What a ride the Celtics have taken us on since their hot start to the season. We were talking about the Celtics potentially hosting a playoff series in December! Fast forward a month ... Boston has dropped 19 of their last 22 games, and frankly they are exactly where they should want to be - the third worst team in the NBA.
Anti-tankers say there are no guarantees in the draft lottery - what are they looking at? In their current position the Celtics could draft no worse than sixth overall, have a 96% chance at a top five pick, and have a 46.9% chance at a top three pick. Basically Boston is guaranteed a good pick in a stacked draft if they maintain their position. It's not all about selecting first overall.
This is exactly where the Celtics want to be, and here's why:
|Wiggins pours in a career high 29 points|
Wiggins' play lately has picked up, including a career high on Wednesday night. We last discussed Andrew after he had a monster game against Iowa State: 17 points and 19 rebounds. He followed it up with exactly what scouts were hoping not to see: three points in 23 minutes against Oklahoma State. The moment was just too big for Wiggins and he was never able to get in a flow.
Then scouts see what Wiggins is able to do in his next three games, and wonder where three point performances even come from. Wiggins went for 17 points and seven boards against Baylor in his next outing. Not huge numbers, but it was impressive because he really had just as bad a game as he did in his previous outing. The difference? Wiggins was physical and got to the free throw line 12 times - what stars are suppose to do on off nights.
Wiggins has since been on a tear putting up back to back career highs against TCU and Iowa State again. At TCU Wiggins posted 27 points (8-13 FG/9-10 FT), five boards and five helpers in 32 minutes. He followed it up with 29 points (10-16 FG/4-6 3PT FG) and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. No doubt those two performances have been what we were waiting for all year long. Now if he can keep it up, then he puts himself right back in the conversation for the top pick in the draft.
Joel Embiid (Kansas/Fr): Embiid is still a project, but he is a project worth taking on with the first pick in June. Since his breakout game at Iowa State he has had some highs and lows. Embiid has fouled out of one of his last four games, but had two fouls or less in the other three games, a good sign. He has had a tough time with staying out of foul trouble, but seems to be improving.
Embiid almost posted a triple double in the Oklahoma State game, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. Overall in his four games since the last eye on the draft Embiid has averaged 13.25 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.25 APG and 3.25 BPG on 60% FGs. The most important stat however may be the fouls, which scouts really want to see go down as the season progresses. Embiid is averaging 2.5 per game over his last four - lowering his season average to 3.5 fouls per game.
If the fouls per game continue to drop while the rest of his numbers rise, along with displaying the flashes of greatness Embiid has shown so often, then the number one pick will be Embiid's to lose.
Jabari Parker (Duke/Fr): Parker has officially found his way out of his slump and left it far in his rearview. In four games since the last eye on the draft Parker has posted 18.75 PPG, 11.75 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.0 BPG and 1.75 SPG. Just Parker filling the entire stat sheet as usual, although his assist numbers do not represent how well he passes the ball.
Parker has been a beast on the glass lately while also getting to the line 8.5 times per game over this four game stretch. Both numbers indicate Parkers paint presence on each side of the ball, something rare in a player that can also play the perimeter so well.
Parker still has a shot at being the top overall pick, but most likely will land somewhere in the top three. The finish to the season for all three of these top prospects, especially in March, is really going to determine which of these can't miss prospects is going to land the top spot.
Dante Exum (Australia): Exum is the mystery man - it's tough to see anything outside of a highlight tape of him. He officially announced that he will be entering the NBA draft rather than try to go to college for a year, and there is some chatter he could earn himself a top three pick. Exum can play either guard position and has size at 6'6, something that intrigues scouts.
So how good can this kid be? That's not a question I'm qualified to answer, but from the rumblings it sounds like he can be pretty good.
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State/ So): Smart is the guard I would prefer in Boston just because we have not only seen him play, but we have seen him polish his game in his second season. Smart isn't perfect, he had his worst game of the season with four points against West Virginia recently, but I wouldn't expect another one of those games.
Smart is one of the most well rounded players in the draft and one of the most physical guards I have ever seen. Even when Smart doesn't play well... he plays well. An example is his recent game against Kansas, he played 39 minutes and shot 3-14 (0-6 from downtown). Now check out his stat line: 16 points (10-10 FT), 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals - this guy can just beat you in too many ways.
Now the future of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in Boston have a lot to do with whether the Celtics would draft a guard or not. If Bradley re-signs and Rondo is here on draft day I think it's safe to say Danny Ainge is looking for front court help. However, if things don't go Boston's way and they need to pick between Exum and Smart, I think Smart could make a lethal backcourt combination with Bradley and Rondo simply because he is so physically gifted and well rounded.
Julius Randle (Kentucky/Fr): Randle has been as inconsistent as any potential top pick lately. The top three is now out of the question for Randle, and even begin a top five pick is now questionable. Six points in his last game in a loss to unranked LSU was a huge disappointment, but it's Randle's diminishing physical dominance that has me most worried.
Earlier in the season Randle was a lock for double digit rebounds and would often find himself taking double digit free throws as well. Here are Randle's rebounding numbers in his last five outings: 14, 2, 11, 5 and 9. Now his FT attempts in his last five: 14, 5, 6, 5 and 1. Certain numbers would be ok for Randle to have inconsistency with, but these are probably the worst two statistics he could let slide.
Randle's calling card is dominating around the rim, and his recent lack of rebounds and FT attempts show that he is struggling with that. Although a guy like Aaron Gordon probably will not pass him on draft boards, Randle certainly isn't moving up on many.
|Vonleh throws down a slam for the Hoosiers|
The knock on Noah was that he had not put up big numbers against ranked teams - until he recently posted 13 points and 13 rebounds against Michigan State. If he can continue that trend during the back half of the season, the 5-8 range in the draft is very realistic for Vonleh. So far he has season averages of 12.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 1.3 BPG, but those should only rise just like his draft stock.
So without further anticipation, here is my mock top 10 if the draft was held today (based on 1/30/14 NBA standings):
1. Milwaukee Bucks - Joel Embiid: Nothing new here. Embiid is atop almost all the draft boards, and rightfully so. The Olajuwon comparisons are for real and it's impossible to pass that up for almost any team. The interesting part is that the Bucks would then almost be forced into trading away Larry Sanders, someone could get a steal on him.
2. Orlando Magic - Andrew Wiggins: Wiggins has put himself back on an even playing field with Parker, which means most GMs will go with Wiggins' potential. The Magic holding this pick makes it even more likely as they have expressed interest in Wiggins before. This would be a good fit for both parties.
3. Boston Celtics - Jabari Parker: I'll take this outcome in a heartbeat for the Celtics as I think most of you would too. Despite the potential in both Embiid and Wiggins, there is something special about Parker. His game is polished to step right in and contribute in Boston and he is the best inside-out player in the draft - something the Celts currently lack. Parker + Boston has superstar written all over it. Again, if Bradley re-signs, a Rondo-Bradley-Parker-Sullinger core would have Celtics fans drooling over their future, especially if Ainge is able to add a center sometime soon.
4. Philadelphia 76ers - Marcus Smart: If the Sixers miss out on the top three, Smart makes the most sense. The perfect backcourt mate to go with MCW - the two would be lethal for years to come. Turner can play the three for them and Philly does have depth up front, especially when Noel becomes a part of the rotation. If Philly feels they do have to address their front court further, they should have New Orleans' first rounder which today would be the 11th pick.
5. Sacramento Kings- Dante Exum: Exum is probably a no brainer for the Kings here. He could play in the backcourt with Thomas or take over the point guard duties if need be. The Kings are still probably another couple years away, I wouldn't be surprised if they traded this pick for an established veteran given their recent moves.
6. LA Lakers - Willie Cauley-Stein: This pick displays the luxuries you have when you are the Lakers. Randle or Vonleh would fit nice here, but with Kobe being back and most likely a max free agent coming to town, scoring won't be a necessity. The Lakers are known for always having a center, and Cauley-Stein would be the best on the board. His shot blocking and rebounding alone would be giving LA what they need most considering how they can expect to round their roster out after the season.
7. Utah Jazz - Noah Vonleh: This pick gets interesting. The Jazz really need a wing, but is it worth reaching on Gary Harris or Glenn Robinson this early? They could trade this pick, but lets just say they take the best available. And I believe by June Vonleh will be considered above Randle on best available.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers - Julius Randle: How the Cavs are even still here blows my mind. They have a talented young core headed by Kyrie and just added Deng to the mix. I expect them to be out of the lottery, but if they are not they get a pretty sweet deal here grabbing Randle at eight. Randle would be a nice upgrade for them at the four... then the pressure would really be on Cleveland.
9. Denver Nuggets (from Knicks) - Aaron Gordon: Gordon is a perfect fit here. A good Denver team gets to bring in an elite athlete around the rim and give him time to develop. Playing behind the manimal will be good for Gordon at first, but if they can hang on to both of them they could make for a scary above the rim duo one day.
10. Charlotte Bobcats (from Pistons) - Doug McDermott: Another great fit here. Charlotte has lots of young talent to develop, take more of a sure thing here. McDermott is a scoring machine (39 points and the game winner last game) and has an NBA ready game to balance out all the projects in Charlotte. Don't worry about McDermott becoming Adam Morrison either, this kid is for real. If MJ wants to take another risk on a youngster, Charlotte picks again at number 12 and can do so there.
Lottery night is getting closer people. Stay tuned in for more eye on the draft pieces as the news is only going to get more exciting!
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Julian Edlow 1/30/2014 05:15:00 PM Tweet Edit