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With the NBA Lottery around the corner and only 4 teams left in contention for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, most NBA teams focused their attention to the annual NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past weekend. The Boston Celtics were no different; Danny Ainge was active in holding interviews with prospects, including Nerlens Noel a consensus Top 3 selection, and actively scouting the prospect drills. Ainge has mentioned that the Celtics could look to move up or down from their current selection, the 16th pick of the first round. Trades are often hard to predict and speculate this early, especially before the lottery order is set and more progress could occur after the full order is set on Tuesday night.

Many Celtics fans would agree that this is an extremely important draft for the team. Given that the Celtics don't have a second round selection this year due to the Courtney Lee deal, this year's first rounder will be called upon to inject more youthful energy into the team. Depending on what happens with Pierce and Garnett, the player Ainge selects may be thrust into a heavy minutes role immediately, or he may have time to sit back and learn from two All-Time Greats. The KG and Pierce decisions will play a heavy role in determining what Ainge decides to do with his mid-first rounder. With that in mind, assuming the Celtics stand pat at number 16, here are 9 prospects that attended the combine who could be realistic options for the Celtics to call upon on June 27.

Steven Adams (Center, Pittsburgh)- Perhaps no prospect helped himself more this past weekend than Adams. He was known during his time at Pitt as a project big man, a 7 footer with a remarkable amount of athleticism for his size. Adams dominated his fellow centers in most of the athletic drills. The downside to Adams' game is that he struggled to develop much on offense during his time in college. However, at the combine, Adams showed remarkable comfort and improvement on his mid-range jump shot. Adams is a defensive monster due to his great lateral quickness and his measured 7'5" wingspan. While he still has a ways to go offensively, his improvement at the combine is promising and he projects at least as a very good defensive center given his gifts. If Danny Ainge decides he isn't as high on Fab Melo's development potential, Adams could be a good fit in Boston.

Gorgui Dieng (Center, Louisville)- Dieng made a name for himself at Louisville as one of the best defensive players in the country for the past two years. Dieng unfortunately was unable to participate in any of the drills outside of basic measurements due to an ankle injury. Dieng measured up second amongst centers in terms of standing reach and third in terms of wingspan with reaches of 9'4" and 7'4" respectively. Dieng is a high energy player who challenges shots effectively and is capable of contributing without needing touches on offense. His midrange jumper has improved this past season, to the point where he can hit open looks. With the recent success of Larry Sanders, Dieng's defense and maturity could help him make an immediate impact for the Celtics.

Mason Plumlee (Center, Duke)- Plumlee was one of the most improved players in the country this season, making a major impact for the Blue Devils. He also had a very impressive combine weekend, competing hard in every drill; he was noticeably one of the most athletic bigs in Chicago. One way he distanced himself from many of his big man peers was with his 30.5 inch standing vertical. Standing verticals are more telling than running verticals for big men given their need to spring up quickly for rebounds and putbacks. Plumlee was also extremely impressive in the agility and lateral quickness drills which certainly help display a prospect's ability to defend well. Plumlee is a strong, high energy player whose athleticism would certainly help him win over Celtics fans.

Kelly Olynyk (Center, Gonzaga)- Olynyk was a bit different than the other three centers listed above him. He didn't test as well in the physical measurements, recording a wingspan just under his 6'10"height. Where he set himself apart from his peers was during the drills. He displayed more raw skill than the other centers he competed against. He has good ball handling skills and range out to the 3-point line. He is a smart offensive player who can help his team in a multitude of ways. He's very similar to a Luis Scola type of player; he's great with finesse moves but doesn't finish above the rim very often. His lack of athleticism limits his potential as a defender, but he's one of the more advanced offensive players amongst big men in this draft.

Rudy Gobert (Center, France)- Gobert helped himself this combine solely by participating; many international players elected not to take part. The biggest takeaway from his weekend was his enormous 7'9" wingspan as well as his 9'7" standing reach. He did a tremendous job contesting shots during the drills and should be able to do the same in the NBA next season. He's a bit thin for his height, at just under 240 pounds, but he has very nice touch around the rim. He could be a worthwhile project for the Celtics because if they can get him to bulk up a bit, he has a few tools that just cannot be taught.

Glen Rice Jr. (Shooting Guard, Rio Grande Valley Vipers)- Rice Jr. took an interesting route to the NBA. He was dismissed from the team at Georgia Tech due to numerous rules violations and decided to enter the Development League. He led his team to a championship run and his stock has been rising ever since. He's quite explosive and can certainly score from a multitude of places on the court, which would greatly benefit a team like the Celtics who were prone to have long stretches with limited offensive output. He looked very good defensively during the drills which was a welcome sight. During his time in the D-League, he spent a lot of time covering the opposing team's Power Forward, something he likely won't be called upon to do in the NBA. It was promising to see that he could lock his peers down. With his athleticism and scoring ability, he could be an interesting fit if the Celtics aren't worried with his immature past.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Shooting Guard, Georgia)- Caldwell-Pope struggled this season at Georgia, which was likely a factor of having no help around him; opposing defenses devoted all of their attention to shutting him down. Pope is a very good shooter, but he had a rough weekend from beyond the arc. He has good size and a good wingspan for his position at 6'5" tall with a 6'8" reach. He is a huge factor at coming off of screens as he really knows how to change paces and set his defender up to get burnt while chasing him. He's a decent, not great defender, and he needs to work on improving his ball handling ability in order to become more of an isolation threat. That said, given his ability to read and work off screens, he could look very good on the court next to Rajon Rondo, who often likes to look for his teammates' movement off the ball.

Ricky Ledo (Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Providence)- Ledo was one of the most heralded recruits in the country just a year ago and had Friar fans optimistic. Unfortunately, he was ruled academically ineligible for the entire season. Ledo has great size for either guard position, standing tall at 6'6" in sneakers. He is a very good athlete as evidenced by his 3.32 second time during the 3-quarter court sprint drills. He is a great ball handler and can easily create his own shot as well as get to the hoop. He also measured in at 10.25% body fat, the second highest figure at the combine. Shedding some of that fat would only make him more athletic and explosive. Ledo also has very good court vision as he wowed scouts with a few passes that he threw. He has a very high upside as long as his jump shot improves a bit. One thing that may deter the Celtics from looking at him is his defense. He isn't a great defender right now; in high school he was prone to gambling too often. If the Celtics believe that their scheme can help him defend, he could be a potential home run threat, and a player who can generate offense when Rondo's off the court. That said, Danny Ainge often highly values defensive ability with his selections and that may ultimately undermine Ledo's chances at wearing green.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (Shooting Guard, Michigan)- Hardaway was perhaps the most accurate shooter in Chicago this weekend. He was a key member of the Wolverines team despite being overshadowed by Trey Burke and eventually Mitch McGary. During his workouts, he shot a very impressive clip from behind the arc, which shouldn't be terribly surprising given his father's three point prowess in the early 1990s. In addition to shooting the ball well, he competed hard in the drills and tested very well athletically. He's beginning to become more of an assertive scorer and could be a good complement to Rondo and Bradley in the Celtics backcourt.

These are a few names that preliminarily could make sense for Boston if they decide to stand pat. The coming weeks will be filled with prospect interviews and individual workouts where the Celtics can begin to narrow down their search for their next rookie. Danny Ainge did well last year with Jared Sullinger and the jury is still out on Fab Melo and Boston fans should have great faith in his ability to pick a productive player from this year's batch of prospects.

Jeff Paadre 5/20/2013 11:57:00 PM Edit
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