So You Think You Can Draft? Boston Celtics and Danny Ainge

Brett BynumContributor IIIJune 25, 2011

So You Think You Can Draft? Boston Celtics and Danny Ainge

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    In anticipation of last night’s draft, I felt compelled to review the record of general managers throughout the NBA, starting with the Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge.

    As an unapologetic Celtic fan, I have bought into the myth that Ainge is one of the league’s shrewdest drafters. And, while he has uncovered many a gem—particularly late in the draft—his record is more mixed than most Boston fans care to admit.

    When assessing each draft, I took a quantitative initial approach and looked at each drafted player’s average annual “Win Shares (Bill James)” over the course of his career. I did not factor in team positional needs or relative luck with the injury bug, so this analysis is by no means perfect. Rather, it is an attempt to estimate the value—determined by the career contributions of each player—that each general manager gets out of his draft picks' given draft position.  

    With that disclaimer out of the way, a look at Danny Ainge’s draft history, year by year:

2003 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 13 Marcus Banks (F)
    • No. 27 Kendrick Perkins (B+)
    • No. 56 Brandon Hunter (C+)

     

    On draft day, the Celtics traded the No. 16 and No. 20 to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for the No. 13 and No. 27 selections. In choosing the athletic Banks at No. 13, Ainge passed on twenty players who have proven superior to Banks over the course of their careers including David West, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard and Mo Williams among many others.In what was an exceptional draft top to bottom, Ainge swung and missed badly with his very first selection as Celtics GM.

    Ainge recovered by getting good value in Kendrick Perkins with his next pick. Perkins, at selection No. 27, has been more productive over his career than 17 of the 26 players selected before him. However, six players selected after Perkins have contributed more to their respective teams. Included in this list is the aforementioned Howard, Williams and Barbosa among others. Still, given positional scarcity, a case can be made to still select Perkins over these other players.

    Brandon Hunter, at pick No. 56, had about as good a career as one can expect from a selection this low. After two years in the league, Hunter was done.

    Overall Grade: D

    Although Perkins worked out well for the Celtics, Ainge needed to get more value out of his two first-round selections. The strikeout on Gerald Green, given how many good players were drafted behind him, more than offsets the good of the Perkins selection.

2004 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 15 Al Jefferson (A)
    • No. 24 Delonte West (A-/B+)
    • No. 25 Tony Allen (B+)
    • No. 40 Justin Reed (B)

     

    Thankfully for the Celtics organization, Ainge’s 2004 draft was exceptional. From a Win Shares perspective, only two professionals drafted later—Josh Smith and Kevin Martin—have achieved more since being drafted than Big Al.

    Like Perkins a year before him, Big Al benefits from positional scarcity as finding good forwards and guards are not as difficult as those who can effectively play center. Despite his recent injury history, Jefferson has done more for his teams than all but four of the 14 players selected before him.

    Delonte West provided great value at the No. 24 spot, outpacing 11 of the 23 players picked before him. Kevin Martin, Anderson Varejao and Chris Duhon were all selected after West and have arguably enjoyed better careers to date, but it is hard to argue with West’s production for a late selection.

    Similarly, Tony Allen has proven valuable despite an injury-riddled career. Even taking his many injuries into account, Allen has averaged 2.44 Win Shares per year since joining the league. This mark reflects the 19th best among his class, demonstrating above-average value for a 25th selection. Allen receives subjective bonus points since his injury history could not be forecast and his career is still on the ascent.

    Justin Reed was a marginal contributor over his three-year career, which is slightly above expectations for any second-round pick.

    Overall Grade: A

2005 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 18 Gerald Green (F)
    • No. 50 Ryan Gomes (A)
    • No. 53 Orien Greene (C-)

     

    Despite a reputation as the best athlete in his draft class, Green proved to be a huge bust. Only two players drafted ahead of him have contributed less to the NBA than Green, one of those being Fran Vazquez. David Lee, Brandon Bass, Monta Ellis, Marcin Gortat, Louis Williams and Hakim Warrick are a few of the 27 players drafted after Green to have had more productive careers.

    Ryan Gomes, on the other hand, represents great value as a 50th selection as his annual average Win Shares contribution exceeds that of 36 of the 49 players selected before him—including some high profile players such as Brandon Bass, C.J. Miles, Louis Williams, Jason Maxiell and Nate Robinson. Only Marcin Gortat has done more from a later position.

    We won’t hold it against Greene (or Ainge) that he was out of the league after four years, since this actually exceeds expectations for a man drafted No. 53 overall.

    Overall Grade: D+

    The commendable selection of Gomes fails to compensate for the miss on Green, given how many decent-to-good players were still available after the 18th choice. Taking major risks is a big part of Danny Ainge’s success as a player and as an executive, and I admire him for it, but this grade is based on production, not process.

2006 Draft

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    Selections:

     

    In an effort to focus this discussion on Ainge’s drafting ability and not his trading acumen, I have ignored the trade that sent the Celtics the No. 7 pick Randy Foye (who was immediately traded for Brandon Roy), Raef Lafrentz and Dan Dickau to the Portland Trail Blazers for Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff and a second-round pick. Since Rondo was immediately traded to the Celtics, we can reasonably assume that Ainge felt he was worth selecting at No. 21 even if he did not technically draft Rondo.

    Suffice it to say, Danny hit a home run with the Rondo pick. Of the 20 players drafted ahead of him, only LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy have averaged more Win Shares than Rondo—the difference is negligible enough and the trend sufficiently enough in Rondo’s favor to believe that this will not be the case for long.

    None of the players drafted behind him have given more to their squads. Obviously, this is incredible value for the 21st pick, enough for me to say that this pick alone atones for Marcus Banks and Gerald Green combined.

    Like his stellar draft in 2004, Ainge uncovered multiple hidden gems in 2006 by following up the Rondo pick with Leon Powe at No. 49. Ainge looked beyond the doubts regarding Powe’s health, background and NBA position, to draft a rebounding force who has outperformed 47 of his 2006 Draft peers including all 11 drafted after him.

    Overall Grade: A+

    One can’t ask for a better draft. The foundation of Banner 17 is traced to this draft as well as 2004. Other than Portland—who chose second and sixth, essentially—Boston drafted more talent in 2006 than any other team despite selecting late in each round.

2007 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 32 Gabe Pruitt (C-)
    • No. 35 Glen Davis (B+)

     

    Again we ignore the Ray Allen trade that sent the No. 5 pick (Jeff Green) to Seattle and focus instead on the selections that Boston kept.

    Gabe Pruitt, flaming out of the league after only two years, is only tolerable to Celtics fans because the Lakers chose the equally-awful Javaris Crittendon 13 selections before Ainge tabbed Pruitt. Although an important cog in the rotation is not expected of a No. 32 selection, choosing a player who can remain in the league for more than two years is not too much to ask.

    Although a recent target of criticism, Glen “Big Baby” Davis can play. Similar to Leon Powe, Baby did not fit comfortable scouting stereotypes of how a power forward/center should look. So, just as he did the year prior, Ainge overlooked physical shortcomings and chose a very productive collegiate player.

    Ainge focused on the game, not the player, which bodes well for 2011 newcomer JaJuan Johnson. Chosen 35th, Davis has clearly played better than 21 young men drafted before him, many of whom have more NBA-attractive physiques.

    Overall Grade: B

    Gabe Pruitt washing out early is more expected than Baby’s above-average production. A decent draft.

2008 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 30 J.R. Giddens (D)
    • No. 48 Bill Walker (B)
    • No. 60 Semih Erden (A)

     

    With his first selection, the final pick of the first round, Ainge swung for the fences. Giddens possessed remarkable athleticism, size and speed for his position and his off-the-chart potential proved too tempting to pass on, behavioral red flags be damned.

    Although Giddens ended up an undeniable NBA disaster, Ainge avoids an “F” grade on this selection based on the low number of quality professionals selected behind Giddens. However, it should be noted that 15 of the 30 players chosen after Giddens (thankfully two of which were Celtics picks) have more positive Win Shares statistics than Giddens, including very useful players such as DeAndre Jordan, Omer Asik and Luc Mbah a Moute.

    Bill Walker has outperformed 18 of the 46 drafted before him, with only Semih Erden producing more average Win Shares (though only over one year) from a lower position. Walker seems to have the skills and work ethic to stay in the league for many years.

    At pick No. 60, Ainge gave up instant gratification in exchange for an athletic, coachable seven-footer in Semih Erden. Although it took Erden two years to make his way to the NBA, he almost instantly became a member of the Celtics rotation and showed a great deal of promise in his rookie season last year.

    Overall Grade: C

    After missing badly with his first selection, Ainge recovers to get good value at his later picks. Taken together, the Celtics acquired just about the expected level of talent given their three draft picks.

2009 Draft

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    2009 Selections:

    • No. 58 Lester Hudson {C}

     

    As one would expect, Lester Hudson has not created many memorable NBA moments after being chosen with the 58th pick in the 2009 draft.

    Overall Grade: C

2010 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 19 Avery Bradley (Inc.)
    • No. 52 Luke Harangody (Inc.)

     

    Overall Grade: Incomplete

    I do not believe in grading players after one injury-filled season or in grading second-round selections or late first-round selections after only one year since, presumably, these players will take a bit longer to develop. This coming season should tell us much about Bradley and Harangody, assuming there is one. I will say that it seems Harangody should have just enough skill and tenacity to stick around the league for more than three years.

2011 Draft

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    Selections:

    • No. 27 Jajuan Johnson
    • No. 55 E’Twaun Moore

     

    Prognosis:

     Based on his drafting history, I believe Celtics fans have reason to believe Ainge hit the mark with this draft. Johnson fits the mold of Ainge’s best picks not named Rondo, as he is a highly productive collegiate player whose physical “limitations” (in this case, his low weight for his height) scared other teams away.

    Other Ainge hits who have resembled this profile include Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe, Glen Davis and Luke Harangody. As much as these names should give Celtics fans confidence, so should the following names: Marcus Banks, Gerald Green, J.R. Giddens. Most of Ainge’s misses have come from drafting physical super-athletes who have not had productive backgrounds in college.

    The two selections this year represent solid all-around players, with discernible NBA skills, who have consistently produced against good competition in college, and should enjoy productive NBA careers. Let us hope they are not traded away at the trade deadline for washed-up veterans.

Overall Record

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    Overall Grade: 2003-2011: B+

    Although Ainge’s history in the draft is not perfect, it is important to consider a couple of things. First, he has collectively drafted more talent at his respective positions than should be expected. Second, many of his draft selections have either contributed significantly to team success or have been successfully peddled in trade in exchange for superstars such as Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.

    When assessing Ainge, one must consider the team he inherited and contrast it to four consecutive 50-plus win seasons and one championship.

     


    For more 2011 NBA draft coverage, stay tuned to Bleacher Report for NBA draft results and NBA draft grades.