I know, I know... we’re all so invested in this postseason run. The Celtics entire franchise should be focused on winning games and competing for an NBA championship right now. Coaches, players, support staff — the opportunity they find themselves in currently is what they work their entire lives for.
The scouts on staff? Their job doesn’t stop or change just because the Celtics are making such a deep run. Last week, the entire scouting community descended upon Chicago for the 2022 NBA Draft Combine. Executives and scouting representatives from all 30 teams got to meet with prospects in interview settings, watch them workout in empty gyms, get official measurement and testing information, gather relevant medical background, and see some of them compete in 5v5 scrimmages and drills.
The combine, albeit overrated in terms of the public-facing part of the week, is a gold mine of information for these scouts and an important step in gathering intel on who they will target (and ultimately select) in the upcoming draft.
The Boston Celtics may not have a first-round pick in this year’s cycle, but that doesn’t mean the combine was of no interest or importance to them. Boston currently is slated to utilize the 53rd pick in the draft, a position that rarely returns immediate impact but can, on occasion, bear fruit. Last year, Aaron Wiggins went 55th and played over 1,000 minutes for the Oklahoma City Thunder as a rookie. Two years ago, Paul Reed went 58th to the Sixers and played important postseason minutes for the organization this season. Other recent selections in the fifties include Charlotte’s Jalen McDaniels (2019), Shake Milton (2018), and Monte Morris (2017). Every draft seems to produce one sleeper in that portion of the round.
How Brad Stevens and the organization choose to attack the draft will be influenced by the decisions made around international prospects Yam Madar and Juhann Begarin. Both were second-round picks in years prior who may come to Boston and make an impact.
Regardless, Celtics fans should familiarize themselves with a few targets worth noting in the later parts of the second round who could be that guy to come in and play right away. At the very least, understanding the changing landscape after the draft combine helps clarify the picture of who will be available when the C’s are on the clock.
Two big risers now out of Celtics range
Jalen Williams, Santa Clara
No prospect did more to help their stock at the NBA Draft Combine than Williams. He measured with an absurd 7’2” wingspan, was the clear best player in 5v5 scrimmage play, and helped his perception as a competitor by participating in those scrimmages when so many other prospects chose not to. Williams tested well athletically, has a great deal of upside and pretty much solidified himself as a first-round pick.
Williams would have been an exquisite fit with the Celtics. He’s a big shot-maker (39% from 3 last year), can create his own, makes awesome reads as a passer, and is long and athletic enough to be a solid, switchable defender. Unfortunately for Boston fans, he likely played himself out of their selection range and will be widely considered a first-round pick.
Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest
For years, the Celtics have been looking through the draft for more 3-point shooting on the wings to surround Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. While Aaron Nesmith and Carsen Edwards have not materialized, that doesn’t mean the pursuit of such a player isn’t the right one to take moving forward.
LaRavia fits the bill here: he’s a sweet-shooting big wing with a set form. He isn’t a great movement threat, but he definitely can be a sniper who is active on defense and moves the ball on offense.
Similarly to Jalen, it feels like LaRavia has moved into first round territory, too. He was scheduled to play in the 5v5 scrimmages at the combine but backed out the day before, likely due to his comfort level with the projected draft ranges NBA teams had him pegged at. Guys don’t shut it down like that if there’s a chance they can fall to the 50's. LaRavia’s momentum is trending upward, and that’s only a bad sign for Boston.
Three great fits from the combine
When we think about the Celtics’ style of play moving forward, there are some key components to finding the perfect role players. Switchability and versatile defense is one: strength, quickness, IQ and the ability to guard many positions. Shooting is another: spacing the floor around the stars on a nightly basis really matters.
A few guys stood out from the combine who are perfect fits for accomplishing these tasks.
Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers
Yes, the son of former NBA champion Ron Harper is our leading candidate to fit in Beantown. The name recognition conjures up images of a big point guard who could score it and use his body well. The junior version, coming out of Rutgers, is a positionless brick wall with massively long arms coming off a season going 40% from 3. He was made in a lab for Ime Udoka’s defensive scheme.
Harper recently turned 22, so he’s an older rookie who would be meant to come in and play a minor bench role right away. The sweet shooting, combined with physical driving where he can finish through guys, is important. Harper played well at the Combine but didn’t blow anyone away, meaning he’s unlikely to crack the first round. He’s a prime target to be honed in on if available in the Celtics’ range.
Jaylin Williams, Arkansas
Think of Jaylin Williams as a poor man’s Al Horford. The similarities are clear: Jaylin isn’t the biggest post player, but his IQ and feel carry him to success on both ends. He led the nation in charges drawn, has some switchability and locks down the paint. He’s a tenacious rebounder, solid shot blocker and makes excellent rotations. Defensively, he’s ready to play right away and could be a bargain of a replacement for Grant Williams down the line.
Williams isn’t as polished offensively as some other prospects, especially in the frontcourt. He doesn’t have great shooting range, nor the athletic burst to score at the rim. But he impacts the game as a passer and playmaker, especially from the top of the key. Running offense from there, the same way the Celtics do through Horford, has proven successful. Williams may be the right type of swing to make on a protege for the aging Boston linchpin and a worthy developmental gamble at 53.
Alondes Williams, Wake Forest
Williams has a cult following on Draft Twitter due to the joyous nature of his passing and play style. He certainly has a flair for the dramatic, making high-IQ passes, cross-court dimes and finishing with power and touch at the hoop.
Alondes burst onto the scene this year at Wake Forest after a quiet two-year stint at Oklahoma. He played the de facto point guard for the Demon Deacons and shouldered a rather large load of offensive creation. Where Alondes struggles is shooting the ball. His form isn’t terrible, but it needs small tweaks in order for him to become a dependable floor-spacer.
In shooting drills at the combine, Alondes performed fairly well and flashed a decently smooth release in the 5v5 scrimmages. If the Celtics buy the improvements on that front, he’d be a really good fit in the C’s system. Another ball-mover who can guard multiple spots due to his big body would be welcomed in Beantown.
Other names worth monitoring: Jordan Hall, St. Joseph’s; Tyrese Martin, Connecticut; Isaiah Mobley, USC; Trevion Williams, Purdue
According to our friends at DraftKings, here are the draft odds for the first five picks of the 2022 NBA Draft:
- Jabari Smith Jr. (-275)
- Chet Holmgren (-275)
- Paolo Banchero (-500)
- Jaden Ivy (-300)
- Keegan Murray (-120)
It’s very unlikely that Boston will have a crack at the top-5, but who knows? Brad Stevens has worked wonders with the Celtics roster since last summer and if he has his eye on someone that he thinks will contribute to a championship team, everything is on the table.
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