High expectations from this Celtics rookie class

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High expectations from this Celtics rookie class

The Celtics rookies have earned high praise early in preseason. On some teams, this would be expected given the group of first-year players includes two first-round picks. But on the Celtics, a team deep with veterans, All-Stars, and future Hall of Famers, rookies have not always made an immediate impression.

This weekend, Jared Sullinger, Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph, Jamar Smith, Micah Downs, and Fab Melo closed out the Celtics preseason overtime loss against the New York Knicks with the entire bench cheering them on. While it remains to be seen how many minutes Celtics rookies will see in the regular season, the buzz around these young players is much louder than years past.

Take a look back at how former Celtics rookies performed over the past five seasons in "The New Big Three Era."

2011-12
JaJuan Johnson (F): 27th overall pick in 2011 Draft
36 games (0 starts), 8.3 mpg, 3.2 pts, 1.6 reb

E'Twaun Moore (G): 55th overall pick in 2011
38 games (0 starts), 8.7 mpg, 2.9 pts, 0.9 ast

Greg Stiemsma (C): Undrafted
55 games (3 starts), 13.9 mpg, 2.9 pts, 3.2 reg, 1.5 blk

Johnson and Moore entered their rookie seasons without the experience of training camp due to the NBA lockout. The condensed schedule also led to a lack of practices, which limited their opportunities to run through drills and scrimmage with the entire team.

While Stiemsma lacked NBA experience, he came to the Celtics after playing overseas. Of the three rookies, it was the undrafted big man who earned the most playing time as the C's backup center behind Kevin Garnett by the end of the season.

Stiemsma garnered interest on the free agent market this summer and inked a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Johnson and Moore were dealt to the Houston Rockets as part of the Courtney Lee trade. Moore was waived shortly after and signed with the Orlando Magic.

2010-11
Avery Bradley (G): 19th overall pick in 2010 NBA Draft
31 games (0 starts), 5.2 mpg, 1.7 pts, 0.4 ast

Semih Erden (C): 60th pick in 2008
37 games (7 starts), 14.4 mpg, 4.1 pts, 2.9 reb

Luke Harangody (F): 52nd overall pick in 2010
28 games (0 starts), 8.6 mpg, 2.3 pts, 2.0 reg

Bradley, a first-round pick, missed his rookie training camp due to ankle surgery and rode the bench for most of his first year. His selection raised eyebrows at the time, but only a year later he emerged as one of the top young defensive guards in the league. Bradley, 21, was named the Celtics starting shooting guard toward the end of last season in place of Ray Allen, averaging more than 12 points a game as a starter. He is currently rehabbing from double shoulder surgery.

Erden and Harangody's time with the Celtics was much shorter than Bradley's. The pair was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in February of 2011 in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick. This summer Harangody signed with the Cavs and Erden inked a deal with Anadolu Efes in his native Turkey.

2009-10
Lester Hudson (G): 58th overall pick in 2009 NBA Draft
16 games (0 starts), 4.4 mpg, 1.4 pts, 0.5 ast

Marcus Landry (F): Undrafted
1 game (0 starts), 3.0 mpg, 0.0 points, 0.0 rebs

Playing time was delegated to the veterans on the 2010 Celtics team that came within one game of winning a world championship. The Celtics waived Hudson in January of 2010 prior to the deadline to guarantee his contract. He most recently played for the Memphis Grizzlies last season.

Landry joined the Celtics in February 2010 from the New York Knicks in the Nate Robinson trade. He appeared in one game and was waived in April. Landry has played overseas and was a member of the Phoenix Suns Las Vegas Summer League team in July.

2008-09
J.R. Giddens (G): 30th overall pick in 2008 Draft
6 games (0 starts), 1.3 mpg, 0.7 pts, 0.5 rebs

Bill Walker (F): 47th overall pick in 2008 Draft
29 games (0 starts), 7.4 mpg, 3.0 pts, 1.0 rebs

Following the Celtics 2008 championship, the pair of rookies joined a veteran team and saw most of their minutes in the NBA Development League. Giddens and Walker played a total of 41 games with the C's former D-League affiliate, the Utah Flash.

Both players were traded to the Knicks in their sophomore seasons in the Nate Robinson deal. Walker went on to play another two seasons in the Big Apple before being waived in April of 2012. Giddens left the NBA for Europe and is currently playing for Leonessa Brescia in Italy.

2007-08
Glen Davis (F): 35th overall pick in 2007 Draft
69 games (1 start), 13.6 mpg, 4.5 ppt, 3.0 reb

Gabe Pruitt (G): 32nd overall pick in 2007 Draft
15 games (0 starts), 6.3 mpg, 2.1 pts, 0.9 ast

Davis and Pruitt were the lone rookies on the 2008 world championship team during the first season of the "New Big Three Era." While the squad was headlined by veteran trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, Davis established himself as a key bench player at only 22 years old. He made the biggest impact of all Celtics rookies in the last five years. After four seasons in Boston, Davis signed a multi-year deal with the Orlando Magic in 2011.

Pruitt, on the other hand, failed to make his mark in limited minutes. He was waived by the Celtics prior to the start of his second season. He most recently played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce (NBA Development League) last season.

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.”