Celtics draft primer: Point guardcombo guards

191544.jpg

Celtics draft primer: Point guardcombo guards

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

When the season ends for every NBA team, their fans almost instantly go into a tizzy over what the team will do in terms of free agents, for the upcoming season.

Celtics Nation, you're no different.

So while it's fun to envision a lineup with Dallas' Tyson Chandler in a Celtics uni catching a lob from Rajon Rondo, or Denver's J.R.Smith raising up to make his third 3-pointer within his first 90 seconds on the floor, it'll be a while before the Celtics can even talk to those players, let alone recruit them to Boston.

In most seasons, the Celtics would be able to begin their recruitment spiel on July 1.

But with a new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players union not expected to be agreed upon until sometime in the fall, the earliest you can expect to see the C's improve their roster is via the June 23 NBA draft.

For now, the draft has to be the Celtics' primary focus as they try to re-tool their roster after a second-round exit by the Miami Heat earlier this month.

"We just need to get more talent," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

Because the Celtics have so many holes to fill on their roster, there's no need to be as position-specific as some other teams.

That's why despite having the No. 25 pick and the No. 55 pick in the second round, the C's can legitimately take the best player available who fits their needs which consists of, in part, players who have the ability to run the floor and bring an improved level of athleticism to the C's roster.

We'll spend this week examining some of the top draft prospects in next month's NBA draft.

Today we'll take a look at some of the top point guardcombo guard prospects, including those in bold that might be available for the Celtics when they're on the clock

NAME, HEIGHT, POSITION, SCHOOL

Kyrie Irving, 6-2, PG, Duke

By the numbers: 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 11 games.

Strengths: In a draft with few superstar talents, Irving is about as close as you'll find to being that kind of player. He has decent size (6-foot-2) and strength to play the point at the next level. When you tack on Chris Paul-like quickness, Irving has the potential to make an immediate impact - something few players in this draft are expected to do as rookies.

Weaknesses: Talent is not an issue, but durability certainly is. Irving appeared in just eight regular season games at Duke, which doesn't exactly sound like the kind of resume for a player under consideration for the No. 1 overall pick. That lack of experience gives NBA GMs every reason to pause when considering how long it will take for him to adjust to the NBA game.

Projected draft status: Top-5.

=======================

Kemba Walker, 6-0, PG, UConn

By the numbers: 23.5 points, 4.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds in 41 games.

Strengths: Falls under the growing list of in-bound NBA point guards with a knack for scoring the basketball. One of the nation's top scorers, Walker showed some impressive leadership skills - a huge intangible for a point guard - in leading the Huskies to a surprising run towards the school's third National Championship this past spring. Has an ultra-quick crossover dribble a la Tim Hardaway which allows him to frequently get enough space to shoot.

Weaknesses: Listed at 6-foot, Walker will have to prove he's more of a point guard than a shooting guard masquerading as a point guard. His decision-making has come into question at times. At his size, needs to improve his strength so that bigger guards can't shoot so easily over him.

Projected draft status: Lottery pick.

=======================

Brandon Knight, 6-3, PGSG, Kentucky

By the numbers: 17.3 points, 4.2 assists and four rebounds in 38 games.

Strengths: Great first step off the dribble, allows him to get by defenders. Combine that with a knack for finishing around the basket, and you have a player who can come in and make an immediate impact off the bench. Does a nice job of shooting off the dribble, as well as from 3-point range.

Weaknesses: Only one year at Kentucky, so experience may be an issue for him at the next level. Because of that ultra-quick first step, he's used getting to the basket with little to impede his progress. Needs to develop a pull-up jumper, a shot he hasn't really looked for in the past.

Projected draft status: Lottery pick.

============================

Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, PGSG BYU

By the numbers: 28.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 37 games.

Strengths: Unconscious shooter, arguably the best in the college basketball this season. Known for his long-range shooting skills, but his shot selection - maybe more than his seemingly endless range - is what separates him from many in this year's draft. Is a lot stronger than one might expect, and his quickness off the dribble isn't nearly as big a hindrance as some might believe.

Weaknesses: A shooting guard coming out of high school, Fredette's play-making skills have improved but not quite up to par with what you would expect from an NBA point guard coming into the league. Strong enough to defend most point guards, but his lateral quickness is somewhat of a concern.

Projected draft status: Lottery-to middle of first round.

===================================

Nolan Smith, 6-3, PGSG, Duke

By the numbers: 20.6 points, 5.1 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 37 games.

Strengths: Has the kind of court awareness to play both guard positions at the next level. Having a high basketball IQ and good length bodes well for his chances at the next level defensively to at least hold his own.

Weaknesses: A solid player, but doesn't have the kind of athleticism or explosiveness that he'll be facing on a nightly basis in the NBA. He isn't a bad shooter, but he is not known for his long-range shooting skills, either. His game is essentially suited to be a long-time NBA backup.

Projected draft status: Late first round.

===============================

Darius Morris, 6-4, PG, Michigan

By the numbers: 15 points, 6.7 assists and 4 rebounds in 35 games.

Strengths: Arguably the biggest point guard expected to be taken in the first round, Morris is a pass-first playmaker who will use his size to score over smaller defenders. When you throw in his court vision, you have a player that may be one of the biggest steals in next month's draft. Has the size, strength and lateral quickness to defend point guards and some shooting guards at the next level.

Weaknesses: Has a tendency to over-pass at times, which is why he goes through stretches in which his turnover numbers are a bit high for what you want from your point guard.

Projected draft status: Late first round.

==================================

Shelvin Mack, 6-2, PGSG, Butler

By the numbers: 16 points, 3.4 assists, 4.5 rebounds in 38 games.

Strengths: Has shown a knack for scoring in bunches throughout his three seasons with the Butler Bulldogs. One of the nation's best at creating his own shot off the dribble, or pulling up from 3-point range. Has great strength which allows him to take hits and keep on knocking down shots.

Weaknesses: In college, spent very little time running a team which he will have to do in the NBA. That lack of playmaking skills will be the biggest challenge he'll face at the next level. He's a crafty ball-handler, but he doesn't blow you away with quickness off the dribble.

Projected draft status: Late first-round, or early second.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

celtics-gerald-green.jpg

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.