The regular season is all but over. The Boston Celtics aren’t making the playoffs, and, aside from final scores related to lottery placement, over the next month almost nothing relevant will unfold on the court. It’s unofficially time to look ahead.
Over the past few days, Brian and I have done just that, exchanging e-mails about the upcoming NBA draft, discussing all sorts of super important stuff related to the day none of us can wait for. With two picks in a deep field, this year’s is especially pivotal. We talk about players who excite us and might fit comfortably in Boston, give general reactions to all that’s transpired during March Madness, and not so privately wish Jeff Green magically turned into Adreian Payne.
This e-mail conversation format could return in the weeks ahead, so let us know in the comments what about it you enjoy and/or aren’t too fond of. Without further ado, let’s dance.
Michael: Instead of cannonballing into the shallow end with audacious proclamations about a handful of games played by nervous teenagers and Luke Hancock, let’s tip-toe by with a few modestly educated opinions. What are your thoughts on the tournament so far? Not even speaking from the perspective of a Celtics fan/analyst, who stood out to you and why?
Brian: I guess I have to start with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Most of me wants to chalk up their performances to lackluster coaching—Wiggins didn’t really have much of an opportunity to shine against a 2-3 Stanford zone that stalled Kansas’ offense for most of the afternoon. Still, it was hard peeking at the box score, watching some of Wiggins’s ill-fated drives to the hoop, and not being reminded of Jeff Green. Wiggins will grow, and is dealing with a much better overall arsenal than Green ever had, but that’s not a favorable comparison right now. Celtics fans have seen enough of Green the past few years. I don’t need another one, thank you very much.
Duke’s offense has been a half-court disaster many times this season; in my book that’s on Coach K, so I don’t fault Parker for his play against Mercer. Still, Duke going offense/defense with him against a #14 seed doesn’t sit well with me either. There are more strides to be made than I thought.
On the plus side, Adreian Payne’s 41-point outburst against Delaware really stood out. He did a little bit of everything. I know he’s going to be drafted toward the bottom of the first round, but his inside-outside versatility is a very intriguing draw for a big with that kind of athleticism. Plus: how can you not love a guy who does this:
Michael: Wiggins and Parker will have stellar NBA careers, and Green really appreciates the generous comparison. My only fear with both getting knocked out so soon is that one might go back to school. Probably not, but that’d be the worst thing ever, right? On the other hand, if Boston gets the third pick and ends up taking either, a certain someone (me) will dance in the street.
Thinking too hard about Parker and Wiggins makes my head hurt, so I’ll stop. But I’m really glad you brought up Payne. Apart from having to double check the spelling of his first name every time I type it, you’re spot on asking what’s not to love. Speaking as a Delaware graduate: if anybody was going to drop 41 on us in our first tourney game in 15 years, I’m glad it was him. Watching Payne drain threes, contain penetration on ball screens, defend the post, flash touch around the rim, and clean the glass for two hours was thrilling. He has Jared Sullinger-esque value if selected outside the lottery.
He’s like Draymond Green, except longer and better. I feel in my gut that the Celtics would seriously regret passing him over with their second pick if he’s still available. You KNOW (kinda) what you’re getting with a skilled four-year player like that.
Let’s say Boston drafts him. Payne is 6’9″ with a seven-foot wingspan. Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are already two developing players in the frontcourt. Payne is older than both of them. Would selecting him hurt the other two at all? Wouldn’t a log jam occur? I know you should almost always draft the best available player as opposed to filling a need, but what’s the smart play in this specific situation? Should the Celtics use the draft to fill some of their holes instead?
Brian: At this point, I firmly believe that Boston should go with the best player on the board at each spot in the draft. The great thing Ainge has going for him this offseason is that this team has flexibility pretty much everywhere. They’d like to compete this year, but they don’t have to, and beyond Gerald Wallace (and potentially Green) all their contracts are movable.
So if you bring in a guy like Payne who is promising enough to be a rotation player or more right away, that just makes it easier for the team to pull of a blockbuster deal where the asking price is Sullinger, Olynyk, or both (along with some draft picks). The Celtics don’t want to give up any of those guys, but a significant move is going to cost more than just draft picks. Depth is a good thing, and since this team won’t be a contender for at least another couple years, they don’t need to worry about filling all of their holes right away.
Michael: Grabbing the most talented player makes a ton of sense, but for one second let’s look at it from a different angle. I feel like this draft could allow the Celtics to make somewhat of an interesting statement about the foundational identity they’re starting to shape.
What do I mean? Complete hypothetical: Let’s say they take Doug McDermott and Nik Stauskas, arguably the two best shooters in this draft. Clearly offense is then a priority, right? If it’s defense, and they grab Noah Vonleh with the first pick then have Willie Cauly-Stein fall in their lap later in the first round, the best case scenario could be having a super young Tyson Chandler/Serge Ibaka duo roaming the baseline for the next decade.
Do you think one side of the ball is more important than the other, or are you still holding out that they should just take the next guy up on their big board?
Brian: When you put it that way, I guess I hope they go defense over offense, especially if we’re talking about interior personnel. We’ve heard a lot about “rim-protecting” bigs, but unless the Bucks sell low on Larry Sanders, there are few options in that department in the NBA right now for Ainge to go after. Your best bet is to take a gamble in the draft and hope he develops instead of being…Fab Melo.
When it comes to offense though, I’m of the mind it’s far easier to find cheap offense than cheap defense in this day and age. The Celtics need a ton of help on the offensive end right now, but that’s not a surprise. The way the team was composed offensively this year, it’s clear the roster was setup to fail on that front. A guy like McDermott will help, but he’s not talented enough to create his own shot in the NBA consistently, which limits his value. Give me the best player on the board over someone like that, since cheap shooters (like Chris Johnson) can seemingly be found in the discount aisle.
Michael: Other than the part where you brought up Larry Sanders over Omer Asik, this has been fun. Why don’t we tether back to reality (not really) by wrapping things up with an intriguing question: How much should Rajon Rondo’s skill-set factor into who the Celtics draft? A lot? Not at all? Somewhere in the middle. It has to mean…something?
Brian: That’s probably the front office’s biggest challenge this offseason. I feel like in order to properly attack the draft, the team has to make a decision on whether or not they are going to deal Rondo by draft night. That way they know whether they are starting from scratch at the point, or building with Rondo in place, as you mentioned. For now, I feel like the smart money is on Rondo staying. Ainge is going to ask for a fortune and probably won’t get it.
With that in mind, you know it’s not worth spending a high pick on a point guard if you keep Rondo. Taking a second hybrid guard with point capabilities in the draft could work even if you keep him though, right? You bring that player off the bench since Jerryd Bayless probably isn’t the answer and Phil Pressey is better suited to a depth role in the long run, no?
Michael: I agree Rondo will be in green next season. But taking a point guard wouldn’t surprise me if, say, Dante Exum fell to six or something like that. The game is moving faster and faster, and having two point guards on the floor simultaneously is no longer a rare bird. Teams (Phoenix, Miami, Brooklyn, Dallas, Houston, etc.) can actually play better with multiple decision-makers and ball-handlers running sets, slicing defenders up off the dribble, and wreaking havoc on both ends at all times. It may ultimately be wiser with Rondo to go more traditional and draft a tall shooter, like Stauskas (who could end up being Klay Thompson to Rondo’s Stephen Curry), but selecting another “true” point guard early shouldn’t shock anyone if he’s the best player available.