The 2015 draft is a critical opportunity for Danny Ainge and Co. to push this club closer to Eastern Conference contention. After dealing point guard Rajon Rondo over the winter, the franchise can finally establish a new identity and groom its core of the future.
Boston is armed with an exciting, speedy trio of young guards in Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas. Stevens also has some promising frontcourt pieces, including Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger and the sweet-shooting Kelly Olynyk. As a bonus, forward Jae Crowder has expressed interest in re-signing with the team, per CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely, to join Evan Turner on the wing.
While this group gives the Shamrock faithful hope, it's substantially lacking in some key areas. The Celtics need to shoot the ball better, create more offense from the wing and fortify the interior defense.
Let's dissect the club's biggest deficiencies to address in the upcoming draft. What gaps can they fill with the No. 16 and 28 picks, along with their pair of second-rounders?
3. Wing Depth (A Wing Who Can Shoot Threes)
Turner, Crowder and James Young all bring unique playing styles to the Celtics' wing corps, but none of them offer efficient shooting. While Young has the potential to get there, you can never have enough shooters at the 2 and 3 positions.
Stevens' squad shot 33 percent from distance in 2014-15, which ranks last among all playoff teams. In order to climb out of the first round and actually make some noise in the Eastern Conference, Boston needs to drastically improve its efficiency.
Turner (28 percent), Crowder (28 percent) and Young (26 percent) helped drag down that collective three-point mark, so they need some help.
If the Celtics hunt for the best-shooting wing in the mid-to-late first round, the top option is Georgia State's R.J. Hunter.
Don't be fooled by his 31 percent three-point shooting in 2014-15. A seismic volume of shots and high degree of difficulty kept Hunter's efficiency low, because he carried his team despite loads of attention from opposing defenses. In a more modest role with in-rhythm attempts, Hunter's quick, silky-smooth motion should yield close to 40 percent from the NBA arc.
Meanwhile, if Boston targets the best all-around wing (one who can shoot), Wisconsin's Sam Dekker is the prize.
For those who missed out on his March heroics the past two seasons, we're talking about an ultra-versatile player who impacts every area with his energy, smarts and athleticism. He's viewed as a top-tier defender, but Marc D'Amico of Celtics.com explained that his offense should translate superbly as well:
(Dekker's) quick and decisive with his moves, and he does so without predetermining his plan of attack. He’s excellent at shooting the ball off of the dribble to either direction. He was very inconsistent with his deep ball the past two seasons, but I can’t question his stroke. I really think he’s going to become a legit three-point shooter in the NBA. I also love the way he finishes around the basket, particularly when teammates find him off of a cut...He’s very intelligent, and I feel like he’s always playing at a faster speed than his opponents at the offensive end.
2. Power Forward/Stretch 4
With Brandon Bass and Jonas Jerebko both hitting the free-agent market, the Celtics would be wise to target a versatile big man in the draft if their other needs can't be filled. Bass and Jerebko combined for nearly 18 points and 10 rebounds per contest.
Zeller moves his feet well and Olynyk can space the floor, but Sullinger is the only true power forward returning to the rotation. Boston may want to find a 4 who can play away from the basket a bit more nimbly than Sully. Such an addition would give the frontcourt excellent interchangeability for lineups.
The Celts would love to snag a youngster who can stretch the floor while operating alongside Zeller, but also excel near the hoop when paired with the perimeter-oriented Olynyk.
Among the prospects who might be available when they're on the clock, the finest candidate to fill this job opening is Kentucky's Trey Lyles. If Boston doesn't trade its No. 16 pick, Lyles should be one of its top pursuits.
During his lone season in Lexington, the 6'10" freshman displayed an impressive inside-out fluidity. He can face up and drive to the bucket with either hand, and he has nice post-up footwork for drop-steps and turnaround shots.
He didn't take or make too many triples last year, hitting just 4-of-29 (14 percent) from beyond the arc. But he did convert 39 percent of his two-point jumpers (per Hoop-Math.com), and his smooth delivery suggests expanded range and efficiency down the road.
CBSSports.com's Zach Harper explains why a player like Lyles would be so valuable in Beantown:
If Lyles falls to the Celtics, that's a big win for them. They could also go with Kevon Looney out of UCLA here, but Lyles fits more with Brad Stevens' offensive wishes. They'd also have to rely less on Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk...Lyles can shoot from outside and he can play big inside.
Other power forwards and stretch 4 types who are in the vicinity at No. 16 are Arkansas' Bobby Portis and UCLA's Kevon Looney. Ainge could also target a raw prodigy with upside like UNLV's Christian Wood at No. 28.
1. Rim Protection
The Celtics are hungry for shooters and stretch 4s, but they're starving for a rim protector.
Boston's perimeter defense wasn't too bad last year because Bradley and Smart hounded opposing playmakers and forced a bunch of turnovers. They didn't allow a ton of slashers and cutters to easily get into the lane.
But whenever attackers did get past that first line of defense, or when a big man found favorable post position, the hoop was open for business.
Stevens' frontcourt allowed the highest opponent field-goal percentage at the rim (54 percent) among 2015 playoff teams, per NBA.com SportVU. Zeller, Olynyk and company simply could not alter enough shots, and the Celtics posted the fewest rejections per game in the league. It's a sad thing that the team's two tallest players (Zeller and Olynyk) averaged 1.1 and 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes, respectively.
Which draftees could turn this trend around?
The Celtics could hope that a shot-swatting stud like Texas' Myles Turner falls to them at No. 16 (he blocked 4.7 shots per 40 minutes in 2014-15). Or they could take a flier on former Washington center Robert Upshaw, who racked up a whopping 7.2 blocks per game.
Their best bet, however, would be to try to trade up for Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS didn't block as many shots as Turner or Upshaw because he shared the floor with Karl-Anthony Towns, but he's rangier and deters just as many attempts.
ESPN.com's Chad Ford recently reported that Boston is indeed trying to move up into the lottery, and he believes Cauley-Stein would be one of the team's desired targets.
Cauley-Stein won't give the club much offense other than pick-and-roll lobs and simple hook shots, but he'd mesh well with skilled players like Zeller, Olynyk and Sullinger. And most importantly, he'd help compensate for their defensive shortcomings.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR
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