As we mentioned on Monday, last weekend's NCAA tournament action did not go so well for the top NBA prospects. The top three players (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker are gone) as are fellow lottery picks Marcus Smart, Tyler Ennis and Doug McDermott. It's a bit sad for the fans of lottery teams who wanted an extended look at these guys, but all is not lost. There are still a ton of talented players left in the tournament. Lets take a look at the top five and how they could possibly end up on the Celtics next season.
#1. Julius Randle - Draft Express rank: #4
Randle showed off his skill-set in a major way during Sunday's upset over Wichita State, going for 13 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists (a season high) as the Wildcats knocked off the previously unbeaten Shockers. Randle is more power forward than center (he's 6'9", 245), but in today's NBA that distinction is less important than ever. He's strong, athletic, and has a high motor and nice moves around the rim. Defensively he's nothing special, but he has all of the athleticism necessary to guard most of the 4's the NBA has to offer.
Expect Randle to make a smooth transition from collegiate double-double machine (22 this season) to NBA double-double machine. His ceiling may not be as high as some of the other guys in the top ten, but his floor is a lot higher, meaning his bust potential is lower.
Fit on the Celtics: If the Cs were to draft Randle it would have to be with their first draft pick, and if they do not move up in the lottery, there's a decent chance he's the best player on the board when they select. If that happens it will be interesting to see what Danny Ainge and company decide to do, as Randle has a similar game to that of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. Meaning he does most of his damage below the rim and on the glass, and is not a rim protector (something Ainge is on the lookout for). That doesn't mean that the Celtics will pass on him, but even in today's NBA it's hard to imagine a frontline without any semblance of post defense getting the job done.
#2. Aaron Gordon - Draft Express rank: #8
Gordon was a top five guy before the season started, and he played like exactly that during Arizona's two wins last weekend. He averaged 17 PPG, 7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.5 BPG and 2 SPG while shooting 71% from the floor, dominating two inferior opponents and helping the Wildcats cruise into the sweet sixteen. Of course that begs the question: where the hell has this guy been all season?
Gordon is perhaps the best athlete in this draft (and that's saying something), but his offensive consistency has made Wiggins' look like Kevin Durant. He's awesome around the rim but struggles shooting from deep, and is particularly terrible from the free throw line (43% this year). But it's important to remember that Gordon is one of the youngest players in this year's draft (he turns 19 on September 16th), and that he's already elite both on the defensive end and on the glass. If his offensive game continues to develop he has just about everything you could ever want out of a forward.
Fit on the Celtics: While I've seen Gordon fall out of the lottery in some mocks, I'd be shocked to see him fall anywhere lower than 8th or so on draft night. He's the type of player that will drop jaws in workouts, and his play in the tourney thus far is only helping his cause. Therefore if the Cs are grabbing him, it'll be with their own pick, not the Nets.
As for his fit on the roster -- I think a lot of that depends on what position he is in the NBA. Unlike Randle, who's a power forward for sure, Gordon's athleticism opens the door for him to play quite a bit of 3. He's 210 pounds and can run the floor and guard opposing small forwards, giving him quite a bit of versatility. He likely needs to become a better shooting (he was at 34% from three this year) to be an efficient 3 in the NBA, but we're seeing players his size and bigger (LeBron, KD, Paul George) dominate at the three right now, so a move is not out of the question. I think a Gordon-Sully-INSERT RIM PROTECTOR-Olynyk (off the bench) front court would be a fun, interesting young front line if the Celtics do not go all-out to trade for a guy like Kevin Love.
#3. Willie Cauley-Stein - Draft Express rank: #12
Did someone ask for a rim protector? Outside of Embiid, Kentucky's Cauley-Stein is the best pure center in the draft, showcasing elite shot blocking abilities (2.9 per game in 24 minutes) and flashes of a legitimate post game. Unfortunately, flashes are all we're getting. Cauley-Stein is finishing up his Sophomore season, yet his offensive game remains the same as it was when he arrived in Lexington. Put-back dunks, fast-break dunks, and an occasional baby hook that does not inspire much confidence.
Of course, you can't teach height, and at an even seven-feet (with a wingspan of 7'2"), Cauley-Stein is going to draw comparisons to guys like DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. Gigantic, shot blocking athletes who NBA teams will try to develop from "incredibly raw offensively" up to "serviceable". Remember, neither Jordan (7.9 PPG in college), nor Drummond (10 PPG), dominated on the offensive end while in school, and that may serve Cauley-Stein (7 PPG this season) well come draft night.
Defensively, he's the real deal. A shot altering freak who sometimes overcommits to attempt a block (how many great shot-blockers don't do this at first?) with the ability to anchor an NBA defense for years to come. Expect him to be the #2 center off the board.
Fit on the Celtics: If the Celtics really want a defensive anchor in this draft and aren't in position to grab Embiid, Cauley-Stein could be their man. But if they stick in their current position (5th pick), that's way too high to grab a guy projected to go towards the end of the lottery. If that's the case, the Cs could possible grab someone else at #5 and then try and move their other pick (18th or so in the draft) plus a future asset to move up a bit and grab the seven-footer.
#4: Gary Harris - Draft Express rank: #15
We close out the top five with back-to-back Sophomore shooting guards, and first up is Michigan State's Gary Harris. Harris is about as complete a shooting guard prospect as you could imagine, combining scoring (17 PPG), shooting ability (38% three over the last two seasons), competent passing and above average defense. He's also a high character kid who competes every single possession, which should only help his NBA stock.
The one thing really holding him back: his size. At 6'4", 200 pounds he's a little small for an NBA two, and he's not a great athlete, making that size matter a bit more. While he's able to hold his own against opposing two-guards in college, he's going to need to take his game to another level to guard guys like Dwyane Wade and James Harden in the NBA (but honestly: can anyone really guard those guys?). Harris is the type of guy who may slip a bit come draft night as his "reach" and "wow factor" and "wingspan" and all of the other big time draft buzz words won't help him a ton. But I think he steps right into a starting shooting guard role next season and stays there for a decade.
Fit on the Celtics: Much like Cauley-Stein, Harris is likely to go anywhere from 10-20 in June's draft, so we really don't know if he'll be around when the Celtics make their second pick. But if he is, he could be a really nice Avery Bradley replacement if AB's price tag gets too high. While Bradley has a clear edge on the defensive end of the floor, Harris profiles as a better offensive player, and his price tag for the next four seasons will likely be similar to what Bradley makes just next season ($7-8 million). Hopefully by draft night Ainge has a better idea what the market will be for Bradley (even though free agency will be a few days away), and can grab one of these shooting guards if the price is not right.
#5: Nik Stauskas - Draft Express rank: #17
I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a man crush on Stauskas that is only deepening the more I watch him. He's the type of shooter that a defense needs to be aware of every single possession, as he's knocked down 45% of this threes this season, up from the 44% he shot last season. But Stauskas is not just a one-dimensional player. He's 6'6" and a solid (albeit not spectacular) athlete who has improved a lot defensively, and he's averaging 3.3 assists per game this season, leading the Wolverines in that category.
He's a high IQ player who rarely turns the ball over (1.9 per game over 35 minutes) and changes the spacing of the opposing defense. He's not going to be an NBA superstar, but he's a Korver type shooter with a much more balanced overall game.
Fit on the Celtics: Much like with Harris, how much the Celtics "need" Stauskas is somewhat dependent on what happens with Bradley. But even if the team keeps AB around, taking another guard with their second pick is not out of the question. Stauskas could come off the bench, helping add a scoring punch to the Celtics bench as he adjusts to the NBA, and helping change the pace that Rondo/Bradley have created as starters (lesser athlete, far superior shooter). Again, I'm a bit biased, but Stauskas is another guy that is a safe bet to have a long, productive NBA career. Even if his chances of being an All-Star are not very good.
Honorable Mentions: Montrezl Harris (Louisville), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Zach Lavine (UCLA), Kyle Anderson (UCLA), James Young (Kentucky).
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Michael Dyer 3/26/2014 04:48:00 PM Tweet