ offensive player as well, averaging a ton of assists for a frontcourt guy and being able to handle in the open court.
As a four-year college player, Jones comes in as a fairly polished product in the areas he’s good at, while having clear downsides that scouts are losing faith in seeing improve. To start, he’s heavily left-hand dominant and rarely does anything off the bounce going to his right. I have a hard time seeing him become a trusted, reliable creator in the NBA as a result. Jones also took advantage of his instincts and had a long leash to make gambles off-ball at Alabama. Hopefully that won’t translate to overly aggressive habits.
The biggest flaw for Jones is in his jump shot. He is not a 3-point shooter on high volume, although his senior year at Alabama showed drastic improvement in his willingness to take them. If he turns into a consistent 3-and-D guy by making open shots, he’d be able to play a role as a Swiss Army knife defender within Boston’s switchable scheme.
Joe Wieskamp - 6’7” wing, Iowa
Another guy who pretty much is who he is, Wieskamp is that specialty shooter who doesn’t seem to be sniffing the first round. He measured and played well at the NBA Draft Combine, built around his impressive length (6’11” wingspan) and strong 3-point shooting display in live play.
Wieskamp can drill shots in pretty much any fashion: standstill, on the move and isn’t terrible off the bounce. He comes in with enough season that he can likely log a few minutes as a specialty shooter if the Celtics needed it.
The downside to Wieskamp: pretty poor defense. It’s what keeps him out of first-round discussions and why he’d be a target at 45th overall. To call Wieskamp a sieve would be a bit of an overstatement, though he hasn’t done much to prove that he’s definitively not a sieve. Iowa was known as one of the worst defensive groups in the country last year. I’d have my doubts about Wieskamp ever logging more than 8-12 minutes a night on a good team.
Joel Ayayi - 6’5” combo guard, Gonzaga
Because he’s 21 years old, Ayayi gets lumped into the group of more ready-to-play prospects. He was outstanding at Gonzaga in a hybrid on-ball and off-ball role, pairing exceptional shooting numbers (38.9% shooting from deep) with wonderful cutting ability that makes him the right type of fit in the backcourt.
My doubts about Ayayi making an instant impact in Boston are centered around the team’s need for more short-term ball handling. Ayayi’s effective because he is more off-ball than on-ball creation. There isn’t a ton of evidence over his time at Gonzaga that points to him being ready for primary creation responsibilities.
All that said, Ayayi is long for a guard and projects as a solid defender. He won in college and that almost always counts for something when a former coach is in charge of decision-making for your franchise. He’s a prime target for Boston at 45.
Kessler Edwards - 6’8” forward, Pepperdine
Edwards certainly has his fans in draft circles. He’s had a ton of success defensively and looked like one of the most polished help defenders in available pre-draft scrimmages. At 6’8” with a seven-foot wingspan, he can come in and switchably mesh into the defensive principles that maximize Tatum and Brown. In fact, Edwards is more of a stretch-4 than anything else, meaning he’d push Tatum down a rung positionally and allow him to feast on smaller guys at times.
Buying Edwards as anything on offense means buying into the jump shot. The numbers point to its success: 39.5% from 3 for his career on nearly 400 attempts. But the eye test shows funky, long mechanics that require time to get off and do not translate whatsoever to scoring off the dribble.
The help defense makes Edwards playable early in his career because he is rarely out of position. The shooting gives him solid 3-and-D upside, and he certainly wouldn’t be a reach at 45.
The Long Game
Jason Preston - 6’4” point guard, Ohio
So many people are falling in love with Preston during the pre-draft process. Get to know a little bit about his background and it’s easy to see why: his narrative is that of a Disney movie.
Separate rooting for him from evaluating him for a second and you see a prospect with clear flaws that accompany a really high ceiling. If he’s ever able to shoot the ball consistently and reach a higher level of athleticism, the Celtics could find a player with a special amount of feel buried in the second round.
Preston is incredibly manipulative out of the pick-and-roll. Standing 6’4” with a really large wingspan, he can get away with playing the slow-mo hostage dribble game off ball screens, similar to that of Kyle Anderson or old-school Mark Jackson. As a catch-and-shoot prospect, there’s some definite upside to Preston playing off-ball as well.
But Preston will have his defensive struggles at the point of attack. A switching team like Boston might be best for him. Preston is fairly polarizing as a draft pick; some think he has first round upside while others may not consider him even at 45. The need for athletic growth probably means it takes a year or two to figure out which camp is right.
Vrenz Bleijenbergh - 6’10” athlete, Antwerp Giants
This year’s international man of mystery is a 6’10” positionless Belgian wonder who can handle, create and shoot. The unique blend of traits he’s shown at the mere age of 20 has earned Vrenz a lot of diehard believers that he’s a gem hidden in plain sight. With a ton of offensive upside and little mainstream buzz about being a first-round selection, it seems entirely possible that Bleijenbergh is still on the clock when the Celtics are up at 45.
Vrenz is a little thin for a 20-year-old and still might be growing. A fluid 6’10” with guard skills, there’s no real position label that can do his game justice. He shoots it well off movement and off the dribble. Essentially, he’s an offensive cheat code if he translates every skill he’s shown to the NBA.
There’s a lot of work to be done defensively and in filling out his frame. I’d be shocked to see Bleijenbergh play rotation minutes next season, though it’s easy to see and understand the long-term appeal of his game.