Although the Boston Celtics still have a long road to the playoffs, it's never too early to scout the college players expected to enter the NBA Draft. And regardless of their recent success, the loss of floor general Rajon Rondo and rookie big man Jared Sullinger seem to amplify the 26-23 squad's needs for 2013-14 and beyond.
Widespread reports recently stated that Rondo could return from his ACL injury earlier than originally expected, possibly in four to six months. But Boston still needs a true point guard. Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee both seem more fit at the two-guard position, and Jason Terry's future in the NBA—never mind Boston—remains uncertain.
At the same time, Boston's weaknesses year in and year out start in the paint, on the post and under the boards. Last June, General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge drafted Sullinger and fellow rookie Fab Melo to improve the Celtics' dreadful rebounding and shot block statistics. However, their draft analysis drawbacks came back to haunt them, as Sullinger's back required surgery in late January and Melo has yet to develop his game to a professional level.
With March Madness right around the corner, the 2013 draft class is starting to really heat up. Keeping in mind the Celtics' projected draft position (#15-22), here's a list of the true point guards and reliable big men that fit Boston's needs, as well as their offensive and defensive schemes.
Withey (#5) could be a solid low-post presence in Boston.
With a 7'0” frame and long arms, Kansas senior Jeff Withey already stands out of the pack of expected mid-first round centers. He can defend on the block as well as off the dribble, he blocks shots very well (averaging over four per game) and he provides decent rebounding.
Offensively, he mainly limits himself to open shots around the basket. He has good hands around the block, so a Rondo, Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett dish would not slip by him unlike more uncoordinated bigs like Fab Melo.
Withey does need to work on his post-up offensive skills as well as his mid-range jump shot—but who better to mentor him than Garnett?
Speaking of KG, Withey's size and defensive prowess would immediately allow Coach Doc Rivers to put Garnett back at his true position at power forward. Less would be asked of Garnett defensively, which would ultimately preserve the soon-to-be 37-year-old veteran late in the season.
The lone drawbacks most scouts and analysts will find with Withey involve his strength and body size. He's a very light seven-footer, weighing in at 235 pounds soaking wet—and his lack of bulk down low affects his ability to box out. But weight training and practice time around veterans like Garnett and Chris Wilcox will get Withey on the right track immediately.
Withey has good instincts in the half-court offense. He also runs well for a big man and would complement the younger, speedier offensive talents Boston has nurtured through the years. Rondo and fellow speedsters Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee could really work well with such a tall, quick and intelligent center.
And everyone knows Pierce would warmly welcome a product of the Jawhawks.
Keep an eye on Mike Muscala during March Madness.
Possibly due to his relatively obscure university, Mike Muscala remains excluded from the majority of mock drafts. But after the NCAA tournament, more people will realize this kid has serious potential to be an NBA mainstay.
At 6'11” and 234 pounds, Muscala has about the same size as Withey, with a little more body weight. He provides inside-outside scoring (19 PPG), good shot blocking (2.8 BPG) and rebounding (11.5 RPG) and a high basketball IQ.
He's not as fast or as agile as Withey, but he makes up for that with a solid jump shot, skills around the basket and a solid 78 percent free-throw percentage.
The biggest impact Muscala would offer this Celtics team would be his rebounding and intelligence. He seems like an ideal candidate to fit into Boston's offensive and defensive schemes, and Rivers and the squad would have no trouble taking him under their wings.
Like Withey, one of Muscala's potential drawbacks lies in his build. Despite his intuitive rebounding skills, he's not a bruiser on the low-post offensively and he might have a little more trouble holding his ground against Dwight Howard than he would against many Bucknell opponents. Scouts and analysts also cite his lack of natural athleticism—including inconsistent hands and unreliable foot speed.
But overall, Muscala seems like a great fit for a team like the C's, who desperately need a big man but don't necessarily want to sacrifice the offensive production. If he could bulk up a bit and continue to evolve on the post, he could be Boston's version of Kevin Love. More realistically, but still acceptable given their needs, he'll probably be the next Dino Radja.
Trey Burke will continue to wow opponents and fans as a pro.
The undisputed leader of the best team in America, sophomore Trey Burke must be glad he stayed in school rather than declare for the NBA draft following his freshman year. Most analysts now have Burke as a top-20 draft pick and ESPN's Jay Bilas has cited him as the best point guard in the NCAA.
Bilas might be right. Burke has the intelligence and court vision of Rondo, with a better shooting stroke. He can score on the run if he must, or shoot from distance with relative accuracy.
But most of the time, he's busy creating for his teammates. His dribble penetration combined with his formidable passing instincts make him any teammate's best friend.
Honestly, this kid looks like he's been playing professional ball for years. Of course, it always helps to play alongside a bevy of current and future NBA prospects, including freshman big man Mitch McGary and the 21st century versions of Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson. But Burke shines brightest in his Wolverine pack. Big things await him at the next level.
The only things keeping Burke from clear lottery-pick potential (for now) are his frame (6'1”, 175 pounds) and his sometimes-shaky defense. But he mixes intelligence with pure aggression, and plays stronger than he looks. If he drops into the teens on draft night, it would be difficult for Ainge to pass him by, especially with an ailing Rondo.
Burke would be a superb future floor general for the Celtics. He takes care of the basketball, maintaining a 3.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (second in the nation). He loves to find the open man, but doesn't fall in love with the assist. He shoots 78 percent from the line. If he can improve his perimeter defense and work on his three-point range, he'd be a sure fit at the Garden.
Is it Plumlee time in Boston?
Plumlee has blossomed this season, catching the eyes of scouts across the nation with his athleticism and raw power near the rim. He's got speed and endurance for a 6'10”, 230-pound big man, and he can pass the ball efficiently.
Averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, Plumlee has been a gritty presence in Duke's painted area. However, he has also developed a short to medium range jump shot, as well as some ball-handling skills.
Plumlee serves as more of a blue-collar player than the typical power forward prospect, meaning his skills with his back to the basket have yet to develop fully. Still, his field-goal rate hovers around 60 percent, close to tops in the nation. And his struggles at the free-throw line have improved, so it might be worth it to keep an eye on the big country power forward native to Indiana (just don't offer him #33).
Of course, Plumlee might be selected before the Celtics have the opportunity to fit a team ball cap for him. If they wanted a guy with the same size, speed, and power later in the first round, they should take a look at Patric Young out of Florida.
At 6'9” and 245 pounds, Young is a powerful defender and an all-around natural athlete. Like Plumlee, his body was made for the low post of the NBA. If Young had a more polished offensive game (and stood maybe an inch or so taller), he'd be a lottery pick.
Not in Dieng's house! Will Gorgui's next home be the Garden?
It may seem a bit redundant to include three centers on this list. But considering Boston's needs as well as the rest of the pool projected to go in the mid-to-late first round, Dieng gets the nod for his size, athleticism, defense and rebounding.
Built much like Withey and Muscala (again, apologies for redundancy), Dieng harasses opponents with his 6'11”, 235-pound frame and 7'4” wingspan. Since last season, he has averaged 9.4 rebounds and a whopping 2.95 blocks a game (including five against Pittsburgh recently).
A Senegal native, Dieng looks and defends like an NBA player, slightly resembling a very young Dikembe Mutombo. His post moves, however, leave something to be desired. He still seems a little uncomfortable during many of the plays designed for him.
Of course, when he flashes confidence on the block, especially against shorter or smaller-armed defenders, he becomes dominant. He has developed a couple post moves, including a remixed version of Hakeem Olajuwon's dream shake. Well, that may be a generous description, but suffice to say his offensive game contains more glimpses of Olajuwon than Olowokandi!
Dieng has been battling a wrist injury since November, an issue that might very well scare Ainge away. But if Boston has a pick in the low to mid-20s this June, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino's big man on campus is worth major consideration. Dieng could immediately prove effective on the defensive end and on the boards, alleviating the load for Garnett and Pierce.
NOTE: A few players rest on the cusp of this list. Here are their names and an explanation of their upside/downside:
Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas: The explosive Kabongo could be a young Rondo in the making (with a jumper), but his sample size has been too small due to his lengthy NCAA suspension.
B.J. Young, PG, Arkansas: Young has great athleticism and could end up a natural scorer in the NBA, but he's not a true point guard.
Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga: A strong and quick big man with a quality offensive skill set, Olynyk would be much more intriguing to Boston if he could defend and rebound more aggressively.