With the NBA Draft Combine and upcoming NBA draft lottery, it is finally an appropriate time to start looking into possible prospects for the Boston Celtics this summer.
Soon we'll know exactly where Boston will be drafting in the top eight on June 26. The combine offers us a better look at who might be on the table and involved in back-room discussions amongst the Celtics' decision-makers.
There is definitely a certain type or style of player who will come out of the combine looking better, though that isn't always indicative of where he'll go or how he'll fare in the NBA. Hyper-athletic players will definitely look good running drills and going through various tests, as will gym-rat types who can hit shots blindfolded with nobody guarding them.
The draft combine is a very important preview for both prospects and NBA teams but can't be taken with 100 percent legitimacy considering the competition level and lack of team-centric work provided.
For the Celtics, the combine is extremely important. They haven't drafted in the lottery since 2007. While they surely still paid attention to the combine results, this will be a much more hands-on experience as they try to figure out whom they will take when the ping-pong balls dictate.
The combine isn't an exact science, and it may not tell us whom the Celtics will take in June. It could, however, help them avoid a Jan Vesely/Wesley Johnson/Thomas Robinson dud in the top eight. That would certainly set the franchise back and is reason enough to pay close attention to where Boston's eyes are in Chicago.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana University
After a disappointing team season at Indiana left him out of the NCAA tournament, Noah Vonleh must look at the combine as his real opportunity to shine.
Fans and NBA folks missed the chance to see him in high-pressure situations against top competition in the field of 68, which leaves the combine as their first chance to get a look at the the 6'10, 240-pound power forward/center since the regular season.
Vonleh should impress with his size and strength at the combine, since that is what the event looks to showcase. Those are important factors for the Celtics to keep an eye on in particular. With a massive hole in the middle of their frontcourt, a body type like Vonleh's would appear to be a nice fit.
They will need to see more than just impressive athleticism and bench pressing, though. With a driving point guard like Rajon Rondo, they need to be sure a big they draft in the first round has capable hands on offense. In drills, it will be important to make sure Vonleh is constantly aware of where the ball is and where he should be. Rondo's passes can come with a split second's notice, and the margin between easy layup and turnover is razor-thin.
Another part of Vonleh's game that should be showcased is his mid-range offense. If Boston is going to make a serious play for him in June, it needs to know how he works in an NBA pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop. Decision-making is a key aspect of that, and it is something we didn't see much of during his time at Indiana.
In past years, Kevin Garnett's ability with Rondo at the high post was crucial in keeping the Celtics' spacing viable.
In terms of Vonleh's interest, he appeared rather non-committal, which is how he should be, when speaking with MassLive's Jay King.
"It's my hometown," Vonleh said. "The Celtics haven't really been too good the past couple of years, but wouldn't mind playing for them."
Not high praise, but that's coming from a guy who couldn't get a major college program to be one of the best 68 teams in the country last season.
Dante Exum, Australian Institute of Sport
The player who will have the most eyes on him overall at the draft combine will be Australian import Dante Exum.
An incredibly intriguing athlete, there haven't been a lot of opportunities to gage Exum on American soil against the style and type of competition he'll be facing in the NBA. In a lot of ways, the combine is just as important for him as it is for the teams scouting him.
A great combine could mean a difference of a few million dollars a year, depending how high up in the lottery he gets taken. For teams, they will always be tentative and cautious when regarding foreign talent. NBA franchises have been burned often by things like inflated stats or undeserved comparisons.
All that will be taken into account during Exum's performance at the combine.
His physical traits are already going to stand out on their own. At 6'6" and 196 pounds, Exum has added some muscle to his impressive frame over the past year. That is a good sign and bodes well for him to continue getting stronger. His length at the guard position will certainly be of service to him at the next level, but if smaller guys can still push you around, height won't mean much.
While bringing him to Boston is definitely intriguing, it is unclear how hard he is willing to work on shooting guard skills. Exum seems to fancy himself a No. 1 point guard in the NBA, and the Celtics currently employ one of the best in the world at that spot.
Still, if Exum impresses with more than just measurements at the combine, he'll be on Danny Ainge's radar.
Gary Harris, Michigan State University vs. Nik Stauskas, University of Michigan
The shooting guard crop in this year's draft isn't teeming with high-level talent. However, it could wind up being one of Boston's biggest needs this summer.
With the Avery Bradley free-agency situation still up in the air, the Celtics need to continue taking long looks at the likes of Michigan State's Gary Harris and Michigan's Nik Stauskas. Despite being predicted to go in between the Celtics' two first-round picks, if they wind up drafting for need, they could reach or hope one of them falls.
Stauskas has proved his game at the highest level possible, leading Michigan to an Elite Eight appearance and dumping 24 points on Kentucky in a 75-72 loss. The combine may not be too kind to him with measurements and strength tests, but they are important to watch. He has height but just an average wingspan. Coupling those with an overmatched athleticism, you could have real problems defending in the NBA.
Similarly, Harris' measurements didn't win any hearts at the combine, sizing up at 6'4.5" with a 6'6.75" wingspan. Those numbers make look good next to Bradley, but they won't turn heads at this event.
Harris also made his bones during the season, bringing the Spartans to their own Elite Eight and falling to eventual champion Connecticut.
Stauskas and Harris are going to be drafted pretty close to each other. If the Celtics decide to go the shooting guard route, how they rate them at the combine could be the difference in whom they draft.
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson University
Hopping down to the Celtics' second first-round pick in June, coming at No. 17, there are a few other names to keep an eye on. At the draft combine, K.J. McDaniels certainly falls into that category.
The Clemson junior posted some pretty impressive measurements at Day 1 of the combine. A 6'11.25" wingspan on a 6'6" small forward is going to turn a lot of heads when the middle of the first round gets going.
McDaniel's play this past season backs up those traits. He racked up 41 steals and 100 blocks last season, while helping Clemson to the NIT semifinals. Those numbers prove he isn't all uncoordinated limbs on the court. In fact, McDaniels has a very good chance to develop into a quality NBA defender.
Coming from a small forward, 7.1 rebounds per game is a very quality number, even on a team like Clemson. McDaniels posted eight double-doubles through the year and is a hard worker on the offensive glass.
At the other end, he is a slasher who can get to the line with the best of them. As a junior, McDaniels averaged 5.1 free-throw attempts per game and had an 84.2 percent conversion rate.
Beyond that, there are some questions to his offensive game. He'll need to develop a better three-point shot to stick around the NBA and get significant playing time. McDaniels shot just 30.4 percent from distance last season but was at 33.3 percent as a sophomore.
In the draft combine, where effort and size are very real qualities that stand out, McDaniels could be a fast riser.