6 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Boston Celtics Should Watch During March Madness
Every year there are a handful of NBA prospects who see their draft stock skyrocket or plummet with their performance in the NCAA tournament. With two picks in the first round this summer, the Boston Celtics will need to pay close attention to March Madness.
Like all interested parties, the Celtics will be evaluating the play of top players like Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. However, those three are doubtful to slip out of the top three picks. No matter what happens in March, barring injury, they will likely go No. 1, 2, 3 in some order.
Boston will have to keep its eyes trained on a few other prospects who could rise or fall significantly with their play and their overall team success.
Right now, the Celtics have major needs at the center position. Beyond that, there may be a whole at shooting guard, depending on Avery Bradley's restricted free agency, and small forward, depending on Danny Ainge's faith in Jeff Green moving forward.
Players in those positions will be auditioning for the Celtics over the next month.
Willie Cauley-Stein, University of Kentucky
With an absolute dearth of center prospects in this year's draft class, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein appears to be second after Joel Embiid.
Especially if Indiana and Noah Vonleh don't make the tournament, and Michigan's Mitch McGary remains out injured, the Celtics won't have a ton of choices to fill their center hole.
Cauley-Stein is a pure defender right now, and a talented collegiate shot-blocker. He averages 2.8 rejections per game, but is otherwise a sizable project.
What he does appear to already have developed are his hands. He has shot above 60 percent in each of his college seasons and is averaging just one turnover per game this year. That shows a player capable of finishing strong at the rim. At an honest 7' tall, that should translate to the tougher NBA.
It isn't incredibly likely that Boston winds up in a position to draft Embiid this summer, so they would be wise to watch Kentucky closely to see if their middle piece could fit into the franchise's plans.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State University
Since returning from his suspension, Marcus Smart has been on a tear for Oklahoma State.
The team won four of their final five regular season contests, including a 72-65 defeat of No. 5 Kansas. The only loss was an overtime defeat at No. 16 Iowa State. Over that stretch, Smart averaged 19.8 points, 6.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 steals per game.
Smart is playing great basketball at just the right time, heading into the Big 12 Tournament. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Cowboys as a No. 10 seed right now, but if they make a run in the conference tournament, that could drop.
While Smart does play point guard in college, his ability to score the basketball may translate more to a combo guard in the pros. With Avery Bradley's return still up in the air, the Boston Celtics have to keep an open mind when looking for possible replacements.
Smart's toughness fits an NBA game, though his outside shooting needs work. He can do a lot to solidify himself as a top draft pick over the next couple weeks.
Nik Stauskas, University of Michigan
Nik Stauskas didn't get a ton of run in last year's NCAA championship game, scoring only three points in 19 minutes. He didn't score at all in the Final Four win over Syracuse.
This year, that story would likely read a little differently, as Stauskas has become the No. 8 Michigan Wolverines' leading scorer and distributor.
The sophomore shooting guard is averaging 17.4 points and 3.4 assists per game, with an impressive shooting clip of 48.9/45.8/81.1. He has hit 71-of-155 three-point attempts this season, an attractive stat to any NBA team, but particularly the 28th ranked three-point shooting Boston Celtics.
Stauskas goes a bit of a different route than current shooting guard Avery Bradley. The Michigan product brings significantly more height and offensive game to the table, while sacrificing at the other end.
Having a knock-down shooter on the roster, and maybe eventually the starting lineup is a great weapon with Rajon Rondo running the offense. The Celtics don't have that shooter currently, and it is something they will be looking to acquire this summer.
They should be keeping an eye on how Stauskas fares against tournament competition and in the high-pressure scenarios March Madness presents.
Gary Harris, Michigan State University
Another shooting guard option in this summer's draft is Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris.
Harris doesn't quite bring the length or three-point shooting that Stauskas does, but he may be the more physical presence.
He similarly left last year's tournament with a whimper, scoring just six points in 35 minutes in a Sweet 16 loss to Duke. Harris has come back this season a more experienced collegiate player and it has shown in his leadership in guiding the Spartans to a 23-8 record and a No. 22 ranking.
Michigan State has struggled a bit in the season's second half against Big Ten competition, with bad home losses to Illinois and Nebraska. So, the tournament will be Harris' chance to lead the Spartans on a run, while also helping his own draft stock.
On the year, he is averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He is a high-energy player like Bradley, but with a more refined offensive skill set. He shot 35.4 percent from beyond the arc this season and 41.1 percent as a freshman.
If Avery Bradley is offered a big deal by another NBA team, the Boston Celtics will be glad they looked hard at Harris during the tournament.
Jerami Grant, Syracuse University
If Danny Ainge is able to pull off some sort of deal to send Gerald Wallace and his poisonous contract out of town, the Celtics will be left very thing on the wing. Jeff Green isn't the kind of player they want on the floor for 40 minutes a night, so finding a small forward in the draft would be a great move.
While the Orange have stumbled a bit of late, they were the definitive top team in the nation for stretch earlier this winter. Grant was a huge part of that, in particular holding opposing teams to just 59.3 points per game.
Grant's defensive presence is what will get him the most looks in the draft. He looks to be capable of defending a variety of players at the next level, with exceptional athleticism and length. Grant would do well to serve as a primary back-up in the NBA for a year or two, while he develops an offensive game.
Right now that side of the ball is very limited, though sometimes Syracuse's style saps individual play. Grant is not a threat from the outside, but can finish at the rim with the best of them.
Syracuse is the No. 7 team in the country and poised for another long March run. There will be plenty of opportunity for Grant to make a statement for the Celtics and other NBA teams.
Rodney Hood, Duke University
On the flip-side of Jerami Grant is Rodney Hood from Duke University.
Hood has responded well to his transfer from Mississippi State to the Blue Devils. He leads Duke in minutes per game, while ranking second in scoring and rebounding. The sophomore forward will turn 22 in the fall, which is something to keep in mind moving forward.
Hood has averaged 16.5 points and four rebounds per game, while playing a lot in the shadows of Jabari Parker.
As a small forward option for the Boston Celtics, Hood provides excellent outside shooting as a left-handed player, along with solid athleticism all around. He has hit 65-of-153 three-pointers this season, and recently put up 24 points in a big win over No. 14 North Carolina.
As a first-year Duke player, after sitting out his transfer year, it says a lot that Mike Krzyzewski trusts Hood, granting the wing player a team-high 32.4 minutes per game. With that type of confidence from a respected head coach, the Celtics should be taking notice.
As the No. 7 team in the country, Duke should be around for a while in March, giving Boston plenty of opportunity to seek out Hood, even if it is tough not to watch Parker.