10 NBA Draft Prospects Boston Celtics Should Eye This Season

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2014

10 NBA Draft Prospects Boston Celtics Should Eye This Season

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    Can the Celtics sink low enough to grab Embiid?
    Can the Celtics sink low enough to grab Embiid?Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    With 29 losses already on their ledger, it is looking more and more likely that the Boston Celtics will be in the NBA's draft lottery this summer.

    Of course, this would seemingly come with the territory of trading away three of your top-five scorers and head coach for a bevy of future assets and contract fodder. Getting just a half season from Rajon Rondo won't help either.

    June's draft is something Danny Ainge and the Celtics have had their eye on for some time. As college hoops nears its midway point, we can begin to evaluate the top picks and who might land in New England for 2014-15 and beyond.

    In a recent chat with the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett, Ainge stated the importance of drafting well.

    I’ve always believed that you build through the draft. And whether those drafted players are Al Jefferson, who you love, and Delonte West, who we developed and loved, and then move them for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — or whether those draft picks turn into Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce and they’re with you forever.

    Boston has a few specific needs right now. Given the news that Ainge is interested in extending Rondo, it is unlikely the Celtics will be too interested in drafting a point guard in the lottery.

    Depending on their feelings on Jared Sullinger's breakout season, they may look away from the power forward position as well.

    However, when it comes to a legitimate center, scoring guard or small forward, the Celtics should be all ears. Before that, though, they need to be all eyes on these prospects.

Joel Embiid, University of Kansas

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Rapidly rising the charts, with many now predicting him as the No. 1 pick, the Boston Celtics' eyes should start with Joel Embiid.

    The University of Kansas freshman is posting modest averages of 11.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks but is doing so on just 5.9 field-goal attempts in 22.9 minutes per game.

    Evaluating bigs like Embiid in the college game is about a lot more than numbers. The 7'0" center has a wingspan of 7'5" and worlds of athleticism. Both aspects are immediately noticeable watching him move in transition or bodying up to an opponent in the paint.

    The Celtics still have a gaping hole on the roster at center, where Kris Humphries is seeing regular minutes. It will still be a long shot for them to land the No. 1 pick in June, but if they do, Embiid is definitely worth a long look.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana University

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Sticking with the idea of Danny Ainge looking to fill that center hole, the Boston Celtics may be more likely to get a shot at Noah Vonleh.

    While Embiid may be playing himself out of the Celtics' lottery range, Vonleh could be a decent consolation prize. The Indiana University freshman is from Massachusetts, just north of Boston, and played prep school ball in New Hampshire.

    Vonleh has produced eight double-doubles thus far for the Hoosiers, posting averages of 12.4 points and 9.4 rebounds. At 6'10", he may not have the shot-blocking, defensive center potential of Embiid, but he still looks like a very solid future big.

    On a side note, he has a decent jump shot, hitting 10-of-18 from beyond the arc. He is also a 72.1 percent free-throw shooter.

    If he projects as more of a power forward at the next level, Ainge may move on, but Vonleh is worth keeping an eye on as Boston is still so small up front.

Willie Cauley-Stein, University of Kentucky

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    If the Boston Celtics are unable or unwilling to chase the hyper-athletic and monstrous bodies of a Noah Vonleh or Joel Embiid, they may look toward a more traditional center in Willie Cauley-Stein.

    The University of Kentucky sophomore also may be more available should the Celtics start winning some games and head to the back of the lottery. With Rajon Rondo back in the fold, that may start happening after he gets his game legs under him.

    Cauley-Stein has been consistent from Year 1 to Year 2 of his collegiate career, now posting averages of eight points and seven rebounds. He has upped his blocks to 3.2 per game, as he understands spacing and timing a bit more in his second go-round. He has also grasped the idea of going straight up to block shots, which keeps them inbounds, turning them into transition starters for the Wildcats.

    Just because his wingspan (7'2.5") doesn't startle you like Embiid or Vonleh's, doesn't mean Cauley-Stein can't get up there or be the factor they are on both ends. He can handle passes in the paint and finish. He doesn't have stone hands.

    As a center, if Boston finishes just out of the playoffs this season, Cauley-Stein may be the most realistic option.


Andrew Wiggins, University of Kansas

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Whether Andrew Wiggins is declaring for the draft or not is irrelevant right now. The Boston Celtics need to do their due diligence regardless of what may happen over the next four months. 

    Wiggins is still an elite prospect, though his stock may have fallen slightly in recent weeks. Wiggins has posted a few duds this season but for the most part has been a large factor for Kansas' success. The Jayhawks have won four straight games, all against ranked teams, and in all but one, Wiggins has been big.

    He owns averages of 15.1 points and 6.2 rebounds but hasn't set the collegiate world aflame like it was thought he may. A large part of that may have to do with his stacked Kansas team.

    With all that said, Wiggins is still going to go in the top few picks, if the freshman star doesn't return for a second year, so Boston may have trouble getting him anyway.

    The Celtics are currently paying big money to two small forwards. Both Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace are under contract likely through 2015-16. However, if Wiggins is on the table, Ainge would be hard-pressed to pass him up.

Jabari Parker, Duke University

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Though the Boston Celtics do have a logjam at the power forward spot right now and are hoping for the best of Jared Sullinger to emerge consistently, it would be silly to ignore Jabari Parker.

    The Duke freshman may be a power forward but also has some small forward game in him thanks to a multifaceted offensive arsenal. Parker is the most dangerous threat on that side of the ball in this draft class.

    He is averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, with a shooting clip of 48.3/39.1/75.5 percent. Those are some scary good college numbers and ones that any NBA team should be looking at regardless of who it has on the roster currently.

    To even be in the realm of getting Parker, the Celtics will have to finish with a bottom-five-or-so record in the league and even then get major help from the ping-pong balls.

    Forgetting what positional needs it has, Boston needs help scoring the basketball. The Celtics have the 25th highest-scoring offense in the league right now, and Parker has the best chance to help.

Julius Randle, University of Kentucky

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It is in Jared Sullinger's hands how much Danny Ainge looks into Julius Randle for the rest of this collegiate season.

    Should Sullinger post a few more of those 20-20 games or finish the year averaging a double-double, Ainge will place his interest beyond the power forward position. As it is, the Celtics have to view Sullinger as better than a large portion of this class at that spot.

    However, Randle isn't just any college power forward. The Kentucky freshman is averaging 16.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, while playing alongside two other likely lottery picks on this list. He is also shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 72.5 percent from the line.

    If Ainge does decide to make a run at Randle, he'll likely have to clear out at least some space and add a legitimate center somewhere else. Sullinger and Randle are likely too similar to play together, both as interior scorers and grounded rebounders.

    However, as a timeshare, the duo could work to become very good while both are still young and on rookie contracts. Having a bigger center alongside them would definitely help cover up defensively. It would also require the Celtics to gather a bit more perimeter shooters than they currently employ.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State University

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Marcus Smart is not a little guy. Watching him play it is clear he enjoys contact and can handle himself among bigger bodies.

    Smart is a point guard for Oklahoma State University and likely projects as one in the NBA as well. The Boston Celtics have a very good point guard already in Rajon Rondo, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be checking out Smart.

    For instance, what if either Rondo or Avery Bradley's contract extensions fell through? Bradley isn't guaranteed to be in Boston beyond this year, as he is a restricted free agent this summer. Rondo is unrestricted after next season and will be wanting top dollar. Should the Celtics wind up losing one of them, Smart is a player who could possibly fill either void.

    Obviously he won't be as good as Rondo right away, but as a young point guard growing into an NBA role, Smart is tops in this draft class. He has enough of a scoring game as well to play alongside Rondo if need be.

    The sophomore is averaging 17.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, excellent all-around numbers. He is also picking up 2.6 steals a night, something he has been doing since his freshman year.

Gary Harris, Michigan State University

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    Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

    It has been a long time since the Boston Celtics were able to use a high draft pick on a wing or guard they could actually keep. Both Jeff Green and Randy Foye were traded away, and Gerald Green was grabbed at No. 18 overall in 2005.

    That's why it would be interesting to see them go that route this year. With a slim class at the center position, the other spot of need for Boston is a scoring guard. Obviously the Celtics are still hopeful the Rajon Rondo-Avery Bradley backcourt can be fruitful, and Bradley has improved offensively this season, but getting a quality, young offensive guard would present an interesting wrinkle to the roster.

    Michigan State's Gary Harris is averaging 18.3 points on 43.1 percent shooting. He is a high-volume three-point shooter but is hitting 33.3 percent of his 7.1 attempts per game. He also will have two years of collegiate experience under his belt, having worked his way up the depth chart, and become a start through that hard work.

    At 6'5", Harris has good size for the shooting guard spot, particularly with Bradley being about three inches shorter. He is no slouch defensively either, racking up 2.1 steals per game.

    With all these big names piling up at the front end of the draft, Harris is a realistic option for the Celtics in the mid-to-late lottery.

Rodney Hood, Duke University

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    If Danny Ainge finds a way to package Jeff Green up before the trade deadline or before next season, Rodney Hood could be a good choice in June's draft.

    The Duke University sophomore is a sharpshooting wing with definite Green potential in a younger, less expensive mold. He has Green's size, though maybe not yet his explosiveness off the dribble and at the rim.

    However, Hood is projecting to be one of the top shooters in the draft. He is averaging 17.6 points per game for the Blue Devils, with a clip of 52.1/45.9/84.7 percent. Those are some remarkable numbers, even for a guy playing with some very talented teammates.

    Hood has been around for a while, having transferred and redshirted before blowing up this year at Duke. He is a slightly more mature 21-year-old and will be 22 before the 2014-15 NBA season. That is something that means something to Ainge when viewing these players.

James Young, University of Kentucky

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Another option, if Danny Ainge were able and willing to unload Jeff Green, is James Young.

    Though it may not look it at times on the scoresheet, Young has one of the better offensive games for a freshman in this draft class. At 6'7" with a 6'11" wingspan, Young is a dangerous prospect who is still very raw.

    The University of Kentucky product is averaging 14.3 points per game, but shooting just 39.4 percent from the floor and made only 39 of 120 three-pointers. He's also a below-average 66.7 percent from the free-throw line.

    The good thing for Young is that the season has a long way to go. No team will be making its final evaluations on him until after the tournament in March, so he can get those averages up across the board and remain in lottery consideration.

    For the Celtics, Young is, well, young. He was born in August of 1995 and would be given the opportunity to learn and grow with a core of perhaps Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. His low numbers right now will also help him fall a bit into what might become Boston's range by season's end.