Despite the bitter playoff losses Celtics fans have suffered over the last 4 years, there's one thing we too often forget: this was only supposed to be a 3 year run. When Danny Ainge first assembled the Hall of Fame trio in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, the sporting world erupted in excitement over the sweeping "all-in" move. Apparently sacrificing the future to win now, Ainge acquire "The Big Ticket" in an unprecedented 7 for 1 trade after giving up a promising rookie in Jeff Green to acquire Allen, one of the greatest shooters in league history. Though many doubted "The Big 3's" ability to win a championship, everyone agreed they would be an exciting, competitive team. What no one expected, however, was that the same core would be a game away from the NBA Finals half a decade later.
The answer? Scouting. Led by film-junky Ryan McDonough, who has worked with Ainge since 2003 and is now Assistant GM, the Celtics front office has made perhaps more gambles than any other team in recent years. Not only did they engineer the 2007 summer coup, but they have made a killing on turning late first-rounders into rotation players. To read about the specifics of McDonough's advanced stats, comprehensive analysis approach, read Paul Flannery's terrific piece here.
Rajon Rondo's unique vision and explosive quickness, along massive hands and a 6'8" wingspan, made him an enticing freshman prospect at Kentucky, but his sophomore slump had him dropping quickly on NBA scouts radars. "While the rest of the world sort of dropped on Rondo, Ryan continued to evaluate him even higher," says Ainge. "Ryan was pushing very, very hard for Rajon," who he rated as the second best player in the 2006 draft. Rondo was taken with the 21st pick in '06, after guys like Quincy Douby and Oleksiy Pecherov (who?), truly one of the biggest steals in recent years. McDonough's evaluation actually turned out to be a spot too low; Andrea Bargnani proved to be one of the least impressive number one picks of the 21st century, and while Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge did become All-Stars, neither even approached Rondo's historic body of work in the playoffs. The biggest question mark for the C's in 2008 was whether #9 could handle the point, and if not for his constant energy and prudent ball distribution, Boston probably would not have won that year (the first 2 series went to game 7's even with his strong play). Since then, he has shattered all expectations as one of the league's best point guards.
The '08 team also had two surprisingly good second rounders in Glen Davis (stolen from Seattle in the Ray Allen deal) and Leon Powe. Powe had a monster 21 point outing in Game 2 of the Finals that year, and though "Big Baby's" most notable early performance was his tear-filled breakdown, he would later come through for some big postseason moments like the game-winner in Orlando "The Shrek and Donkey Game." Tony Allen, now an elite perimeter defender, and fan favorite Kendrick Perkins, who protected the paint fiercely for 3 Celtics playoff runs (including 2 finals), were highly succesful late first rounders (25th and 27th, respectively) brought in by the front office.
Ainge and McDonough have struck lightning twice more in the last 3 drafts. Avery Bradley, who was the number one ranked prospect in America after his Longhorns started 17-0, somehow dropped all the way to 19th in 2010 after the team imploded and he hurt his ankle. Needless to say, McDonough, who considered the young shooting guard to be a top 5 pick, jumped on the opportunity. Though his offensive game is still limited, and he has struggled with injuries, (most notably the double-shoulder surgeries last summer), Bradley is already one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, miles ahead of the Luke Babbitts (16) and Wesley Johnsons (4th, you think Minnesota would like that one back?) who were drafted ahead of him. Just last season, Ainge and co. acquired Jared Sullinger, an All-American who some considered a #1 a year earlier, with the 21st pick after a bulging disk in his bask scared off other teams. After an exciting start to the season, that red flag came back to bite Sully and The C's (sounds like a 60's Motown band), but ask yourself, would you really want Royce White (16th) or Austin Rivers (10th) instead (my apologies to Doc!)?
So there you have it. Through expert scouting and a series of draft steals, Ryan McDonough and Danny Ainge have been able to support the original Big 3, and now the Rondo, Pierce, KG trio to consistent playoff success. The 3 year run is now in its 6th, and the front office has drafted an exciting young core in Rondo, Bradley, and Sullinger, and maybe even FAB MELO, along with trade acquisitions Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and Jordan Crawford. The future looks bright, for the new age of scouting has begun.
Follow Jacob on Twitter @TheReelJZ Jacob Zweiback 3/27/2013 09:54:00 PM Tweet