Celtics' Way Too Early 2021 NBA Draft Big Board

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

Celtics' Way Too Early 2021 NBA Draft Big Board

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    The Boston Celtics entered the 2020-21 NBA season with both eyes on a world title.

    After making three trips to the Eastern Conference finals in the last four years, it was hard to doubt those intentions. But with this team treading water at .500 past the halfway point of this marathon, that championship is looking farther out of reach for the Shamrocks than it has in quite some time.

    There are no positive ways to spin that, but there is one minor consolation prize. The Celtics' unexpected struggles have at least positioned them to potentially land a higher-tiered prospect than they anticipated.

    With a mid-first-round pick possibly coming in a good draft class, here are the top three prospects for Boston within its likely selection range.

1. Davion Mitchell, PG/SG, Baylor

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    As a key contributor in Baylor's championship run, Davion Mitchell might have played his way out of Boston's draft range. But if he somehow slips to the Celtics—or they get to his selection spot—he'd be a good get for a team in need of backcourt depth.

    Boston clearly needs reliability at the lead guard spot given Kemba Walker's trouble shaking a nagging knee injury. The Celtics hoped they would get that out of Jeff Teague, but it was obvious early on that wouldn't be the case. Rookie Payton Pritchard has provided a nice jolt, but he's more of a scorer than a table-setter.

    Mitchell isn't a primary playmaker, either, but he would help get the ball moving. Besides, it's not like the Celtics need someone to dominate touches when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will handle so many offensive possessions on their own.

    Mitchell, then, could slide in as a secondary distributor with a rapidly improving outside shot (career-high 44.7 percent from three this season) and a Marcus Smart-type of relentless approach to the defensive end.

2. Franz Wagner, SF, Michigan

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Franz Wagner doesn't play like Pritchard, but the same instant-impact ability that put Pritchard on Boston's radar could do the same for Wagner.

    The 6'9" swingman sees the game at an advanced level, which has major positives at both ends of the floor.

    Offensively, he'd be a sneaky-good secondary playmaker who can slip past sleepy defenders with timely cuts. It would help if his three-ball inspired more confidence (32.5 percent across two seasons at Michigan), but his free-throw stroke gives reason to hope for better results in the future (career 83.5 percent). Defensively, he has the mobility to survive switches and the instincts to make timely reads as an off-ball team defender.

    The Celtics need better options at the forward spots behind Tatum and Brown. Wagner would give them an interesting one.

3. Sharife Cooper, PG, Auburn

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    With Walker on the roster, the Celtics have shown they're comfortable rolling out an undersized point guard. That means they might have fewer issues with Sharife Cooper's lack of size (6'1", 180 lbs) than most.

    If they can stomach his defensive limitations, they could squeeze a lot out of his natural lead-guard skills.

    He's a dizzying dribbler with the burst to break down defenders and the vision to spot open teammates. His scoring potential is trickier to gauge. For the glass-half full crowd, he averaged 20.2 points per game as a teenage freshman. For the glass-empty pessimists, he piled up those points at an alarmingly inefficient rate (39.1 percent from the field, 22.8 percent from three).

    Saying that, he makes things happen off the bounce, and that skill set is hard to find among Boston's supporting cast.