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Who could be on the Celtics’ radar after acquiring the No. 25 pick in the NBA Draft?

The Celtics moved up from No. 35 to No. 25 amidst the trade that also brought in Kristaps Porzingis.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional- Gonzaga vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Understandably, Boston Celtics fans probably don’t have the NBA Draft at the front of their minds right now.

The Celtics just traded Marcus Smart, the longest-tenured active player and soul of the franchise, to Memphis in a stunning three-team deal that returned standout big Kristaps Porzingis from the Washington Wizards.

Those changes will receive plenty of analysis and discussion. But Boston also sent Washington its No. 35 pick in this year’s draft, while receiving both the No. 25 pick and a 2024 first-rounder from Memphis.

Suddenly, the Celtics have seriously altered their leverage on Thursday, trading up ten spots after years of trading down or out. They have only a few hours to find their guy in a potentially historic 2023 draft class — or keep the pick moving in another trade.

Though Boston increased its options by moving up, the philosophy shouldn’t change significantly. A late first-round pick isn’t the place to worry about positional need or win-now-ability. Even older prospects take time to find themselves in the league.

But team needs, from stylistic and schematic standpoints, have changed in ways we can’t fully grasp yet. The Celtics are clearly revamping their approach to both sides of the basketball and have skill gaps to fill. What exactly are those needs — and who are the right prospects to try and fill them?

Instead of listing single candidates, here are three pathways the franchise could follow tonight, with a best prospect fit and some additional options for each.

Path 1: The Perimeter Shooter-Plus

Best fit: Ben Sheppard, wing, Belmont

As shown by both the way they lost and the team they lost to, Boston lacked an off-ball shooter who consistently forced defensive attention in last year’s playoffs. Sam Hauser is a surefire sniper, but he also couldn’t stick in the rotation since he had little to offer outside of his shot, plus some defensive concerns.

It’s hard to find a sharpshooter who can keep opponents honest off the dribble and play sound team defense. Finding such a gem is tremendously valuable to the floor and ceiling of a lineup. Just look at Duncan Robinson — he made his money off of the three-ball, but re-emerged as a playoff weapon because he improved as a connector and cutter.

Sheppard, a 6-foot-5-inch star at Belmont, checks several boxes. The 21-year-old improved dramatically beyond the arc in each of his four college seasons, culminating with a 41.5% three-point clip on six attempts per game in 2022-23. He wowed at the NBA Combine and has rapidly risen during the pre-draft process.

He’s a guy teams can run off-ball screens for. He can take a dribble-hand-off and shoot it, or drive and make the correct pass. He plays defense with effort and awareness, inspiring confidence that he can at least hang in a playoff rotation.

Extra passes? Celtics fans want more of those. Here you go:

The Celtics will still be a three-point-heavy squad next year. Porzingis’s addition is an intriguing sign that the offense could work more out of the post, with Porzingis, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum, or rely on bigs setting the table at the top of the arc (points at Robert Williams). Either way, that places a premium on movement shooters who can attack closeouts.

Sheppard will have to add strength to maintain his defensive impact at the NBA level. He’s also not a burst-y athlete, though the threat of a shot should help him earn space to drive. He made a decent 60% of his attempts at the rim this season, per Barttorvik, but was much better in past years, including 67.6% in 2021-22. The hope is NBA space, plus a complementary role, allows him to shine with less pressure.

Adding a deadeye shooter with multiple additional paths to success, though, is a difficult opportunity to pass up. If Sheppard is available at No. 25, he’ll be arguably the most enticing player on the board.

Other interesting fits: Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara), Keyonte George (Baylor), Jett Howard (Michigan), Dariq Whitehead (Duke)

Path 2: The Reinvestment in Versatility

Best fit: Olivier-Maxence Prosper, wing, Marquette

Part of what makes this draft class so interesting is that this highly-coveted style of player — wings and forwards with special defensive versatility and upside in different offensive areas — is plentiful, particularly at the end of the first round. You could make a reasonable case for at least eight or nine prospects like this worth picking at No. 25, depending on your individual preferences.

Prosper has the slight edge for me. A 6-foot-7-inch wing with length (7-foot-1 wingspan) and strength (230 pounds), Prosper took a big-time leap in his junior season with Marquette, averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 62.4% on twos and 33.9% on threes.

Prosper’s ability to chase players and move laterally at his size is astounding. Oddly, he rarely blocks shots despite his length, but absorbs contact extremely well without fouling. He can blow up screen actions, track players away from the ball and switch right into a quality stop; the potential on defense is tantalizing.

Then you flip to offense, and Prosper at least has the floor of a bouncy vertical athlete who can cut and finish — something the Celtics could really use already. He made 65% of his attempts at the rim as a junior. The three-point clip is underwhelming, but not abysmal, and he’s further along as a shooter than most other prospects in his archetype.

The lingering question with Prosper is if he can make enough quality plays passing and driving to keep defenses guessing. But in a low-usage role, and with time to develop, he makes a ton of sense with Boston’s defensive history and future needs.

Like Sheppard, Prosper has been a serious pre-draft riser. It’s possible he doesn’t even last to No. 25 at this point.

Other interesting options: Noah Clowney (Alabama), Andre Jackson (Connecticut), Kobe Brown (Missouri), Colby Jones (Xavier), Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite), Julian Phillips (Tennessee), Kris Murray (Iowa)

Path 3: The Multi-tooled Guard (with a defensive foundation)

Best fit: Amari Bailey, guard, UCLA

Smart’s departure opened up an obvious positional hole at guard, though perhaps a trade, JD Davison, or Yam Madar fill out the back end. Boston always needs players who can score their own and keep the ball moving, though — particularly if Malcolm Brogdon can’t stay healthy. The glut of young guards shouldn’t stop the Celtics from taking a player who fits.

However, as we have learned with Payton Pritchard and others, every Celtics playoff rotation member has to maintain a consistent level of sound team defense. This rules quite a few prospects out.

Amari Bailey will look like a reach if Boston selects him at No. 25. Most mocks and big boards have the 6-foot-3-inch guard in the 30-45-pick range. But I’ll get on my soapbox for Bailey as one of my favorite prospects in this class.

Bailey draws some similarities to Brogdon. He’s not a ridiculous runner and leaper, but give him a driving lane and he’ll use his strength and deceptive speed to make you pay. He finishes around the basket at a high level — 65.3% at the rim this past season, with more than half coming unassisted.

As a freshman, Bailey struggled mightily with turnovers, but he improved throughout the year and really hit his stride closing the season. He also wowed at the Draft Combine with some of his reads out of the pick-and-roll, and there’s serious potential as a passer worth developing. Same goes for the shooting; the lefty only attempted 1.8 threes per game at UCLA, but made 38.9% of them, including 41.5% off the catch. So he can fit off the ball as a second-side player while still working on his on-ball playmaking.

Bailey plays really solid defense with great effort. He’s not perfect, and screen navigation is an improvement area draft analysts often point to, but he’s strong, long, and fast. Technique seems like a reasonable place to bet on when a player has the physical and mental fortitude to defend. I’d make that bet with Bailey.

Boston has leaned towards draft-and-develop guys recently between Davison, Juhann Begarin, Madar, and even Romeo Langford and Aaron Nesmith. Should the team go that route again, Bailey would be a fantastic choice to find success in some capacity.

Other interesting options: Colby Jones (Xavier), Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas), Marcus Sasser (Houston)

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