If the Celtics prioritize trying to get a more NBA-ready prospect with the 53rd pick, we have a few ideas.
On Thursday night, the Boston Celtics will enter the 2022 NBA Draft with the 53rd overall selection. The first-round pick that originally belonged to the C’s was shipped to the San Antonio Spurs in the Derrick White trade back in February. Coming off an NBA Finals run, there’s little to no expectation that the prospect Brad Stevens drafts with that 53rd selection can come in and help their roster right away. This is less about drafting for need than it is for talent.
Regardless, finding someone who could play 12-20 minutes in a game next year if injuries hit and they absolutely had to does have its merits. Think of the selection as being valuable for one of three types of players: a draft-and-stash prospect, a young but high-upside player, or a guy who has a greater chance of taking on some minutes from the jump.
We’ll focus on that third grouping today, specifically on the three position groups that our own Keith Smith outlined in his offseason primer: shooting wings, true point guards, and big men.
Whenever you’re picking 53rd, you’re at the mercy of what selections and trades happen above you. From all the research we have done on the draft — with over 70 video scouting reports available online — we’ve found that the top-40 or so tends to be pretty chockfull of wings and multi-positional athletes with size.
That shouldn’t discourage Celtics fans from thinking that some instant impact prospects (at least in terms of logging a few minutes from day one) cannot be available. Last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder snagged Aaron Wiggins with the 55th pick, and he logged over 1200 minutes as a rookie. In 2020, Kenyon Martin Jr. went with the 52nd selection to the Houston Rockets, and Jalen McDaniels went 52nd in 2019. There’s a common theme of athletic-based wings with some inconsistencies as shooters figuring out how to get a spot in the league early.
But there are rarely shooters who come in and play right away — not because they’re bad, but because they tend to go undrafted (a la Sam Hauser) and be priority undrafted free agent targets. The Celtics could, in essence, skip the line on those other teams and go with a position of need (wing shooting) at 53, so long as they don’t sacrifice the defensive impact of their switching scheme.
A few names we like in this area: Jordan Hall out of St. Joseph’s, Ron Harper Jr. from Rutgers, Julian Champagnie of St. John’s, Jared Rhoden of Seton Hall and Keon Ellis from Alabama. Harper and Rhoden are the most versatile defenders of the group, while Ellis is a good defender but is best-served against smaller guards and less physical scorers. Champagnie may project as the best shooter of the group. All were multi-year college players, so their age and maturity will help them make an impact earlier in their careers.
‘Pure’ Point Guards
In the year 2022, I don’t know if there is such a thing as a ‘pure’ point guard. Perhaps the term refers to a pass-first guard who is more concerned with playmaking and setting the table for others than scoring themselves. But in the context of these Celtics, I fail to see how such a narrow definition helps. The term implies a lack of scoring prowess — in particular a lack of ability to play off-ball. With the roster construction Boston has, and two wing superstars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, introducing a non-shooter to the guard rotation only cramps their spacing.
What might be intended by the term is the need for another guard who can reliably create his own shot, specifically at the rim. Current guys like Payton Pritchard or even draft-and-stash Yam Madar are a little bit more jumper-oriented, and while they fit next to Tatum and Brown well, they don’t help solve the issues that come with being a jumper-heavy roster.
The 2022 draft class is pretty thin on scoring-minded point guards. Two guys stand out as having the potential to log minutes right away who can put pressure on the rim — or at least be efficient pick-and-roll creators. Scotty Pippen Jr. from Vanderbilt is a contact-magnet, a really physical point guard and has all the tools to be a solid bench scorer in the NBA. His floor spacing leaves a bit to be desired, specifically because he didn’t play in an off-ball role much at Vanderbilt. A three-year player at Vandy, Pippen and Aaron Nesmith are former college teammates.
Another favorite of mine: Jamaree Bouyea from San Francisco. During the NCAA Tournament, he gained a lot of fans among NBA players for his toughness and moxie with the ball in his hands. He’s more skilled and smooth than he is explosive and athletic, but he shoots it from deep, has efficient scoring at every level and does not turn the ball over. At 6’1”, he is slightly thin and more of your undersized point guard, but he does have long arms (a 6’7” wingspan) and blocked nearly 30 shots this year — he can be a sneaky good defender.
True Big Men
The position formerly known as center has evolved to be more reflexive of the unique offensive talents that go to the position. Big men, who come in and defend the 5 while letting their own skills show on offense, are invaluable to have in numbers. Without depth at the position, one injury or any foul trouble instantly commits your team to playing a different style. This year, with Luke Kornet hitting the free agent market, there’s definitely a gap that can be filled in the second round.
If the Celtics decide to target more instant impact and avoid a more developmental big, there are a few targets worth considering. If he falls to this point, Christian Koloko out of Arizona is your stereotypical big man who is big, athletic, somewhat mobile and will be best-served playing in Drop coverage to protect the basket. He made a major rise this season at Arizona, and will be 22 shortly after draft night.
Kofi Cockburn from Illinois provides much of the same offensive presence while being a little bit older, bigger and much more hulking. Cockburn has an elite motor on the glass, is a wide frame that can guard nearly anyone 1v1 down low (he’s the ideal Joel Embiid defensive chess piece to dust off when needed) and efficiently finishes on the offensive end. Cockburn doesn’t get a ton of buzz, but he’s very dependable, a joyous personality and can log a few minutes right away if necessary.
Both Cockburn and Koloko don’t help the Celtics switching scheme, though. If Boston wants to preserve such an identity, we’d recommend looking at Isaiah Mobley, older brother of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley. Isaiah is very different than his brother in terms of how he shows his athleticism, but is similarly brilliant with angles, switchable onto the perimeter and very skilled as a passer. While Isaiah doesn’t block a ton of shots, he can play in drop coverage and contest shots at the rim with verticality. What we like most: he’s a really good shooter (especially in the corners) and can keep the C’s floor spacing alive while being a bigger body that switches on defense.
Jaylin Williams from Arkansas provides similar defensive impact and really good passing, but he isn’t as good of a shooter, nor does he have the length and size that Mobley possesses. Jaylin is a popular second-round target for teams looking for mobile big men, and he may be off the board long before the Celtics pick.
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