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Boston Celtics Drafting Aaron Gordon Would Be Wrong Move for Rebuild

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 15:  Aaron Gordon #11 of the Arizona Wildcats is introduced before the championship game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the UCLA Bruins at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 15, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UCLA won 75-71.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2017

There are pros and cons to drafting any NBA prospect, but some team-player pairings are matches made in hell rather than heaven. 

The Boston Celtics selecting Aaron Gordon wouldn't fall onto quite such an extreme part of the spectrum, but it's still the wrong move during the rebuilding process. Nonetheless, rumor has it that the C's are looking heavily into the former Arizona Wildcat. 

"Several league sources believe that Celtics GM Danny Ainge is locked in on Gordon," wrote Chris Mannix while mocking Gordon to the C's at No. 6 in the 2014 NBA draft for Sports Illustrated. "While Gordon's shooting is a concern, he is a strong rebounder and shot blocker who can defend either forward spot and has been compared to Shawn Marion."

Interesting. Very interesting. 

It's pretty easy to convince yourself that this would be a good move. All you have to do is think of Gordon running down the court at break-neck speed and preparing for an alley-oop finish in transition before recovering and locking down his man on the defensive end. 

But like I said, there are pros and cons to drafting any NBA prospect. Gordon's pros are glamorous, sure, but his cons make him less than ideal for the Celtics. 

 

Plenty of Better Options

LINCOLN, NE - JANUARY 30: Noah Vonleh #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers drives to the basket over Shavon Shields #31 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on January 30, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Image
Eric Francis/Getty Images

With their No. 6 pick, the Celtics are inevitably going to have access to at least a handful of elite prospects in this loaded 2014 draft class. After all, there seems to be a sizable drop-off between the No. 8 and No. 9 picks, which leaves the C's on the right side of the ledger. 

Those eight elite players? Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Noah Vonleh

Granted, plenty can change during the weeks leading up to June 26, but those eight guys are in a tier of their own. Dario Saric, Doug McDermott, Zach LaVine and the rest of the potential lottery picks just aren't quite on the same level, though some could sneak in due to potential and great workouts. 

Wiggins, Embiid and Parker are just about guaranteed to be gone before the Celtics are up, and it seems like a safe bet to count on the Orlando Magic, a franchise in dire need of a point guard for the future, taking Exum.

But beyond that, it's a crapshoot for the Utah Jazz at No. 5. 

No matter who the Jazz take, Boston should still have access to three of Smart, Randle, Gordon and Vonleh, and each non-Gordon prospect on that list is a better option than the forward from Arizona.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of Gordon's game, expecting him to develop into a stellar defender and capable offensive contributor down the road. There's a reason that he ranked No. 6 in my post-combine Big Board.

That said, Gordon doesn't fit the Celtics' needs quite as well as the other three players who could be available and should be under strong consideration from Danny Ainge and the rest of the Boston front office.

Smart would make one heck of a backcourt pairing with Rajon Rondo, adding size and even more toughness to the guard positions. He might not help solve the team's shooting woes, but he'd give the lineup even more versatility and flexibility.   

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 01:  Marcus Smart #33 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in action during the Old Spice Classic against the Memphis Tigers at HP Field House on December 1, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Randle is a go-to scorer, which is something Boston desperately needs (more on that later). And since he flashed better-than-expected physical tools at the combine, there's also hope that he can avoid becoming a defensive liability at the sport's highest level. 

Then there's Vonleh, who I'd consider the No. 1 target. Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report's NBA Draft Lead Writer, concurs, though he does have Gordon at No. 2. 

Others are similarly high on the Vonleh-to-Boston idea. 

"Boston's No. 21 pick in 2012 is a more grounded big with excellent hands and growing footwork," wrote Michael Walsh for B/R. "Vonleh presents more athleticism and length. With all the lip service Boston has paid to finding a rim protector, Vonleh could be an under-the-radar filler."

Between protecting the rim and helping to spread out the court, he's an ideal fit. The length and toughness is exactly what Boston should be looking for in its frontcourt. 

Would Gordon be a good pick? Absolutely. But he's not quite on the same level as these other guys, at least in terms of fit. 

 

Need for Offense

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Jeff Green #8 of the Boston Celtics during a time out against the Charlotte Bobcats on April 11, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

During the 2013-14 campaign, the Celtics were a much better team on defense than on offense. 

Here's the cursory breakdown, with stats coming from Basketball-Reference.com

Boston Breakdown
OffenseDefense
Points per 100 Possessions102.9107.7
NBA RankNo. 27No. 20

Now, this was a strange year, seeing as the team's best player got a delayed start as he finished rehabbing his torn ACL. But once Rajon Rondo returned, the offense didn't exactly get all that much better. 

In fact, the C's actually scored 0.2 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court than when he was on the pine, once more courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Seems strange, right? After all, Rondo is supposed to be one of the top floor generals in the Association when healthy. 

But during his return, he averaged only 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game while shooting 40.3 percent from the field, 28.9 percent beyond the arc and 62.7 percent at the charity stripe. Those aren't exactly exemplary numbers, as they're largely held back by his scoring efforts, though it's hard to fault Rondo. 

There were two factors holding him back. 

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 4: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics on the court during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 4, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading a
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

First, he had to get back in the swing of things.

It's tough to return from such a major injury, even if some players come back with more finely tuned shooting strokes thanks to the inability to practice anything else. But if that were the case, Rondo would have fared better during the final 15 games of his 30-contest season: 

Rondo's Lack of Improvement
MPGPPGRPGAPGTOPGFG%3P%
First 15 Games30.011.64.78.32.840.136.4
Second 15 Games36.611.76.211.33.840.421.7
Basketball-Reference.com

Unfortunately, the drastic increase in playing time throws a wrench in that analysis. 

So, keeping those percentages and per-game stats in mind, let's look at the per-36-minute numbers: 

Rondo's Lack of Improvement Per 36 Minutes
PointsReboundsAssistsTurnovers
First 15 Games13.95.610.03.4
Second 15 Games11.56.111.13.7
Basketball-Reference.com

Especially when you factor in the three-point shooting, Rondo actually declined on the offensive end as the season progressed. 

Why? 

Typically, you'd expect a player recovering from such a devastating injury to get better, but the Celtics weren't surrounding Rondo with enough quality offensive options. The fact that he generated so many dimes is absolutely insane, seeing as Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were the team's top scorers. 

When Rondo was a truly dominant point guard, he was surrounded by offensive standouts. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen hit shots, and the rest of the roster could put up points in bunches when they received enough opportunities. 

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 11: Rajon Rondo #9, Kevin Garnett #5, Ray Allen #20 and Paul Pierce #30 of the Boston Celtics walk down court during a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

But this roster doesn't function the same way.

"When you're playing with [Rondo], you don't need to force anything," Avery Bradley explained to CelticsBlog.com's Kevin O'Connor in March. "Just get to your spot and he creates for everybody. He's an amazing offensive player and helps this team out a lot."

Yes, but this is a two-way street. Rondo is always going to help out his teammates, seeing as he's one of the unquestionably elite distributors in the Association. But his teammates also have to be able to help him out, and Boston is lacking players capable of doing that. 

And the Celtics want to add Gordon into the mix? 

The Arizona product could be a quality offensive option one day, but he's limited to transition opportunities and putback dunks right now. He's going to wreck the floor spacing of a half-court set until he develops some semblance of a jumper, and it's hard to see him thriving in too many offensive situations. 

This is pretty cut and dry. 

Rondo's talents—and thus, the Boston offense as a whole—will not be maximized by adding Gordon to the lineup rather than a more capable offensive player. Going into the 2014-15 season with Green as a primary or secondary scorer is a recipe for disaster. 

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 26:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics is seen playing against the Toronto Raptors in the second half after receiving 9 stitches from a cut on his face in the second half during the game at TD Garden on March 26, 2014 in Boston, Mass
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Additionally, that's saying nothing of the need for a quick rebuild. 

Why do you think there are links between Boston and Kevin Love? The management doesn't seem particularly interested in doing its due time in the lottery, preferring instead to retool as quickly as possible. 

And that makes sense. 

Rondo, the clear face of the franchise, will be turning 28 years old during the 2014-15 season, and he's entering the final year of his deal with the C's. If there aren't immediate signs of a turnaround, who's to say he even remains in Beantown throughout the foreseeable future? 

Yes, it's strange to think Rondo could ever play for a different team. But he could. 

Of course, Boston can prevent that from happening by appeasing him with a fast rebuild. Drafting Gordon, though, wouldn't be doing that, seeing as the former Wildcat is going to take years to develop into a quality contributor on the offensive end of the court. 

Come to think of it, maybe he wouldn't even be a good pick. Maybe he'd just be a bad decision at a time when this franchise can't afford one. 

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