Dark-Horse Draft Studs the Boston Celtics Should Target This Offseason

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

Dark-Horse Draft Studs the Boston Celtics Should Target This Offseason

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    We already know about Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, the shiniest jewels who may be available in this summer's NBA draft. Of course, those three are off limits without a top-three pick, but there are so many other valuable building blocks available.

    For the Boston Celtics, which ones deserve a second look, and what exactly are they searching for? Boston has a few promising players already scattered throughout its roster, but from a positional standpoint they're not yet in a place where drafting for need is the priority.

    Help and depth are wanted just about everywhere. Here are five players who should be available from the middle of the lottery on. The Celtics have two picks, and selecting any pair of these players could expedite their path back to contention.

    They're ranked on a combination of long-term potential and short-term fit. 

    *Information from Draft Express was used in this article.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Celtics just went an entire season without a constant rim protector. Jared Sullinger is stout in the post, and Kris Humphries is underrated for his shot blocking, but neither is a long-armed, habitual shot-changer like a 7-footer can be.

    Willie Cauley-Stein (a 7-footer) is the scariest shot-blocker in the first round, and if he smacks into his ideal ceiling as someone who can dive hard to the rim on the pick-and-roll, catch lobs, bottle up guards on the perimeter and swat everything in sight, the Celtics would have an incredibly vital building block locked up for the foreseeable future.

    They tried to solve this problem by selecting Fab Melo two years ago, but that failed miserably. Melo is no longer in the league. Cauley-Stein can make up for the mistake; all the better if he becomes Tyson Chandler 2.0.

4. Noah Vonleh

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Celtics have an opportunity to begin shaping their long-term identity by selecting players of a similar ilk in this draft. Do they want to be super fast and play uptempo? Let’s grab a pair of guards who can space the floor and shoot!

    Or do they want to bang down low and obliterate the glass on both ends, turning their frontcourt into a younger version of Chicago’s destructive Joakim Noah-Taj Gibson duo? Noah Vonleh fits perfectly with the latter choice, and grabbing him would push the team in a defense-first direction.

    Vonleh is this draft's softest and largest ball of clay. His future is completely unpredictable, and the range of possible production is very wide. Here's what we think we know: Vonleh can shoot threes (16-of-33 on the year) and free throws, hustles extremely hard on both ends and is only 18 years old.

    The expectation that any guys not named Wiggins, Embiid or Parker need to become All-Star performers is silly. Someone like Noah Vonleh—who holds a 7'4" wingspan and leads all Draft Express prospects with 14.9 rebounds per 40 minutes and 10.8 on the defensive end—could eventually become Serge Ibaka. Not an All-Star, but a positive force on both ends who helps his team win a lot of games.

3. Nik Stauskas

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Rajon Rondo’s ideal backcourt partner is a tall, offensively versatile knockdown shooter. Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas is 6’6”, can create off the dribble and basically makes every shot he takes. So, yeah. This appears to be a match made in heaven.

    A shooter who can drain three-pointers off the dribble and on the catch is invaluable right now, and Stauskas might be the best shooter in the entire draft. He made 45.1 percent of his threes on 5.7 attempts per game, which is an insane rate. 

    However, as Draft Express pointed out in February, Stauskas may run into a few limitations on the offensive end:

    It remains to be seen the extent of which he will be able to create his own shot and finish around the basket against NBA caliber defenders, although he has made significant strides in dispelling those doubts this season.

    This won't ever become a major problem if he can shoot. Whether he's the long-term option as a starting 2-guard or a Kyle Korver-like marksman off the bench, Stauskas will always keep the floor spread.

2. Adreian Payne

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    The relationship between NBA scouts and human beings who’re really tall, super long and well-coordinated is similar to that which existed between mid-19th century California migrants and gold.

    The process of whittling through this already-select bunch to find guys who can also make shots standing over 20 feet from the hoop is like hunting for gold during a mild hurricane. It’s difficult, and the findings are so rare. But the possible reward is well worth the trouble.

    Michigan State big man Adreian Payne appears to be that rare bird, a 6’9” monster with outside touch. The Celtics already have one of these in Kelly Olynyk, but there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to the stretch 4, a specialty that impacts so many dimensions of modern NBA offense.

    Payne isn’t projected to go in the lottery, meaning Boston might be in perfect position to grab him with their second first-round pick. The only downside is he’s “already” 23, older than Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.

1. Aaron Gordon

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Aaron Gordon is on track to consistently provide something every team wants and needs: Versatile on-ball defense. Players like Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George who have the speed, strength and length to guard three or four positions. Having someone who can make life miserable for James Harden and Kevin Durant.

    Forget about his questionable jump shot for a second. That’s something that can be corrected (Leonard shot below 30 percent from the three-point line in college). If Gordon becomes Ron Artest 2.0, he’s more than worthy of a lottery pick.

    Of course, Gordon’s offensive game won’t be garbage. He’s only 18 years old and for nothing else has insane athleticism that defenses need to be aware of at all times. Here's what Draft Express had to say about him in January:

    Gordon has played a key role on 20-0 Arizona's emergence as the #1-ranked team in college basketball, showing tremendous versatility as a defender, passer, finisher and all-around glue guy.

    The absolute worst-case scenario feels like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kenneth Faried. A career akin to Shawn Marion’s would be ideal. On the Celtics, Gordon would be the perfect easel to support Rajon Rondo’s creativity in the open floor.

    Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Fox Sports, ESPN’s TrueHoop Network, Sports On Earth and The Classical. His writing can be found here. Follow him @MichaelVPina 


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