Celtics-Bobcats preview: Quick turnaround

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Celtics-Bobcats preview: Quick turnaround

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Prior to Sunday's game between Boston and Denver, Nuggets coach George Karl referred to Boston's Jeff Green as a "wild card" player who could, "have a good enough game to beat you."

Karl had no idea how prophetic his words would be as Boston won a wild 118-114 triple overtime thriller that included Green coming off the bench to score 17 points.

Although Jason Terry (season-high 26 points) was a bigger contributor off the bench offensively, Green is developing into a reliable source offensively for the Celtics who has emerged lately as a clutch scorer down the stretch.

Against the Nuggets, Green drilled a 16-foot jumper in the fourth quarter that put the C's ahead 92-90 with 47.9 seconds to play. And in the first overtime, it was Green's 3-pointer with 23.8 seconds to play that forced a second overtime.

"It's great my teammates have a lot of faith in me to take those shots," Green said. "I'm going to try and make plays whether it's scoring or making the extra pass."

While his shot-making has certainly caught the attention of many, one the biggest plays of the game made by Green was lone assist near the end of the second overtime to Paul Pierce whose step-back, three-pointer with seconds remaining forced a third and decisive overtime session.

"I'm going to continue to be aggressive," Green said.

The Celtics will need that from Green, especially against a Charlotte team that plays a better brand of basketball than its record might suggest.

"They play so hard," Rivers said. "The Lakers had that problem (recently), and they made a comeback. We can't afford that."

Here are some keys to watch as Boston tries to extend its season-long winning streak to eight in a row, while extending what has been yet another miserable season for Charlotte which has lost 10 of its last 11 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:Fatigue will be an issue, whether it's at the start of the game or in its closing moments. Doc Rivers would be hard pressed to play his guys their usual minutes after Sunday's triple overtime win over Denver. "Paul played 54 minutes. He's the guy I'm most concerned with," Rivers said. "If we have to rest guys and play them shorter minutes ... the only way I can do it is by my eyes. You'll never know how guys feel until (tonight)."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Kemba Walker. Bradley is showing that he's more than a defender with a mid-range game that has been effective lately. Walker is having a really good season statistically. But it's going unnoticed because the Bobcats are such a bad team.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee was the only Celtics starter to play less than 30 minutes on Sunday, so he may very well get lots of opportunities to make an impact early on. A big game from Lee would do wonders not only for the Celtics, but also for Lee who tends to play better overall when he's more involved in the offense.

STAT TO TRACK: One of Boston's strengths all season has been their ability to rack up lots of assists. During their current seven-game winning streak, the Celtics have won the assist battle in all but one game. And this season, Boston has a 23-6 record in games in which they have more assists.

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”