March Madness is heating up and it’s your last chance to see the best college players in game action before the NBA draft, expect for the kid who might wind up being the number one overall pick because he decided to pull a Ben Simmons and attend a school where they couldn’t surround him with any talent.
The Boston Celtics have four picks in this upcoming draft, including one that could score the prospect mentioned above and three second round picks.
Danny Ainge has turned the NBA Draft into a holiday across New England in recent years and it’s always something to get excited about, meaning it’s about time to update the team’s mock draft from a few weeks ago.
Round One, Pick One: PG Markelle Fultz, Washington
All roster needs aside, it’s stupid to not take the best available player when you have the number one overall pick so it seems like the Celtics choices will be narrowed down to Fultz and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball. But even if you wanted to go on pure “need” it would still be hard to find a perfect fit because the guy to pair down low with Al Horford isn’t there at the top of this draft. You’ve basically got a bunch of point guards and Kansas small forward Josh Jackson – basically another Jaylen Brown – taking up the top five on most mock drafts. Surprisingly, taking another guard might actually be the best bet for Boston when you really look at their roster layout. Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Small will all see their contracts expire at the end of next season and it’s not going to be possible to keep them all because each of them deserves a huge raise over what they’re currently getting. Drafting Fultz and getting him on a four-year, cost controlled rookie scale contract will allow Ainge to trade away one of his guard and get that guy down low to pair with Horford that all fans are craving for. Fultz stands at 6’4″ and brings the ability to play both guard positions, so he can easily be a huge factor off the bench for the Celtics as a rookie and play close to 30 minutes per game almost like Smart – who can slide into the starting lineup if he isn’t the one traded – is doing now as the third guard.
Round Two, Pick Thirty-Nine: PF Jordan Bell, Oregon
Boston made Jordan Mickey the highest paid second round pick ever, but the former LSU star hasn’t been able to show much in his two years – even with Al Horford missing 14 games – and it might be time to open up his roster spot for someone new. Bell could be a great fit for that roster spot. Mickey was seen as a defensive specialist when he was drafted and there is nothing different with Bell, who hold the Oregon career record for blocked shots and was recently named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. The junior power forward and three year starter at Oregon scored a career high 10.8 PPG while leading the Pac-12 in shooting percentage (62.1%). He was also the team’s leading rebounder at 8.3 per game. Bell has been having a great postseason so far and with the Ducks advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, fans still have the chance to get a good look at him before the draft is here. The Long Beach, California native had two double-doubles in his team’s three games during the Pac-12 tournament before going off for 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting with 12 boards in Oregon’s first round win over Iona on Friday afternoon. The Ducks escaped a strong upset big against #11 Rhode Island last night, but Bell came up huge with six offensive rebounds and 12 total rebounds to go along with six points and two blocks.
Round Two, Pick Fifty-Three: C Viny Okouo, Congo
Danny Ainge has made it very clear that 2016 first round pick Ante Zizic will be on the Celtics next year and there’s also a pretty good chance fellow 2016 first round choice Guerschon Yabusele is on the roster as well. This means that Boston will have to be smart with who they burn these final two draft picks on as they can’t really be guys who are expecting a roster spot. Okouo is a 19-year old center from the Congo who is currently playing in Spain, and it’s likely that he’ll still need an extra year or two before you can even think about bringing him over to the United States. This would be a lot like stashing Colton Iverson as many stashed picks from the late second round never fully pan out an make it to the NBA – as opposed to taking Zizic and Yabusele in the first round last summer – but the upside is all there for Okouo. He’s very raw and a huge project who isn’t getting many minutes on his current team, but a 7’2″ with his athletic abilities, it’s hard to say no when drafting him with a pick the Celtics won’t be expecting too much out of anyway. Ainge would need to find the right team for him personally, but he’s seemingly done that by getting Yabusele to China this year and forcing Zizic to move midseason to the EuroLeague, arguably the best league in the world outside of the NBA.
Round Two, Pick Fifty-Seven: PG Frank Mason, Kansas
Frank Mason is in the final chapter of an amazing college basketball career. A three time All-Big 12 selection, Mason was recently named National Player of the Year by Sporting News and he’s surly in the running for the Naismith Award, which is college basketball’s Heisman Trophy and will be announced right before the Final Four. But scouts still doubt his ability to be a great NBA player and it’s making him show up on draft boards as a late second round pick as teams will just try to come away with a steal here. Mason will turn 23-years old in April – an extremely old age for a draft prospect – and he’s also undersized at 5’11”. While the size thing won’t scare any fan in New England away thanks to the success of Isaiah Thomas, Mason relies heavily on a strong three point shot while he struggles at times to get to the rim and score against college defenders. That will become a lot tougher against the bigger, stronger players at the NBA level, but Boston could still be the team to draft Mason and get a free look at him in the summer league and training camp because their roster is deep enough to absorb a wasted late second round pick if the guy shows up and can’t compete.