There’s something seriously backward about the draft process, and nowhere is that more apparent than in holding the annual NBA draft combine the week before Tuesday’s (Wednesday in Manila) lottery.
As such, players who believe they are lottery material, or think they have a chance at being selected as a lottery pick, don’t quite know who they should be talking to, and teams similarly don’t have a clear order of business, only probability.
“Do I think they should change the way that works? Yes,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “But they tell us when all of this happens, and we show up.”
The C’s, currently with eight draft picks, had a lot of ground to cover last week at the combine in Chicago, and they have a massive amount of scenarios to contemplate before All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas takes the stand at the lottery Tuesday in New York on behalf of the team.
We’ll limit our combine week takeaways to five:
1. There may be an upset at the top of the draft — No one was surprised when Ben Simmons blew off everyone by not showing up for interviews with teams and measurements last week. Snubbing the combine has become a thing for some of the impending stars. Karl-Anthony Towns stayed home last year. But there is growing talk among league types that Simmons has grown a little arrogant. The LSU point forward, who didn’t interview with anyone, also didn’t have the kind of freshman season that necessarily warrants that behavior. He didn’t lead the Tigers into the NCAA tournament, and individually there were much better performers in college basketball last season. Duke’s Brandon Ingram, who at least showed up for interviews, including with the Celtics, is now starting to creep ahead of Simmons and into the top spot on some mock drafts.
2. The Celtics could trade down, but to what? — There’s no doubt the Celtics could end up trading down to a point later in the lottery if they end up with the fourth or fifth pick. That’s the range where Providence point guard Kris Dunn and Kentucky combo guard Jamal Murray are expected to go, and the C’s don’t need more of either kind. But for what they need in the way of young scoring and a rim protector, the later lottery picks may not be much help. Utah center Jakob Poeltl is skilled and athletic, and even compares himself to Pau Gasol, but he may also emerge as a slightly better version of Tyler Zeller. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield is a shooting guard, period. He’s not much of a ballhandler, and he can’t swing to small forward. There’s a lot of players in that secondary group who may not be much better than those projected after pick No. 15.
3. Don’t underestimate the value of pick No. 31 — The first pick of the second round often produces gold, and the Celtics have a great chance to land some value here with a pick that originally belonged to Philadelphia. They don’t have to guarantee the money, and the contracts are shorter. And a bargain almost always lands with this pick. Ainge’s second-round success also needs little introduction. Jordan Mickey, who hopefully cracks the rotation next season, may be an impending second-round gem.
4. The C’s could field an entire European team with stash picks next winter — No one expects the Celtics to hold onto all five of their second-round picks — or all three first-rounders for that matter. But if they retain most of those picks, expect to see more players heading to overseas leagues for seasoning. Last year’s other second-rounder, Marcus Thornton, spent the winter in Australia. Colton Iverson, seemingly on the verge of social security, has spent three years in Europe. The money over there is good enough that the center may never return.
5. There could be big-man bargains late — There’s a noted dearth of lottery big men — it seems to be getting more that way each year — but that may not be where the Celtics choose to take a stab at another center. And even if they are best as a small ball team, the C’s do indeed need a 7-footer or two, especially if they don’t bring back Zeller. Names to keep an eye on in the second round include Thon Maker, the intriguing Australian 7-footer, Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, Maryland bruiser Diamond Stone and Croatian big man Ante Zizic. All could be picked late in the first round, but all could also slip through.