Celtics Draft Primer: Who To Target and Who To Avoid
Tonight is the 2020 NBA Draft and I'm pretty sure about 75% of the general public doesn't even know it. This year, with everything going on, it's kind of hard to keep up with sports when they aren't scheduled at their regular time or during their regular part of the calendar. Oh well!
Anyway, the NBA decided to turn their offseason into an abbreviated whirlwind as they prepare to get back on the court just before Christmas. I'm all for it, because I love basketball and want MORE sports on, but it's still creating a bit of havoc. That all really starts tonight when we have a draft unlike any other.
So what sets this draft apart from the ones that have come before it? Well, for starters, we really don't know the players in it as well as we should. Why is that? If you're like me, it's because I learn about most of the college prospects during March Madness, which of course was cancelled this year.
On top of that, we have what many are considering to be a very strange draft class. There is no consensus #1 pick and honestly, there really isn't even a consensus Top 10. The thought with this draft is that it's really just as valuable to be picking 14th (where the Celtics are) as it is to be picking say, 6th.
Now, I want to run through some of the prospects we'll see drafted tonight and detail why they might be a nice fit or a bad fit for the C's. Like I said, because no one really has any rock solid idea of how this draft is going to play out, I'm going to have a way bigger player pool to choose from. There's really no reason that someone that is projected in mock drafts to be picked #5 overall, can't end up falling to Boston in the mid-teens.
If you haven't been following along, the biggest areas of need for Boston are size, shooting and guard play. While I want to say they can stay away from wings because of the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, I also want to make it clear that Danny Ainge should be a bit more willing to take "best available" than he has been in past years. We've whiffed on some rookies recently and need to make sure we aren't littering our team with too many developmental pieces. It's time to win. So without further ado...let's get to the players.
PLAYERS THEY SHOULD TARGET
ONYEKA OKUNGWU (Big) - Drafting Okungwu is the dream scenario for a lot of Celtics fans. Although he may be undersized at 6 foot 9, he's still slightly bigger than Daniel Theis and might actually present an upgrade sooner rather than later. Everyone knows that the biggest need for Boston is size and Okungwu seems to fit that, as well as their idea of having a versatile, "position less" lineup.
All postseason long, we saw the C's come up short in their pick-and-roll defense. That's one of Okungwu's strengths and something that will allow him to take big minutes almost right away. If that's not enough, he's even been compared to Bam Adebayo, the man who tortured Boston in the PNR and grew into a bonafide star during the postseason. I'll take some of that for sure.
In the lead up to the draft, it's seemed that Boston would LIKELY need to trade up if they loved Okungwu. At this point though, there's some rumors floating about the former USC star having a foot injury that could cause him to miss training camp and possibly some of the season. As a rule, I generally want to stay as far away from foot injuries as humanly possible, HOWEVER, I will not be mad if he drops to 14 and lands in Danny's lap.
Big Upsides: Scoring, Hustle, Defense, Handles, Intangibles
Big Downsides: Injury, Size
RJ HAMPTON (Guard) - Remember when I said that I didn't know too much about these guys? Well, RJ Hampton is one of the exceptions because we heard so much about him last year. Why did we? Well because he was one of the first highly-regarded high school prospects in the United States to forgo college to play overseas. Hampton decided to head to Australia to play in the NBL (National Basketball League) for the New Zealand Breakers. He wanted to get started on professional life without having to worry about school. Fair enough, but I wouldn't say it was any huge success.
In the NBL, Hampton didn't exactly blow up the stat sheet (8.8 ppg, 2.4 apg, 3.9 rpg). I'm not going to read TOO much into that. What we do know though, is that the talent is there and he'll be more ready for NBA life than the guys who've never experienced playing basketball as their occupation. I'm intrigued by his upside and can see him starting as a useful rotation piece before blossoming into a possible star. The athleticism and body type remind me of Zach Lavine. Now he just needs to improve his jumper. With his projection being late-teens to early twenties for draft position, I think the Celtics will certainly have a shot at him. It'll be interesting to see if they take it.
Big Upsides: Athleticism, Hustle, Star Potential
Big Downsides: Shooting, Raw, Strength
KILLIAN HAYES (Guard) - You know what's fun? Left-handed basketball players. You know what else is fun? Players from overseas. You know what Killian Hayes is? BOTH! Anyway...
I'm very against trading up in this draft for the reason I talked about above. We just don't know how this thing is going to play out and guys could fall into your spot. Why waste assets to move up? Well, if Ainge is going to do it for any guard, it should be Hayes. We need the playmaker right? We need the guy who could spell or take over for Kemba, right? His name is Killian Hayes and he hails from France.
So what do I love so much about Hayes? His size (6 foot 5) and strength (215 lbs) as a guard fits into the versatility we need. He's the best playmaker in the draft but he can also create his own shot. His smarts and savvy make him seem like a veteran at 19. I feel like he's the perfect fit to play alongside the two Js.
Obviously, there have to be some warts. Every player in this draft has warts which is why there is really no guarantees about anything. So with Hayes, he can't dribble with his right hand. Yep. That's a real thing. That in turn, limits his handles, which is not what you want with a guy who is quite literally handling the ball the most in your offense. I can get by the fact that he isn't an amazing athlete (comparatively), but he MUST improve to the point where his right hand is useful. I'm confident he will.
Big Upsides: Playmaking, Size
Big Downsides: Athleticism, Handles
TYRESE HALIBURTON (Guard) - Haliburton is someone that a lot of scouts see as a future starter for a contender. That honestly can't be said with too much certainty about many players. He moves with a purpose on the court and seems like he's got a great basketball IQ. Despite limited athleticism, he has great playmaking ability and deep shooting range.
He does need to stop settling for low percentage shots and get stronger so that he can use his size at the rim more often. I'm confident that a player with his kind of sixth basketball sense will figure out a way to be successful. Seems like a safe, but good, pick.
Big Upsides: Length, Playmaking, Smarts, Range
Big Downsides: Athleticism, Strength
PLAYERS THEY SHOULD AVOID
These are guys that the Celtics have been linked to (spoiler: the Celtics are always linked to everyone) that I do not like the idea of them taking. It doesn't mean they're bad players, it just means that the C's would be better off trading the pick.
COLE ANTHONY (Guard) - There seems to be this groundswell of talk about moving Kemba Walker and honestly, it isn't something I understand at all. Whether or not the C's do this, they probably need some point guard help and Anthony fits the bill. He's still small enough that he'll still fall victim to mismatches on defense. However, you can classify him as a good defender against guards his size and his style has been described as "feisty" and "tenacious."
Now the downside here is that he really doesn't view himself as the leader of an offense in the way a PG should. He's more interested in taking the shot than distributing and although he can score in bunches, the Celtics need the guy that can make Tatum and Brown even better or run the second unit. I'm going to be honest. I'm a HUGE Kemba guy and I really would rather they don't make this pick because it means either...
A. They are trading Kemba
B. They are very worried about Kemba's knee
Big Upsides: Hustle, Shooting
Big Downsides: Shot Selection, Facilitating
TYRELL TERRY (Guard) - If you learn one thing reading this blog, it should be that I have an aversion to small-framed guard prospects. I know they can have success of course, but I've just seen too many struggle to translate to the NBA and I'd rather not take another Carsen Edwards if we can avoid it.
With Terry, I actually do like his game because he can stroke it for sure. He's a good decision maker when locked-in but the rub on him is that he's not always going at 100% speed. If he can pack on some pounds and avoid mental lapses, he could be a good piece off the bench. I just don't really love taking these guys with a draft pick. Let me establish himself and attempt to sign him when he's got some years under his belt.
Big Upsides: Shooting, Basketball IQ, Burst
Big Downsides: Mental Lapses, Size, Defense
LEANDRO BOLMARO (Guard) - Bolmaro has been linked to the Celtics A TON. This is because the 20-year-old is already committed to playing in Barcelona next year. Therefore, the Celtics, who already have too many rookies, could stash him overseas for a year or so. I hate that idea. Trade the pick before you stash.
In terms of Bolmaro's actual game? His size (6 foot 8) does not help him at all. He gets gobbled up by quicker, smaller guards yet also struggles against length due to lack of athleticism. He's got great court vision and can pass with anyone in this draft, but he can't shoot and there are too many warning signs. Please, PLEASE, stay away Danny.
Big Upsides: High Effort, Intelligent, Handles, Playmaking
Big Downsides: Tweener, Shooting, Not Playing Here For A Year
ISACC OKORO (Wing) - Okoro is the only wing on this list because it's just something that Celtics do not need. He's redundant. We have our two stars on the wings and no one is replacing them. Yet somehow, Danny Ainge and the Celtics are being linked to Okoro everywhere with sources saying they are "enamored." This is where the whole "best available" strategy goes too far. Of course, we all know Ainge is unpredictable and this is probably what he'll do.
Anyway, Okoro is basically just the big, raw, defender with limited offensive game. I like his smarts and his competitiveness but I hate how much of a project he is. Without a quick first step, getting to the rim is harder than it should be and he can't shoot from mid-range or 3 very well at all. Just because I'll totally hate it, I know this will be the pick.
Big Upsides: Defense, Size, Smarts
Big Downsides: Shooting, Quickness, Redundant
Finally, before I end this blog I want to note that we've heard a lot of different things about how the Celtics are going to approach this draft. The C's are always hard to read but this year seems even crazier than most. Factor in the quick offseason, the deep draft, the plethora of picks, the possibility of trades and the perception that almost anything is on the table and we're sure to be on the edge of our seats. In fact, recent reports suggest the Celtics are trying to trade up into the top three tonight...
Now, is this to turn that pick (and other things) into an established star like James Harden? Or is it to take someone they love? Who knows. I'm just going to hope they don't draft LaMelo Ball.