Blakely's 10 players to watch during March Madness
Blakely's 10 players to watch during March Madness
BOSTON -- With 14 games remaining, there's no telling how this season will eventually end, record-wise, for the Boston Celtics.
But a top-10 pick in this top-heavy NBA draft is inevitable for the Green Team.
And the pool of talent the Celtics will be drawing from will, in large part, be on display as the NCAA tournament gets into action this week.
Regardless of how the Celtics have fared this season, all eyes this time of year gravitate towards the tournament and its collection of NBA stars-in-training.
Some we've known about for a couple of years, which in today's game seems like an eternity. Others emerge throughout the course of the month.
So the fact that Boston will have a high draft pick only adds to the interest this year's tournament will generate among Celtics Nation.
And with that, we'll take a look at some of the players who have been on the Celtics' radar for quite some time as they lead their teams towards what they hope will be a run to the Final Four.
1. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Summary: Will miss some, if not all, of Kansas' postseason journey because of a back injury. That said, Embiid is still widely considered one of the top three prospects in this draft. If not for the back injury he is currently dealing with, he would be a near-lock to be the top overall pick.
"The only real game-changer from a defensive standpoint near the top of the draft," said one Western Conference scout of Embiid. "The skills that he has defensively, that's not coaching. That's what makes him, in a lot of ways, such a special player in a draft that's really four, maybe five players deep in terms of impact guys from the jump."
Why he's a good fit with Boston: As fans have seen all season, Boston has no one remotely close to being considered a rim protector currently on its roster. Embiid is that, and then some. The Cameroon native is also an emerging offensive force who would benefit from having a playmaker like Rajon Rondo.
NBA comparison: Tim Duncan
2. Jabari Parker, F, Duke
Status: One of the nation's top freshman, Parker -- who was named first team All-ACC this season -- has been arguably the most consistent member of this year's rookie class. He has shown the ability to score, rebound and elevate his game when it's crunch time. He is one of the few players in this talented draft who few will argue has future All-Star written all over his game.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: Boston needs a full-time, professional scorer and there is no one better in this draft in that role than Parker. While the jury is still out on whether he'll be the No. 1 overall pick, it's hard to imagine him slipping any further than No. 3.
NBA comparison: Carmelo Anthony
3. Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas
Summary: There was no way that Wiggins could live up to the hype he had coming out of high school, with some going so far as to compare him favorably to LeBron James. Wiggins is not that good (yet), but there's no question he has some off-the-charts skills that translate quite favorably to this level of play. His first step off the dribble is extremely difficult to contain. He has NBA range now. "Maybe the most underrated part of his game is his ability to play off the ball," said an Eastern Conference scout whose team will likely be in the lottery. "Guys who can get buckets like he can, usually need the ball in their hands a lot to be effective. He really does have the kind of potential to just dominate at the next level, a la LeBron. Not right away, but in time, you can definitely see it."
Why he's a good fit in Boston: For many of the same reasons given for Parker. But what he lacks in terms of bulk (he's 6-foot-8, 200 pounds, while Parker is the same height and 35 pounds heavier), he more than makes up for in quickness getting to the rim.
NBA comparison: Rudy Gay
4. Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
Summary: As talented a combo guard as you'll find in this draft, if only he lived up to his surname more often. He has top-five talent. No one disputes that. But some of his in-season antics may result in him slipping down a few spots. Whoever drafts him will have one of the most competitive, driven-to-win players in this draft. Just as important is his court moxie, basketball savvy and desire to be an elite, All-NBA caliber defender.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: That competitive spirit is on par with Rajon Rondo, so immediately your best player (Rondo) and one of your promising ones (Smart) would have something in common to build on from Day One. Plus he gives them insurance in case they can't re-sign Avery Bradley, who will be a restricted free agent this month.
NBA comparison: Dwyane Wade
5. Rodney Hood, F, Duke
Summary: Often overshadowed this season by Parker, a strong showing in the NCAAs by Hood could bump him up from being a solid lottery pick (top-14) into a potential top-10 selection. This past season, he showcased the kind of versatility from the perimeter and on mid-range shots, that shows promise of him being a tough cover at the next level. The biggest concern among scouts about Hood is whether his lithe frame (6-8, 200) can take the physical bumps and bruises of the NBA, and if he can improve his ball-handling skills enough to get off his own shot at the next level. "But he's a solid pick, wherever he goes," said one scout. "He's not going to be that piece that puts you over the top. But he has the potential to help a team at some point."
Why he's a good fit in Boston: He has the potential to be a very good scorer because of his size, length and versatility. While he's considered a small forward, it's not a stretch to see him play some at shooting guard. More than anything, he would provide Boston with a guy who makes shots - something the Celtics desperately need more of on this team.
NBA Comparison: Richard Hamilton.
6. Julius Randle, F, Kentucky
Summary: One of the more intriguing players in this draft, Randle plays with the kind of motor that makes it unlikely he'll slip out of the top five players selected. The Wildcats have had an up-and-down kind of season, and Randle's play has been part of that inconsistency. At 6-9, 250, he will be an undersized power forward at the next level. But he can put the ball on the floor, finish in traffic and score facing the basket.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: The Celtics don't need any more undersized power forwards, but Randle becomes a very real option depending on where they're picking. If the Celts have a top-three selection, it's unlikely they would choose Randle. But with the No. 4 pick on down, he will at the very least be in the conversation.
NBA comparison: Zach Randolph
7. Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
Summary: The Spartans are expected to go deep into the NCAAs, which means a lot of exposure nationally for Harris. But NBA teams have seen him for years and know his game. He can score, but at 6-4 he's a bit of a tweener (too short to be a legit shooting guard, not a good enough ball handler to play the point). But he is an aggressive player, strong enough to get into the lane, absorb contact and finish. And when teams play him for the drive, he has the ability to knock down long-range shots consistently.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: The Celtics would be reaching a bit if they took him with a top-10 selection. But if he's on the board when their second pick in the first round comes up, he has to be discussed as a possibility. The only shooting guard Boston has under contract beyond this season is Chris Johnson.
NBA comparison: O.J. Mayo
8. Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
Summary: There may not be another player in college basketball who can just get buckets as well or as consistently as McDermott. He'll finish his career among the greatest scorers ever in college basketball history, displaying an offensive arsenal that's a lot more diverse than he's given credit for having. But the biggest issue with him has to do with his position. "What is it? Is he a three (small forward)? A four (power forward)?" one scout said. "Nobody really knows. That's the only real knock against the kid. But that's a big knock, especially when you're talking about him as a possible lottery pick."
Why he's a good fit in Boston: If McDermott winds up in Boston, it would be a bit of a reach unless the Celts trade down a couple spots and wind up with a pick in the early teens. The Celtics have plenty of needs, among them the need to add more scorers to their roster. And as you canvas the college basketball landscape, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone better at that than McDermott.
NBA comparison: Kyle Korver
9. Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona
Summary: Like a lot of West Coast players who don't receive as much TV exposure as their rest-of-the-country contemporaries, Gordon doesn't get nearly as much hype as his talent warrants. He is an aggressive, physical player who is in attack mode from the opening tip to the final horn. His offensive game needs a lot of refinement, but he makes up for that with non-stop energy at both ends of the floor.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: Gordon would certainly bolster the Celtics bench with his presence, but lacking a true position (at 6-9, is he a small forward or a power forward?) makes it more challenging to gauge the kind of impact he could make at this level. Still, he is a talented enough player that's worthy of serious consideration.
NBA comparison: Jae Crowder/Kenneth Faried
10. Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse
Summary: Syracuse's late-season swoon has raised some questions about how ready Ennis is for the NBA. Few question his basketball I.Q. or his court savvy. But his thin frame and quiet demeanor makes you wonder how long it would take for him to be comfortable running an NBA team and, maybe just as important, whether he's worth selecting in the top 10. Ennis is very much a pass-first point guard, though he has also shown the ability to shoot well from the perimeter. And his body of work this season includes a slew of late-game shots either from the free-throw line or from the field, demonstrating an ability to deliver in the clutch.
Why he's a good fit in Boston: He doesn't have the athleticism of a Rajon Rondo, but his instincts at consistently getting his teammates involved are similar. But the selection of Ennis seems unlikely when you consider the solid job that rookie Phil Pressey has done this past season as Rondo's understudy. And when the Celtics are on the clock with their first pick, Ennis - for now at least - is not a priority or a serious consideration unless Boston decides to trade down.
NBA comparison: George Hill
Other NCAA Tournament notables to watch: N.C. State forward T.J. Warren; UCLA guard Zach LaVine; Syracuse forward Jermani Grant; Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, and UCLA forward/guard Kyle Anderson.