With the NBA draft just two days away, the Boston Celtics have some big decisions to make. Will they keep all four draft picks they own this year or trade up to make a splash? New rumors are flying around every day, with big names like DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge being tossed around. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck has been promising fireworks since last offseason, leaving fans hoping for the best. With all of this uncertainty, there is one thing we can be sure of: with GM Danny Ainge in charge, the team is in good hands.
Since taking over for the team in 2003, nobody has done more with less on draft night than Ainge. In his first draft, Ainge selected high school center Kendrick Perkins with the 27th overall pick. Although his career has tailed off of late, Perkins was once a starter on Boston’s 2008 championship team and a key player for years. The following year is when Danny truly showed off his drafting talents, taking another high school big man named Al Jefferson at 15. Later that round he drafted guards Delonte West and Tony Allen back to back. Used in the Kevin Garnett trade, Jefferson has gone on to average as much as 23 points and 11 rebounds per game and remains a star on the Charlotte Hornets. Both Allen and West have had strong careers as well, with the former reaching the All NBA Defensive team four times in his career.
2005’s draft of Gerald Green and Ryan Gomes was solid if not unspectacular but in 2006 Ainge’s genius struck again. Although his draft night blockbuster trade for Sebastian Telfair was a disappointment, it was two lesser moves that helped propel the Celtics to their 2008 championship. Ainge used a late first round pick on troubled Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo and a second rounder on Leon Powe. Both players played huge roles in the title run, with Powe scoring 21 points off the bench in the Celtics game 2 finals victory. Rondo went on to be a four time All Star before wearing out his welcome with the team last year.
2007 was another huge year for Ainge. After one of the worst seasons in team history, the Celtics owned the fifth overall pick in the draft. They chose Georgetown swingman Jeff Green, but in one of Ainge’s boldest moves, flipped him for Seattle star Ray Allen and a second round pick, which was used on Glen “Big Baby” Davis. This trade set up the Celtics to trade for Kevin Garnett, and was the start of one of the best teams of its era.
After quiet drafts in both 08 and 09, the Celtics selected guard Avery Bradley, who remains a starter for the team today, with the 19th pick. Two years later Ainge turned another late draft pick into a starter on this years playoff team when he drafted Ohio State big Jared Sullinger, who had dropped in the draft due to health concerns. He has also added to his young core with Kelly Olynyk, James Young and Marcus Smart in the last two years, and while the jury is still our on their careers, there has been signs of promise.
Overall very few NBA GMs have as good of a draft record as Ainge does over that time period, let alone with the late draft picks that he has been stuck with. As an example, the Los Angeles Clippers have owned picks 4, 6, 7, 8, 12, and 14 in drafts since 2003. They ended up with Chris Kaman, Shaun Livingston, Yaroslov Karolev, Al Thronton, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu, who combine for only one All Star appearance. The only GM that can touch Danny’s level of success is San Antonio’s R.C. Buford. In his tenure, the Spurs have drafted Goran Dragic, George Hill, Thiago Splitter, Leandro Barbosa, and Beno Udrih all later than pick 26.
That leads us to Thursday’s draft, an important one for Ainge and the Celtics. After bottoming out in 2013 to draft Marcus Smart, the Celtics shocked the NBA by posting the second best record in the Eastern Conference after the all star break last season, a surge that pushed them into the playoffs. The unexpected turnaround was sparked by the trade for point guard Isaiah Thomas and the teams decision to finally move on from star point guard Rajon Rondo. Now the Celtics are in an interesting place, smack in the middle of the weak Eastern Conference. With respected young coach Brad Stevens, a young core and lots of cap space, the Celtics have a chance to make good on Wyc’s promise of fireworks.
With picks 16, 28, 33, and 45 the Celtics likely have more than they can handle. The odds of four rookies making the team are very slim and I would be shocked if there wasn’t a trade Thursday night. Rumors have popped up that the Celtics are “aggressive” in trying to move up, with Ainge confirming it today saying the idea was to get “quality over quantity.” With all of this in mind here are the most likely scenarios for the draft:
Celtics Stay At 16, Draft Bobby Portis- PF- Arkansas
It remains a possibility that the Celtics won’t be successful in trading up and instead use their original pick. At this slot there are many possibilities but Bobby Portis is the most likely pick. Surprisingly the SEC player of the year was not Kentucky big men Karl Towns or Willy Cauley-Stein but rather Portis, a junior power forward from Arkansas. Portis is believed by most to be a low risk pick with less star potential than others. The versatile forward doesn’t stand out in any one category, but has less glaring weaknesses than other prospects. Perhaps his greatest strength his his mindset. Portis flies around the court making hustle plays and has a toughness to his game similar to Smart or fellow Celtic Jae Crowder.
Celtics Trade Up, Draft…
Stanley Johnson- SF- Arizona
Johnson has been called the best two way player in the draft by some GM’s. His great size and athleticism allow him to be a plus defender and he improved as a shooter over his freshman year. Johnson’s biggest issue can be his consistency and decision making. This could be a sign of a freshman adjusting to stronger competition or it could be a sign of more issues to come. The Celtics are familiar with athletic, do-it-all forwards who struggle with consistency after years with Jeff Green. Is Johnson a repeat or can he overcome those problems? The good sign is that Johnson’s work ethic and aggressiveness hasn’t been called into question, just his attention to detail.
Myles Turner- C- Texas
The seven foot freshman from Texas is the player out of this group that many see as having the highest star potential. He offers both a great jumper for a player his size and strong shot blocking ability, giving him the potential to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor. He didn’t have the greatest year at Texas and his team underperformed, but that could be due to poor coaching and team play. One other concern is his awkward running style, which makes the transition game a struggle for him. He’s thin for his size but, being one of the drafts youngest players, he has room to grow.
Willie Cauley-Stein- C- Kentucky
Cauley-Stein would have been a first round pick in either of the last two drafts, but elected to return to school and it paid off. He improved a lot as a player over his time at Kentucky and some believe he could have a Tyson Chandler like impact on a teams defense. He’s over 7 feet tall and one of the most fluid athletes in the draft. Defensively he can do it all, guarding all five positions in college from the perimeter to post, with shot blocking and stealing ability as well. Offensively Cauley-Stein doesn’t offer much. He is a great dunker out of the pick and roll, similar to Chandler or DeAndre Jordan, but he doesn’t do much beyond that. He needs to bulk up more to help him improve as a rebounder and keep his focus on the court. He has improved in that aspect and at times plays with great intensity, he just needs to get more consistent.
Theres no way of predicting Danny Ainge’s next move. He could trade up as high as the 4th pick or he could trade out of the draft all together, electing to get more established players. If I were in his place I would attempt to move up for Cauley-Stein. He has the ability to be a game changer and a great addition to the Celtics already strong defense. Still, theres only so much you can give up for a player with his lack of offensive game. I would see what he can do without giving up players like Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, who have been rumored as trade candidates. If Ainge can use his endless stash of draft picks and some lesser role players, then go for it. If not I don’t see any problem with staying put and drafting Portis. He strikes me as the type of player who has the drive and mentality to outplay his projection. It should be an exciting Thursday for Celtics fans.