The Boston Celtics currently hold four picks in the upcoming NBA draft, and fans are mostly excited over their top one because the Brooklyn Nets currently have the worst record in the NBA and lost to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers over the weekend to drop them even further behind the pack.
Ever since that blockbuster deal with the Nets, the draft has consistently been a hot topic among fans across New England and it’s never too early to look into the upcoming class for a look at those who might find themselves wearing green and white – or the red and white of the Maine Red Claws – as soon as next season.
What’s weird is that Boston doesn’t have any of their own picks at the moment, despite having four picks. If they do exercise the right to swap picks with the Nets, then they also turn over their 2017 second round pick on top of that. They own the Minnesota Timberwolves second round pick thanks to the Suns when they traded Brandon Wright to Phoenix in 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers second round pick from when they traded them Keith Bogans in 2014 and the Los Angeles Clippers second round pick from when they traded them Austin Rivers.
Round One, Pick One: PG Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Some readers might have gotten sick seeing the letters “PG” in front of the player’s name, but Danny Ainge is kind of stuck with this one and he’ll make fans upset no matter who he picks. Many mock drafts have Ball, Markelle Fultz, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith as the first four players coming off the board – although the order in which they’re taken often varies – and they one thing they have in common is that they’re all point guards. So Ainge can take a point guard with the number one overall pick and make everyone mad or he take a player way ahead of his projected draft slot – like he did with Terry Rozier and Guerschon Yabusele – and make everyone mad. Ball is the biggest of these projected top four picks at 6’6″ and he’s a great pass first player, currently standing second in the NCAA by averaging 8.0 APG. He’s the architect of a prolific UCLA offense turning everybody on the floor with him into a scoring threat, averaging 14.2 PPG with a 52.8% mark from the floor and a 43.2% clip from beyond the arc. His size, length and lateral quickness should make him a very good defender at the NBA level.
Round Two, Pick Thirty-Six: C Chris Boucher, Oregon
Jordan Mickey had a lot of promise when the Celtics took him early in the second round a few years ago, but he doesn’t seem to be working out and Ainge might wind up cutting his losses and getting rid of him in some way shape or form. Boucher can easily take the roster spot that Mickey occupies and possibly be an upgrade as well. He was second in the nation with 2.9 blocks per game last year and Montreal native is repeating his performance once again this year by averaging 2.9 BPG as Oregon leads the country as a team with almost eight blocks per game. Boucher is a multidimensional offensive threat who became just the third Division I player in the last 25 seasons to ever block 100 shots and hit 35 three pointers in a single season last year and his long range shooting has improved this year as he’s now shooting above 36% from beyond the arc. He’s currently the leading scorer at 14.1 PPG for the 13th ranked Ducks and can also score with his back to the basket and off the dribble. Scouts do think he needs to gain weight in order to bang down low with the bigger guys at the NBA level but age is another factor in his second round grade because he’ll be 24-years old by the time draft day rolls around.
Round Two, Pick Fifty-Four: SF Vlatko Cancar, Slovenia
It’s hard to get excited for picks this late because the Celtics have such a deep roster filled with a bunch of young guys at the bottom, so taking up the “draft-and-stash” route is very likely with this pick. Cancar is a 19-year old Slovenian native who stands at 6’7″ with a lengthy 6’11” wingspan. He recently signed with KK Mega Basket in Serbia – which is a huge competition upgrade over the teams he had previously played with – and he’s doing well so far with the adjustment, averaging 7.8 PPG off the bench for his new team through 27 games. The upside is all there for this European teenager but it’s still unlikely he makes the roster of any team that drafts him next fall, which is a situation that Danny Ainge would really like to find himself in with this pick. Late second round picks from other countries don’t always make the NBA to begin with, but it’ll be worth the risk for the Celtics as they’ll get close up looks at him in summer league action and could always trade his draft rights if he starts to break out in Europe while their roster is still loaded with depth.
Round Two, Pick Fifty-Eight: PF Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Ben Bentil was a really good college player that the Celtics drafted last June and he wasn’t able to make the team, eventually getting cut in training camp and failing to catch on with another NBA team after that before signing with a team in China. Bentil was always in between position as a 6’8″ power forward but worth the look because he was so good in college and Hayes – listed at 6’7″ – is in the same boat as he is projected to be a late second round pick. He was a First Team All-Big Ten selection last year and he’s having another standout season with the Badgers so far this year, but his pure power forward skillset might hold back his NBA career. Guys like this do go on and have successful NBA careers every now and again, so there will always be hope that Hayes comes in and gives you a nice surprise after summer league and training camp. Both Brandon Bass and Glen Davis were second round picks because of height concerns despite each taking home SEC Player of the Year honors in their separate tenures at LSU and Celtic fans are well aware that each of them was able to make positive impacts on contending teams, but for every player like that you have a Ben Bentil who couldn’t get a second look from an NBA team after Boston cut him after leading the Big East in scoring a year ago.