The 2014 NBA draft represents Phase 1 of what could be a multiyear rebuilding effort in Boston. Unfortunately, the Celtics will likely miss out on all of their primary targets with the No. 6 pick, assuming Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker go in the top three.
But general manager Danny Ainge is a pretty creative and active guy. He's going to explore every possible avenue before arriving at his final draft-day decision.
With Embiid, Wiggins and Parker off the board, you'd like to think Ainge would be high on Dante Exum, the 6'6" scoring point guard from Australia. But to get him, it would probably require Boston to leapfrog the Utah Jazz at No. 5 and swap with the Orlando Magic at No. 4, something that seems unlikely, given Orlando's need for a point guard and Exum's image as the best at the position.
However, if you're the Celtics and have interest in Exum, you at least have to make a call to Orlando. Because if the Magic aren't sold on Exum, maybe they'd be willing to move down to No. 6, where they could still likely get point guard Marcus Smart. Or, the Magic might want to take a guy like Julius Randle or Noah Vonleh at No. 6 and draft a point guard like Syracuse's Tyler Ennis at No. 12 with their second first-round pick.
The Celtics have a surplus of future picks, along with No. 17 this year, they could dangle as bait.
Of course, I'm just spitballing here, but if the Celtics do value Exum as the draft's fourth-best overall prospect, it's worth checking in with Orlando to see if there's a deal to be made.
But let's assume the Magic aren't going anywhere and plan to draft Exum at No. 4. Boston will still have a chance to add significant talent with its two first-round picks.
These are the guys Ainge will likely be looking at with the No. 6 pick:
|Noah Vonleh, Indiana||PF|
|Aaron Gordon, Arizona||PF|
|Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State||PG/SG|
|Dario Saric, Croatia||SF/PF|
|Julius Randle, Kentucky||PF|
No, these aren't franchise centerpieces. But they are building blocks—high-end building blocks and potential long-term cornerstones.
At this stage, nobody's presence on the Celtics' roster should hold much weight during the selection process. Outside of Rajon Rondo, this team is loaded with low-ceiling players. If you're the Celtics, you don't pass on the best available talent because Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger or Jeff Green already play their position.
And if the Celtics believe guard Marcus Smart is the top prospect available, they shouldn't pass on him because of Rondo, who's future in Boston is hardly a lock.
Ranking Boston's Options at No. 6
1. Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'9", PF
He's been the No. 5 prospect on my board since the beginning, so naturally, I like him at No. 6 for the Celtics. At 6'9", 247 pounds with a massive 7'4" wingspan, his ceiling sits about three stories higher than Sullinger's or Olynyk's. He's skilled in the post with his back to the rim, and he's got a promising perimeter game, having hit 16-of-33 three-pointers as a freshman.
He also led the Big Ten in rebounding at just 18 years of age, playing fewer than 27 minutes a game.
If I'm Ainge and Vonleh is there at No. 6, I'm taking him as the best available talent on the board.
2. Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9", PF
Aaron Gordon offers a rare package of strengths that could hold substantial value in the pros. It starts on defense, where he's got the size and length of a 4 to match the mind-blowing foot speed of a guard (finished No. 1 in country in defensive win shares). Gordon has the potential to defend four or five positions on the floor depending on matchups.
He's also one of the best athletes you'll see for a 6'9" forward— a major plus for a team with two under-the-rim bigs in Sullinger and Olynyk.
Between his defensive versatility and offensive upside, Gordon should get heavy consideration from Boston at No. 6.
3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'3", PG/SG
Whether you view him as an insurance policy for Rondo or just another guard to add to the lineup, Marcus Smart has to be considered if you're the Celtics. A scoring playmaker and physical defender, he's as safe of a bet as any guard in the field. Let him run the point, man the wing or provide a spark off the bench—Smart has the strengths and tools to really fit in anywhere. And he plays with a competitive edge you know that's going to win him brownie points with management.
"I sorta like Marcus Smart. I like his fire," Ainge said on ESPN"s broadcast of the combine, via Chris Forsberg.
There are areas of his game that Smart needs to improve (shooting, decision-making), but at 227 pounds with exceptional two-way instincts, he just might be the top option on the board if Vonleh or Gordon are gone.
4. Dario Saric, Croatia, 6'10", SF/PF
Saric is the ultimate risk-reward play at No. 6 if Ainge is looking to gamble. Ainge actually took a trip to Belgrade at the end of April to see Saric perform in the Adriatic League Final Four. In two upset wins, Saric averaged 21.5 points, 13 boards, 6.5 assists and 2.5 blocks, which led to him being honored as MVP.
He even shot 8-of-16 from downtown.
A fiery competitor, Saric plays with tremendous offensive confidence. When locked in, he's got the ability to just take over games.
There's obvious risk in selecting an international player over more proven prospects in the NCAA, but Saric's consistent production and visible upside helps diminish most concerns. And, according to David Pick of Eurobasket, Saric would be willing to come over right away if Boston drafted him.
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF
It's not that I don't like Julius Randle. But I don't love him—not without a jumper or much potential on the defensive end. And given the limited defensive potential of Boston's current bigs, along with the fact that Sullinger also plays mostly below the rim, there are better fits on the board who offer the same (if not more) upside.
The Celtics also have a pick at No. 17 this year, where they'll have a dozen of quality mid-first-round prospects to choose from.
Again, Boston won't be drafting to fill any specific needs here—Ainge should be operating in best-prospect-available mode.
It's impossible to predict exactly who will and won't be available at No. 17, but here are a few potential targets for the Celtics with their second first-round pick.
|Zach LaVine, UCLA||PG/SG|
|Jusuf Nurkic, C||C|
|Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia||C|
|Kyle Anderson, UCLA||PG/SF|
|Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette||PG|
Ranking Boston's Options at No. 17
1. Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'6", PG/SG
Though there's a little boom-or-bust associated with him , LaVine is an ideal option for a rebuilding team using its second first-round pick. The Celtics can afford to gamble on upside here, something LaVine packs a ton of thanks to his size, explosiveness, handle and scoring arsenal.
And with the biggest knock on LaVine being his lack of reps and NBA-readiness, he'll be able to get the minutes he needs in Boston without the pressure to produce right away.
Some scouts love his potential, others are uninterested in waiting to see whether or not it will develop. But if he's there at No. 17, he's a gamble worth making if you're Ainge.
2. Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia, 6'11", C
From a pure talent perspective, Nurkic offers lottery upside. Now he's young, raw and untested, but based on his eye-opening production overseas, along with his 6'11", 280-pound body that gets up and down the floor, the promise and potential here is legitimate.
Like the other big men Boston will be looking at with the No. 6 pick, Nurkic's ceiling towers over Sullinger's and Olynyk's. And given the lengthier timetable of Boston's rebuilding plan, this team can afford to wait on the reward he potentially offers down the road.
3. Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", C
Porzingis has been the hottest name abroad over the last month after he surprised many by declaring for the draft. It was just assumed he'd eventually withdraw, but if ESPN's Chad Ford latest report (subscription required) is right, that won't be necessary. Ford reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder have given Porzingis a promise at No. 21 if he hasn't been taken already.
I've watched Porzingis a number of times over the past month, and though his minutes and touches have been limited, he'll make a play every now and then that flashes his big-time NBA upside.
At 7'0", he can operate out on the perimeter, where he's capable of knocking down shots or attacking on drives to the basket. Off the ball, his size, effortless mobility and terrific athleticism translate to finishes off cuts, lobs and offensive rebounds.
At 18 years old, he's likely a draft-and-stash option, but with the Celtics building for the future, Porzingis could be a sneaky addition.
4. Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6'9", PG/SF
A great team player in terms of his versatility and approach to the game, Kyle Anderson can really fit in any lineup. Forget about whether or not he can run the point like he did at UCLA—at 6'9" with his passing instincts, shooting stroke, rebounding ability and basketball IQ, you're doing something wrong as a coach if you can't make use of his unique skill set.
5. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'4", PG
Payton is essentially a good jumper away from offering top-10 talent. He's got that potent blend of size, athleticism and shiftiness, which allows him to generate all sorts of offense off the dribble.
Between his length, quickness and mediocre outside stroke, he actually resembles Rondo a little bit. Like I said with Marcus Smart, whether you view Payton as insurance, a backup or the future, his talent alone should keep Ainge's attention at No. 17.
A Kevin Love-to-Boston trade hinges on Minnesota's patience with regards to rebuilding. The less patience the Wolves have, the less chance a deal can be made.
The only compelling assets Ainge has to offer are current and future draft picks. But he's got a lot of them, including two in this year's first round, one from Brooklyn in 2016, one in 2018, and the option to swap picks in 2017. Throw in the Los Angeles Clippers' 2015 first-round pick and a protected Philadelphia pick in 2015 that's likely to convey into two second-rounders, and Ainge's pockets are loaded with picks.
But for Love to Boston to work, not only should Ainge have to be prepared for a shake-down, but he's gotta hope that Minnesota is even interested in rebuilding through the draft. The Wolves can probably get a better mix of established talent and draft picks elsewhere.
Though if you're Ainge, and Love has made it clear he'd re-sign if traded to Boston, you really have to consider just making it rain picks on Minnesota. It will be interesting to see what other types of offers the Wolves receive.
|7||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|15||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|21||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends (D-League||SG||(Junior)|
|24||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
|29||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||SF||Senior|
Eurocamp starts this week, an annual showcase event in Italy that attracts scouts and executives from every NBA team.
Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic will be the biggest name amongst the 2014 eligible prospects. Other names at the event to keep tabs on include: Adin Vrabac of Bosnia, Moussa Diagne of Senegal, Ioannis Papapetrou of Greece, Philipp Neumann of Germany and Viktor Gaddefors of Sweden.
And you might recognize Niels Giffey, who's fresh off a national championship at Connecticut. Orlando Sanchez of St. John's will be there as well.
Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", C
The big news abroad is the reported promise (via Chad Ford, ESPN) Kristaps Porzingis received from Oklahoma City at No 21.
Who knows if the promise is true, but every year it seems an international prospect stays in the draft after a "promise" has been reported. Last year, it was Russia's Sergey Karasev.
And whether or not Oklahoma City made the promise, interest can be contagious. If the Thunder are interested, chances are they're not alone.
Porzingis' season came to a close last week after Cajasol Sevilla suffered a three-point loss to Valencia. He finished with nine points and seven boards in 15 minutes.