Elite eight: Celtics are in line for one of these players

Elite eight: Celtics are in line for one of these players
May 20, 2014, 12:00 pm
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BOSTON — The absolute worst-case scenario for the Boston Celtics in tonight's NBA Lottery is they'll wind up with the No. 8 pick in the draft.

That won't allow them to make the kind of splash they're hoping for, but it's still a pretty shallow pool of talent they'll be choosing from.

So who's in it?

After interviews with agents, scouts and NBA executives, here's CSNNE.com's list of the top eight players in this year's draft.

1. Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas

There is no safer pick in the top three of this year's draft than Wiggins. Projected by many to be the top overall pick leading into this past college season, Wiggins has shown the kind of steady progress that makes him a highly coveted talent.

He has great size, speed and off-the-charts athleticism, and would be a great fit for the Celtics.

There's no guarantee that restricted free agent-to-be Avery Bradley will be back, so Wiggins gives you another young shooting guard to mold. And Wiggins, like Bradley, has shown signs that he's capable of being an elite defender at the NBA level.

While he has shown the ability to score, the pressure to carry a team would not be as great in Boston with Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green around, which should make for a smoother transition.

2. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

If it wasn't for his back fracture, Embiid would be the hands-down number one overall pick. NBA teams were concerned when his lone season with Kansas ended prematurely because of the injury. And it only intensified when he elected to not attend last week's NBA pre-draft combine.

But the Celtics have never been afraid to gamble on a player with a less-than-stellar medical report. Two years ago, Boston drafted Jared Sullinger despite his back being red-flagged as a potential issue later on in his NBA career. ]

But selecting a player like Sullinger with the 21st overall pick is one thing. Rolling the dice on what would likely be a top-3 pick?

That's an entirely different matter.

Selecting Embiid would give the Celtics a developing rim protector, something they know they won't find on the free-agent market this year. Or next, for that matter.

And when you consider Embiid is this talented despite having played the game for just three years, it speaks to how quickly he picks up on things . . . which means his learning curve in the NBA probably won't be as steep as some might envision.

For a Celtics team that's looking to get back in the postseason race as soon as possible, the addition of a player with Embiid's talent and basketball I.Q. can only only enhance their chances of limiting their postseason "drought" to just one season.

3. Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

During Chicago's pre-draft combine, there was talk that Parker's decision not to be there was due to him having put on some added weight following Duke's season ending. Regardless of whether it's true or not, his conditioning has been a concern.

And if it's not addressed in the coming weeks, it could potentially result in him slipping out of the top-3.

Boston would certainly benefit from his ability to score in a variety of ways. But his defensive shortcomings, coupled with his weight fluctuation, might result in the Celtics taking a pass on him.

Still, if the Celtics do land a top-3 pick, you can bet Parker will -- at the very least -- be a player that's given some consideration.

4. Dante Exum, PG, Australia

Depending on how the draft order falls, Exum might move up to being a top-3 pick. Teams love his size, athleticism and overall feel for the game.

But having not seen him against elite competition in almost a year gives reason for some to slow down the pumping up of the Exum hype machine.

Scouts who've watched him all season believe his strengths would translate well to the NBA.

"And he's just 18 years old, so he has a lot of room to grow," said one Eastern Conference scout.

One league executive said because of his size and length, comparisons to rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams are inevitable.

"But I think Dante will be better in the long run," the executive said. "Michael's a good player, don't get me wrong. But Dante's a pretty special kid. At least he has the potential to be pretty special."

5. Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

His return to Stillwater this past season was in part to improve his point guard/playmaking skills. While he may drop a peg or two in this year's draft compared to where he might have gone last year, both Smart and whatever team drafts him will be better off for it. 

He has great strength at attacking the rim, he's a gritty defender, and he plays with a chip on his shoulder.

Sometimes he's let his competitive juices get the best of him, which has led to some boneheaded decisions . . . like pushing a fan near the end of a game.

Not surprisingly, it was one of the most common lines of questions he received at last week's pre-draft combine in Chicago.

"That happened in the past. I'm not proud of it," Smart said. "But I'm trying to move on from that. I got bigger, better things to look forward to in my life. If I'm too busy looking in the past, how can I see what's in front of me?"

One league executive who interviewed Smart at the combine said he did a solid job in owning up to incident.

"It's something we've all looked into and investigated before he got here to the combine," the executive said. "You have some level of concern about it, obviously, but I don't see it having a huge affect on where he's drafted."

6. Noah Vonleh, PF/C, Indiana

Indiana's struggles this past season kept Vonleh off the grid in terms of the top players in college basketball. But enough scouts have seen him all season and agree he's one of the best bigs in the draft.

"You don't realize how big he is until you're next to him," said one scout.

While Vonleh measured 6-foot-9 1/2 at the pre-draft combine, he has a wing span that measures a shade more than 7-4.

And when you factor in his massive hands, which measured 11 3/4 inches from the tip of his thumb to the top of his pinky finger, his size is definitely a non-factor.

The Haverhill, Mass. native is indeed a player on the Celtics' watch list, even if he doesn't come with the same kind of hype that followed some of his fellow draftees.

"I think my game could definitely translate to the pros," Vonleh told CSNNE.com in Chicago. "I'm a guy that's 6-9, can handle the ball, can shoot the ball, post-up . . . I just have to keep working on it."

7. Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

Just imagine a bull in a china shop combined with the Energizer Bunny.

That's Randle, the talented, bullish forward who never seems to shut off or slow down when it comes to his effort on the floor.

You won't find too many questioning Randle's talent. He proved that in his one season in Kentucky as he led the Wildcats all the way to the national championship game, where they lost to UConn.

But there are concerns about whether he'll be able to get his shot off against bigger, more athletic power forwards. And, at the other end of the floor, about how he'll hold up as a defender.

Randle helped his cause in Chicago by measuring at 6-9 in shoes, along with having a 7-foot wing span. The latter was important because previous reports indicated that his wing span wasn't as wide.

Best-case scenario for Randle would see him selected at No. 4, although he's likely to go around No. 5-7.

8. Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona

Gordon is another high-energy player, although he doesn't have the bulk (he weighs just 220 pounds) of some other power forwards in this draft.

And that raises the biggest question about Gordon, which is: Where do you put him on the floor?

He has small-forward size and athleticism, but has played power forward most of his career.

Gordon is indeed on the Celtics' watch list, and he has made no secret about liking the Celtics and their head coach, Brad Stevens.

"Real, real good guy," said Gordon, smiling, in reference to Stevens. "Good guy, loves basketball, good heart. Enjoys the game, enjoys coaching. [He's] one of the guys I'd like to be around."

If the Celtics slip down a spot or two in tonight's lottery, Gordon may indeed get his wish granted. He's projected to go as high as No. 6 but unlikely to fall out of the top 10.

And as far as where to play him, Gordon says it doesn't matter.

"I'm a forward, I'm a basketball player," he said. "I can pretty much do everything out there. That's what I intend on doing."