Eye on the draft: Huge January for Celts

Willie Cauley-Stein, the seven foot sophomore from Kentucky, could be a Celtic if the draft were today
With the loss in Chicago on Thursday night, the Boston Celtics would be back in the 2014 lottery if the NBA draft were today. January is going to be a make or break month for the Celtics, just check out the upcoming stretch that Mark Vandeusen wrote about yesterday

Now the Celtics could surprise us, but with the way they are playing now, it seems likely the team will begin February even further down the East standings. Or even closer to a top five pick depending on how you want to view it.

It's been a month since the last "Eye on the draft", partially because the Celtics were looking at a mid-round pick. Although there will be a lot of very good players available outside the lottery, lets look at the potential superstars the Celtics would be able to obtain with a top 10 pick.

Nope, we are not going to start with the "big three" as usual. This does not mean my man crush on Jabari Parker has faded, but Joel Embiid has made too much noise to ignore.

Joel Embiid (Kansas/Fr): Embiid has been on the radar as a top 10 pick since before the season just based on pure potential. It wasn't expected that he would progress as rapidly as he has though. The defense has always been there as a seven foot shot blocker, but his offensive game is further along than scouts were led to believe, which has landed Embiid a starting role.

Embiid has crept into the top three in many mock drafts, passing ahead of Julius Randle. Some even think Embiid could be the first player selected in June if he continues to show improvement - pretty high praise in a draft class like this.

Embiid's season averages are up to 10.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.1 BPG and 1.1 SPG in only 21.6 minutes. However over his last three games, Embiid has put up 16.3 PPG and 8 RPG while shooting 73.6% from the field . The sky is the limit for Joel Embiid; someone is going to get the next elite NBA center this June.

Jabari Parker (Duke/Fr): This guy is still the man. Jabari is still filling up the stat sheet: 21.4 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG and 1.1 SPG to go along with 52.8% shooting from the field (45.5% from 3) and 75% from the charity stripe. The kid literally does it all.

Parker is coming off of a rare bad outing against Elon, but has otherwise been dominating regardless of the opponent. There really is nothing new to report on him, Parker is the most consistent player in the draft, the most NBA ready player and a lock as a top three pick.

Andrew Wiggins (Kansas/Fr): Since having six and 10 points against UTEP and Villanova respectively, Wiggins has bounced back and unlocked a bit more of his potential. Although inconsistency is still an issue for him, here are his point totals since those two down games: 22, 26, 11, 12 and 20.

At the same time his 22 and 26 point games both came in losses to Colorado and Florida, indicating that Wiggins taking over on his own may be detrimental to the team. He is still very raw, but learning to play within the team and still be able to have big nights (see Jabari Parker) is very important for a potential top option like Wiggins.

By the time the draft rolls around Wiggins could go anywhere from 1st-4th in my eyes. How he finishes the season will have a lot to say about his final position, but right now Parker is still the better option.

Julius Randle (Kentucky/Fr): Randle has been the player falling off of recent, and the rise of Embiid has not helped him either. His 18.1 PPG and 10.6 RPG season averages still have Randle virtually guaranteed to be a top five pick, but recent struggles look to have pushed him out of the top three.

Playing against top competition has seemed to have gotten the best of Randle in recent games. Lets take a look at his last three performances: Randle was able to put up 29 points and 10 rebounds against Belmont, a much smaller team which he was able to bully his way to 19 free throw attempts. However against UNC Randle finished with 11 and five on 3-9 shooting and six free throws. Then, against Louisville, Randle was able to put in 17 points, but only three rebounds.

Randle will be a good player in the NBA, and much like all these 18/19 year olds has lots of room to grow. But there looks to be a drop off between Randle and the three names listed above him.

Dante Exum (Australia): I'll be honest, I have not seen Exum play outside of youtube highlights. So here is his profile on NBADraft.net (who by the way have Embiid going first overall to the Bucks):

Strengths: Lightning quick combo guard with a deadly first step ... Plays an incredibly controlled and smooth game, especially considering he is routinely the quickest guy on the court ... Gets where he wants to off the dribble at will; has good ability to change direction ... Very positive reports about his leadership ability, strong character, and work ethic ... An unselfish and heady player ... Has an uncanny ability to draw fouls, both in the open- and half-court...At 6'6" is more than capable of playing both guard positions; "natural" position may actually be PG... A good and willing passer... Has great length ... Can score in a variety of ways around the basket ... Has good finishing ability ... Good overall feel for the game ... One of the top prospects not just in Australia, but in the world ... Strong character kid, with strong desire to win and improve his game ...
Weaknesses: An inconsistent, but improving, shooter. Shot tends to be flat and needs more arch ... Slight build, will need to work on absorbing contact on both ends of the floor ... Although a strong on-ball defender, strength may be an issue, as he does not fight through screens effectively ... Does not currently have much of a mid range game to speak of, although it is easy to make the argument he has no opportunity to show one given how easily he gets to the rack ...
Notes: Had a dominant performance for Australia at 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague ... Has the option to declare for the 2014 NBA draft, but is likely to play NCAA ball first; Indiana University is currently thought to be atop his list ... His father, Cecil Exum, grew up in North Carolina; after winning a NCAA championship alongside Michael Jordan at UNC, Cecil moved to Australia to play professional basketball ... Currently attends the Australian Institute of Sport, where he will graduate in November, 2013. This is the same institution that produced fellow Aussies Luc Longley, Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, and Matthew Dellavedova ...

Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St/So): Smart has had a hell of a season for the Cowboys. Just goes to show what coming back for a sophomore season can do for one of these diaper dandies. When you look at the box scores it would appear Smart is having as inconsistent a season as any of the Freshmen. But look deeper and you will see that almost all his low scoring games have come during blowout wins for Oklahoma State.

Smart, much like Exum, is a big guard and can play in both spots. Good for Celtics fans if they grab either of those guards to go alongside Rajon Rondo. The difference is that Exum is a little taller and quicker, but lacks the deadly jump shot and strength that Smart has. Someone will be making a tough call when they have to pick between the two.

Aaron Gordon (Arizona/Fr): No freshman has been as up and down lately as Gordon. Gordon has clearly fallen more than any player in this draft after originally being projected as the 4th pick. NBA draft net has him going 19th to the Bulls. Although that seems like an unrealistic fall, Gordon could be selected at the back end of the lottery.

On the season he is still averaging 12 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 APG and 1.1 BPG while shooting 49.3% from the field. Someone could get a steal if Gordon does indeed slide and pans out for the team that selects him.

Rodney Hood (Duke/So): Hood has slowed down since his hot start, and taken a clear backseat to Parker as Duke's top option. Despite a tough December, Hood will be a lottery pick, and has a lot of potential. One of the better inside/out players in the draft, Hood, much like Gordon, could turn out to be a steal for someone.

Zach LaVine (UCLA/Fr): Had to bring someone new into the mix. LaVine has been getting a lot of hype for his athleticism, and you can see it in his highlights. The problem is he seems much to far away in the rest of his game. NBA draft net has him all the way up at six in their latest mock draft.

LaVine to me is the classic case of a kid who is not ready and should stay in school. Wiggins and Embiid may be raw too, but they are much too talented and will develop when challenged by NBA players. LeVine has more to learn about himself before he can compete on the NBA level.

The usual suspects like James Young, Glenn Robinson, and Doug McDermott will all be there later in the lottery, but this is just a look at guys the Celtics could pick up if they land a top 7 or 8 pick. Just for fun, here is my mock top 10 if the draft were today and based off current NBA standings:

1. Jabari Parker - Milwaukee Bucks (Have to go with the best overall player)
2. Andrew Wiggins - Orlando Magic (I would like to go Embiid here, but Vucevic is a legit center, put Wiggins next to Oladipo)
3. Joel Embiid - Utah Jazz (Yes they have big men, but Favors or Kanter can be dealt, Embiid is too special)
4. Julius Randle - Sacramento Kings (Would say Smart, but with Thomas, McLemore, Gay and Boogie they need a 4… here he is)
5. Marcus Smart - Denver Nuggets (Thank you very much Knicks, Lawson/Smart backcourt… yikes)
6. Dante Exum - Atlanta Hawks (All I can say is wouldn't it be nice if this was the Celtics pick from Brooklyn)
7. Aaron Gordon - Philadelphia 76ers (Why not reach on potential here?)
8. Zach LaVine - Cleveland Cavs (With Waiters on the block they will look to fill that spot)
9. Rodney Hood - Los Angeles Lakers (Seems to fit there… who knows what happens with the Lakers)
10. Willie Cauley-Stein - Boston Celtics (Danny Ainge gets his center before selecting a wing with the Hawks pick later on)

Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky/So): He is a legit seven footer and has fantastic hands (played WR in high school). If all the top talent is gone, why not take the closest thing to Embiid. Cauley-Stein will block some shots and could develop into the center that Ainge has been franticly searching for… why not roll the dice on him here? Here are his numbers so far this season: 8.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 4.1 BPG.

Cauley-Stein is a guy based on potential, which did not work with Fab Melo, so this is admittedly a risk. I would like a sure thing as much as all of you… but the Celtics might need to lose a few more games in order to find one of those guys closer to the top of the draft.

Source: NBA draft net Dante Exum profile

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