If not Jackson or Tatum, who could Celtics take No. 3?
If not Jackson or Tatum, who could C's take No. 3?
BOSTON – For only the third time in the NBA draft-lottery era, the team with the top overall pick traded it away.
That speaks to how rare and unusual it is for franchises to deal that top overall pick, as the Celtics did in sending it to Philadelphia, for the No. 3 pick and a future first-round selection in 2018 or 2019.
But when it comes to Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics, it only falls in line with the narrative that has in many ways added another chapter to the story of Trader Danny.
Just as unexpected as he was in dealing the top overall pick (the first time Boston has had it in the draft-lottery era which began in 1985), can we expect the same with the No. 3 pick now?
While Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Duke’s Jayson Tatum are the players Boston will most likely decide between on Thursday, by no means is it a given either will be donning a Celtics uniform.
Here are five others who just might provide yet another unexpected twist in Boston’s journey towards bolstering a roster that’s among the better squads in the NBA.
5. Lonzo Ball, 6-6 G, UCLA
Stats: 14.6 points, 7.6 assists, 6.0 rebounds. Shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
The Lakers are expected to take him with the No. 2 pick, but they have certainly left the door ajar at least to going in a different direction, possibly Josh Jackson of Kansas. But if you’re the Celtics, it’s hard not to be the slightest bit intrigued by Ball’s court vision and feel for the game which on many levels, separates him from most of the players in this draft. Of course, there’s his father LaVar Ball whose boisterous, loquacious demeanor will certainly draw a few headlines. But that alone won’t stop Boston from taking him if they feel he’s their guy at No. 3. But I would put the chances at slim to none that they choose Ball unless it’s to select him for another team like Sacramento, which may then look to ship multiple picks (possibly the 5th and 10th pick in Thursday’s draft?) which would mean more assets for the always-asset hungry Danny Ainge.
4. De’Aaron Fox, 6-4 G, Kentucky
Stats: 16.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists. 1.5 steals per game.
One of the reasons the Celtics were willing to trade away the top pick (a.k.a. Markelle Fultz) was because of the team’s already overcrowded backcourt. The Celtics have Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley starting in the backcourt, with Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Demetrius Jackson coming off the bench. But the speed game that Fox plays with, is what truly separates him from the top prospects in this draft. As much as teams love that part of his game, it’s his shooting that should be enough to scare off the Celtics. He shot just 24.6 percent from 3-point range at Kentucky last season. And while there’s potential for him to improve upon that, he won’t get enough reps in Boston to make the kind of improvement early on his career, that he will need.
3. Dennis Smith 6-3, G, N.C. State
Stats: 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Averaged 1.9 steals per game.
There may not be another player in this draft that embodies feast-or-famine play more than Smith. He can be a dominant, explosive scorer that can’t be stopped by anyone. But the area that he is weakest in – getting teammates involved – is one that unfortunately makes him stand out in a big way compared to most players in this draft. That firepower that he can provide often comes at the expense of teammates standing around. And he tends to at times cut his dribble short which puts him and his teammates in a bad spot and as you might guess, leads to turnovers. His ability to catch fire in a hurry scoring the ball is certainly enticing, especially for a team like Boston which has plenty of shooters and not enough shot-makers. Still, taking him at No. 3 would indeed be a reach that at this point seems unlikely.
2. Jonathan Isaac, 6-11, Florida State
Stats: 12.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals. Shot 34.8 percent from 3-point range.
His numbers at Florida State speak to how he impacts the game on a number of levels. He can handle the ball better than most players with his height, has a decent shooting touch and isn’t afraid or intimidated to mix it up around the rim. He has the kind of length and reach you like defensively in a young big man, with the kind of athleticism and lateral quickness that helps your defense in pick-and-rolls switches where he’s tasked with trying to limit a smaller player. While it may seem a bit of a reach to some if Boston were to pick him at No. 3, looking at his skillset and his defensive potential as a rim-protector and help-side defender, he has the tools to be one of the better players to come out of this draft.
1. Lauri Markkanen
Stats: 15.6 points, 7.2 rebounds. Shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range.
Although he’s 7-feet tall, Markkanen’s greatest strength as a player is his 3-point shooting which opens things up for his teammates. Adding a player with his talent makes sense if the Celtics are planning to move on from Kelly Olynyk, a restricted free agent this summer, who Markkanen is similar to in many ways. But in watching him play, he has an advanced skillset offensively to score from a multitude of positions on the floor which makes him a difficult cover. The biggest concern with him at the next level is defense. While it’s far from a strength of his game now, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism that in time he can be solid at that end of the floor while thriving in an offensive set like Boston’s which understands how to put big men with his talents in the best position to be successful at both ends of the floor.