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March Madness: Celtics prospects to watch for

Based on roster needs and draft capital, who are some reasonable college players to get familiar with?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Happy March Madness, everyone!

It’s those few days of the year where college basketball really supplants the NBA as the epicenter of the sport’s intrigue. Some come for the Cinderella upsets. Others tune in for the betting odds and bracket challenges.

Many of us NBA diehards jump into March Madness to get a sneak peek at those prospects who will someday be donning the threads of our favorite franchise. For any of you Celtics fans out there who fall into this category: this is for you.

Who should the Celtics be targeting in the draft? Based on withdraw dates, combines and workouts, or seeing what gets exposed from a personnel standpoint in the postseason, it’s too early to make a definitive determination on what is top priority to address. That said, there are plenty of names who we know will be targeted and already fit into the holes apparent on this roster.

Considering the C’s traded away their 2022 first-rounder for Derrick White, we are looking more at a second-round selection than the bigger names with lottery hopes. However, this is a unique draft class that is fairly light on certain first-round talent. If the right player is there at the Celtics fall in love with, the asking price to trade into the late-20s on Draft Night may not be too high.

What does this Celtics team need? Shooting is something an NBA team can never have too much of, and if the C’s want to compete right away, specialty shooters can come in and make immediate impacts. Another big man (who can stretch the floor) would be welcomed. More than anything, any draft selection should be made with the idea of preserving Ime Udoka’s switch-everything defensive identity. Smaller guards, stiffer bigs or low-IQ help defenders do little to help this group chase a championship.

Sprinkle in two international guys in Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin, both of whom the C’s have the draft rights to and could be headed to Boston sooner than later, and the guard spot feels like one to avoid. We’re looking for wings, shooting and defensive IQ.

It just so happens we can find a few of them in the NCAA Tournament.

David Roddy, Colorado State

Game time: Thur. 3/17 vs. Michigan - 12:15pm (CBS)

The first game of the tournament features one of our favorite draft sleepers in David Roddy. At 6’5” and 245 pounds, Roddy is a mismatch nightmare. The Rams, the 6-seed in their region who went 25-5 in the regular season, found success playing small, spreading teams out and letting Roddy feast on mismatches. Put a smaller guy on him and he operates out of the post where he’s shooting 56% and getting 25% of his points from.

Put a bigger guy on Roddy and watch him use improved shooting (45.5% from 3 this year) and strong finishing (71.5% finisher at the rim) to convert. He’s a scoring machine, a sturdy defender and the guy they play through in crunch time.

Roddy doesn’t have a true position — he’s just a scorer who can make plays happen. Adding a ready-made NBA body that can guard multiple positions and drill shots from deep would be huge for the Celtics. Roddy projects as a second-round prospect firmly within their range.

Julian Strawther, Gonzaga

Game time: Thur. 3/17 vs. Georgia State - 4:15pm (TNT)

A classic 3-and-D wing, Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther will have plenty of opportunities to grace your television set throughout the month. The Zags are the top team in the tournament and a heavy betting favorite to go to the Final Four. A strong-bodied 6’7”, Strawther is a triple shy from being 40% from 3 on really high volume (4.6 attempts per game). He’s an efficient finisher, a solid defender and a very good rebounder for his position.

Strawther is on the fence about declaring for the draft. He’s only a sophomore, and returning to Gonzaga could give him a Corey Kispert-esque lift as an upperclassman, jumping from draftable prospect to lottery pick. He’d be a great fit in Boston due to his length, shot-making and low-maintenance approach on offense. Having a guy who can blend in can only help this group next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Caleb Love, North Carolina

Game time: Thur. 3/17 vs. Marquette - 4:30pm (TBS)

At the same time as Gonzaga’s first-round matchup is an even matchup between North Carolina and Marquette. Carolina doesn’t have their traditional top-tier prospects this year, instead headlined by sophomore Caleb Love. Love’s trajectory through his time in Chapel Hill has changed quite a bit. A top-five hopeful out of high school, he was horrendous his freshman season.

Fortunes have changed for Love as a sophomore. The 6’4” guard is shooting 37% from 3-point range and can get hot in a hurry. He hits off spot-ups, off the bounce and running off screens.

Love is not a very good passer, nor an efficient finisher. He has his warts, which is why he’s likely to be available in the second round. But he’s a big guard who can shoot, and that matters a great deal for Boston in terms of archetypes. Plus, Love is from St. Louis, so that connection with Jayson Tatum can never hurt...

Isaiah Mobley, USC

Game time: Fri. 3/18 vs. Miami (FL) - 3:10pm (TruTV)

This is not a typo. If the name looks familiar, it’s because there’s a family bond already existing in the NBA. Isaiah is the older brother of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley, a junior averaging 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Both Mobleys are strong passers, long-armed seven-footers and helped USC to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s about where the comparisons end. While Evan is helping Cleveland with insane defensive ability, athleticism, shot blocking and dominant finishing, Isaiah is much more of an offensive threat through pick & pops (35.3% from 3) and does not protect the rim at a high rate (only 0.9 blocks per game). If the C’s want to add a legitimate stretch-5 with good length and defensive versatility, Mobley makes a ton of sense:

An acquired taste, Mobley is squarely in the 45-60 range on Draft Night, barring a big jump he takes in March. The Trojans face the Miami Hurricanes on Friday, a team that runs a 5-out offense. To see how Mobley guards in space and on smaller, more skilled guys, make sure you tune into this first-round matchup.

Hyunjung Lee, Davidson

Game time: Fri. 3/18 vs. Michigan State - 9:40pm (CBS)

A shooting specialist wing of the highest order, Lee gets a primetime matchup against legitimate NBA athleticism and size in Michigan State to prove himself to scouts at the next level. Lee is a big 6’7” with long arms and a competitive streak on defense. He won’t jump out as the quickest cat but he’s good with angles, tries hard and understands his limitations. He’s very, very smart on both ends.

On offense, Davidson runs a ton of movement sets, so Lee rarely stops jogging around throughout the game. It’s easy to envision him in screening actions with the Celtics as a result and seeing the gravity he possesses help others get open.

The Celtics could use a reliable shooter. Recent draft picks in Carsen Edwards and Aaron Nesmith have been underwhelming from behind the arc, though the process under Brad Stevens remains strong: get a lights-out shooter next to Tatum and Brown, and the offense can really open up.

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