Thursday’s draft should be an exciting one for the Boston Celtics. As of this moment they have two picks in the top 25, both or one of which has promise to help fill a specific need that’s troubled them these past few years: rebounding. In the past three seasons, Boston ranked 30, 30, and 28 in offensive rebound rate.
In doing research for the upcoming draft, I contacted two people who know just about everything that’s relevant about every available prospect: DraftExpress.com’s Mike Schmitz and CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello.
Here are their thoughts on several big men that, based on several mock drafts, could either could fall to the Celtics at 21 and 22, or be available somewhere in the teens should Danny Ainge get aggressive and make an upward trade.
(Click on the player’s name for an in-depth scouting video courtesy of Mike Schmitz at Draft Express. Videos for Andrew Nicholson and Fab Melo are unavailable at this time. Clicking on their names will bring you to their Draft Express profile page.)
Borzello: Leonard has plenty of potential, given his 7-foot size, developing skillset and ability to run the floor and move effectively. He doesn’t have great back-to-the-basket moves yet, but he knows how to finish down low and has a solid jump hook. His mobility and athleticism enable him to be a solid shot-blocker and rebounder on the defensive end. Playing alongside Rondo, Leonard could be a very good pick-and-roll option because he moves so well and can also hit face-up jumpers.
Schmitz: The Illini big man shot up draft boards after an impressive showing at the combine, and rightfully so. There’s no question Leonard has a ton of talent. He’s athletic, agile, physical, can run the floor, and is loaded with upside. But as of now, that’s all Leonard is: upside. His offensive game is as raw as it gets, his shooting stroke leaves much to be desired, and he’s only an average rebounder and on the ball defender. Add in the fact that Leonard has had well-documented struggles with confidence and emotions and he doesn’t seem worth the headache. Leonard is still a very intriguing prospect, however, because of his physical tools and athleticism for that size. He would step in and give the Celtics legitimate length at the center spot and fit into the defensive mindset in Beantown. He has a strong will to be good and will undoubtedly be a productive pro, but whether that’s as a serviceable center who can rebound and block shots or an athletic big who can face you up and get to the hoop remains to be seen.
Borzello: Zeller was often overshadowed at North Carolina by John Henson and Harrison Barnes, but he was the Tar Heels’ most effective and consistent offensive player. Offensively, he has a good repertoire of post moves, led by an unblockable jump hook and a couple of counter moves. Moreover, he has very good hands and can pass out of a double team. Defensively, he’s solid and has improved his ability to bang in the paint for rebounds and positioning. Zeller also runs the floor extremely well.
Schmitz: As Leonard flew up draft boards, Zeller slipped a bit. While his production didn’t change, he faces the challenge of overcoming the perceived low ceiling that comes with being a developed, ready-to-play senior. To the NBA community, Zeller’s upside isn’t high. He doesn’t have a great wingspan, he’s not a freak athlete, and there aren’t too many parts of his game that you expect him to become great in. But part of that is because Zeller is already so refined and productive. He’s the most NBA ready center in the draft as he’s a tenacious rebounder, a great finisher around the basket, a sound defender, an above average shooter, a handful in transition, and a great kid with all the intangibles imaginable. Chances are Zeller doesn’t slip to the Celtics but if he does they should consider pulling the trigger if they remain in ‘win now’ mode. Best case he’s a longtime NBA starter and worst case he’s a really good backup. Aside from his lack of upside there’s not much to dislike about Zeller and he’d be a great fit in Boston, especially running the floor with Rondo.
Borzello: At 6-foot-11, Moultrie has the ability to be a matchup problem at the next level because he can score around the rim and also step out and knock down perimeter jumpers. He moves well and gets himself open for easy dump-offs or alley-oops. Moultrie is a very good offensive rebounder, finishing tip-ins and grabbing loose balls. On the negative side, he was part of a Mississippi State team that simply quit at the end of last season—and he certainly wasn’t without guilt in that disaster.
Schmitz: The former Mississippi State standout has as much potential as any 6-foot-11 player in the draft, but he’s full of warning signs. Starting with the positives, he moves around the floor like a guard, can handle, run the floor, rebound, and he has great athletic tools and a big wingspan. He’s more or less a guard in a big man’s body. He’s also added a three-point shot and could play multiple positions at the next level. On the downside, he’s not particularly great at one thing, his rebounding numbers aren’t nearly as good on a per 40 minute basis, his basketball IQ is fairly low, and he has an on and off switch that more often than not gets stuck on the off position. Then there’s the fact that he left UTEP on bad terms, called out his team after they lost five in a row, and is already on his second agent. Former coach Rick Stansbury says Moultrie is a hard worker with a bright future, which isn’t to be debated. He’s improved since joining the college ranks and has the potential to be a solid pro. But there’s a reason a talent like him isn’t projected to go in the lottery. Moultrie would be good running the floor with Rondo and rolling to the hoop in the half court (he’s a tremendous finisher), but his lack of consistency and question marks character-wise make him a risk.
Borzello: Melo has improved in leaps and bounds over the last two years, which bodes well for his future development. With that said, he’s still relatively new to the game of basketball, playing for less than a handful of years. He’s 7-feet tall and makes an impact on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. There is a question on how well he is defending in a man-to-man defense, as Syracuse religiously plays a 2-3 zone. He’s physical and tough, but is still raw on the offensive end.
Schmitz: Last season Melo showed flashes of how far he’s come since picking up a basketball for the first time six years ago. He dropped 30 pounds, became mobile and agile, added a decent shooting touch and continued to evolve as a shot blocker and rebounder. While Melo is far from a finished product, he could help the Celtics defensively and on the boards right away. His offensive game needs a few years of fine-tuning, however, and he may never be more than a catch and finish guy who can knock down the 15-footer. With that said Melo is a good value around 21 or 22 because of his upside and already NBA ready defensive ability. He’s shown an improved ability to get up and down the floor, which would bode well playing with Rondo. He certainly wouldn’t be a target for Rondo to spoon-feed in the halfcourt, however, as his offensive instincts are terrible at this point.
Borzello: One of the more underrated players in the country last season, Nicholson has an advanced post game with a variety of finishing and back-to-the-basket moves. He can score with both hands, against double-teams and absorbing contact. Moreover, Nicholson can step away from the basket and either knock down perimeter shots or go off the dribble. Nicholson has good hands, although has had turnover problems in the past, and is a very good rebounder at both ends.
Schmitz: (Schmitz was unable to properly scout Nicholson because he couldn’t get enough St. Bonaventure film.)
Borzello: When it comes to all-around skill, White is one of the best basketball players in this year’s draft. He was the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks—and he carried Iowa State at times. He can be a point-forward, creating matchup problems with his skillset and strength. He has an NBA-ready body and is a tremendous passer for someone his size. White is better when he can create for himself and others—his shooting is too inconsistent to be a true wing.
Schmitz: The former Iowa State standout is a lottery talent that should be available when the Celtics are on the clock. He can do virtually everything on the floor—pass, rebound, handle, defend, score inside, drive to the hole from the perimeter—and he does it all well. White is ready to contribute right away in most of those areas and having played only one college season he certainly has room to grow. He’s faced questions about his character after getting into trouble at Minnesota, but he more or less put those criticisms to rest after proving how much he’s changed during interviews at the combine. He’s engaging, insightful, and has a life outside of basketball. White may not be able to shoot the ball, and his anxiety issue may scare some teams off, but he’s a risk worth taking because at the worst he’ll be a big man who can crash the glass, score inside and handle in transition while making the right pass. You wonder how effective he’ll be without the ball in his hands at the NBA level, especially with a point guard like Rondo, but he could serve as a solid secondary ball-handler and should have a very productive NBA career.