A sigh of relief, yet a slight sense of disappointment set in as NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum revealed on Tuesday night's NBA Draft Lottery that Boston would be making the third pick on June 23rd. Would it have been nice to strike gold with a top-two selection? Certainly. But the third pick is definitely a lot better than going the opposite direction to either four, five, or six.
So where do we go from here?
The first step is to evaluate the talent following the two obvious choices for picks one and two, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. Unless something catastrophic happens, those two players will be selected in some given order for the Sixers and Lakers, so we must look at the remaining options.
Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, and Kris Dunn are the most likely candidates for the Celtics, given team needs and likelihood of their direction during free agency this summer. During the Playoffs, it was apparent Boston needed more scoring threats on the roster, and any of these three players would be safe bets to contribute that in the near future.
Murray showed ability to score beyond the arc better than most, if not all of the college basketball world last season. From February 1st on, Murray led the NCAA in scoring, and seemed to only be getting hotter going into the tournament. His off-ball movement and his craft of creating space for open shots was something you rarely find for a freshman in college. At a recent workout, Murray shot 25-27 from NBA range, sparking immediate interest of each of the top five teams. With Stephen Curry dazzling the NBA with his ability to effortlessly shoot the ball, Murray is an intriguing prospect that could give Boston a similar outside scoring impact, one they desperately need. If the 19-year-old guard out of Kentucky continues to dominate in pre-Draft workouts, I wouldn't be surprised if Ainge pulls the trigger on Murray with the third pick.
Hield single-handedly willed his Oklahoma Sooner team into the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament, and proved constantly throughout the season he can score with the best of them. His clutch moments and stunning scoring displays made the entire nation fall in love with him game by game, and his professionalism and high character only contributed to that. Ainge and the entire Celtics organization have always loved guys with similar attitudes and work ethics, so it could be a match made in heaven for him to eventually end up in green.
Dunn is a player that the Celtics have always been impressed with, as his scoring ability is a little different than both Murray and Hield, but superb nonetheless. He shot an impressive 37% from three his final year at Providence, but his ability to attack the rim and score in transition is a thing of beauty. He is a bit turnover prone, a feature of his game that has been criticized his entire collegiate career, but even that flaw in his game has decreased this past year. Many have already compared his game to Dwyane Wade, so if he can become a "poor-man's" version of the future Hall of Famer, no matter who selects him will be walking away with a stud.
Dragan Bender is another player fans seem enamored by based on the recent success of international prospect Kristaps Porzingis. Bender has the ability to extend out to the three point line and knock down jumpers, or block and contest shots in the post standing at 7'1 with fantastic athleticism. That being said, this selection is a major element for the immediate future of the franchise, and it's hard to believe Ainge will want to take a shot in the dark on an international prospect in hopes of emulating a rare talent like Porzingis. For every Porzingis there are ten-plus Yi Jianlians, and with so much on the line with this pick, I just don't see the chance being taken.
An extremely possible scenario is that a selection by the Celtics is not made at all, and we hear a blockbuster trade on draft night. Whispers have already begun on all of the various possibilities, but one that stuck out is the resurgence of a Jahlil Okafor trade with the 76ers for the third pick. With Philadelphia choosing first overall, it's apparent they will happily select either Simmons or Ingram, and rightfully so. That being said, they still have glaring holes at the guard position and have an immediate need for scoring. A deal was already on the brink of completion before the trade deadline, so with Philly able to pick up both Simmons/Ingram and a major scorer with the third pick in return for just one piece of their surplus of front court talent, an Okafor trade could certainly become a reality this summer.
A deal with Chicago for Jimmy Butler is also a possibility given a trade was discussed at the deadline, but was shut down with Boston's unwillingness to part ways with Jae Crowder. With the #3 pick set in the stone, would Chicago be inclined to discuss the deal again out of desperation of getting their likely eventual rebuild kickstarted with multiple assets? Would the C's part ways with Crowder this time around? Who knows, but Butler's name was there before, and I certainly would expect to hear rumors about it again.
With so much talent available in both the draft and via trade, the C's have several viable options to decide on here in the next month or so. No matter what the team does, they are bound to make a major step up this offseason in preparation of an Eastern Conference Finals and Finals run next season.
If you were Danny Ainge, what would you do with the third pick?
NBA Draft Lottery photo: Julie Jacobson, AP Photography
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