Eyes On the Future: Celtics Mock Draft Roundup

We can only hope Ben Simmons doesn't stay in purple and gold

The Christmas season is upon us, and I can only hope our readers holiday season was even a tenth as joyful as the smile that crosses Danny Ainge's face every time he gazes upon the list of future draft picks owed to the Celtics (because you KNOW he has that puppy on him at all times). And in the spirit of giving, I thought it would be a gift to us all to see what sort of high-upside talent the Celtics might acquire with that greatest of gifts, the unprotected 2016 first round pick courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets.

If the season were to end today, the Nets would own the third best lottery odds of any team in the NBA behind the Lakers and the woeful 76ers (to be fair, however, if the season ended today the Celtics would themselves be a lottery team). Most mock drafts, besides ESPN's lottery simulator, which doesn't become public until later in the season, simply slot teams according to record until the ping pong balls finally fall, and right now, who the Celtics would end up with at #3 is very much up to debate.

Ben Simmons is the runaway favorite at number one, as he should be. He has dominated at LSU so far and shown the kind of next level athleticism to make NBA scouts think his other elite skills -- finishing at the rim and the kind of court vision and passing ability rarely seen in a player 6' 10" -- will play up once he moves up to the big stage. After that, there is a pretty tight race for the number two slot between Duke's Brandon Ingram and the young Bosnian center Dragan Bender, who is already playing professionally in Israel.

Brown, showing off his athleticism for the US under-19 team.
The Celtics would presumably grab whichever of the two is left on the board and walk away whistling, but several mocks don't see it as quite as much of a clear choice. DraftExpress has Bender at #3 (meaning he would go to the Celtics) after Ingram gets nabbed at #2, but nbadraft.net has Bender falling all the way to #7 (he hasn't been playing many minutes in Israel and hasn't produced much even when he plays) and the Celtics taking Jaylen Brown, the hyper-athletic man-child out the University of California, at #3.

Most other mock drafts, which have yet to be updated recently, still have Kentucky's Skal Labissiere in the top 3, but his play has dropped his stock considerably and he may be looking at a fall out of the top 7. However, Labissierre's raw ability should not be ignored, and if he gets it going he may end up back in the conversation for #3, if not even #2. So that leaves four guys -- Ingram, Bender, Murray, and Labissierre -- that could both be available at 3 and be the best pick for the Celtics at the same spot, with another, Providence's Kris Dunn, shooting up draft boards and threatening to enter the conversation sometime in the near future.

It's obvious that this draft has essentially been dubbed "Ben Simmons and Company," as he has really separated himself as the only surefire franchise player of the class. But past him, the only other guys who have shown true flashes of that kind of dominant ability are Ingram, a silky smooth 6'10" shooting guard who might live up to some of the inevitable Kevin Durant comparisons, and Brown, whose physical dominance and unselfishness have engendered comparisons to Lebron James.

It is more than likely that neither will live up to those comps -- Durant and Lebron are both probably one of the top ten players to ever step foot on an NBA court, especially if Durant can return to the spotless health record of his pre-foot surgery days. However, Ingram and Brown can certainly be perennial all-stars, and perhaps even guys with the ability to turn a squad with across-the-board talent into a real contender -- and that's all that these Celtics need.

Of the two, Ingram seems the better fit but the longer project. His size and skill (he is an excellent shooter who is already developing a post game to punish teams who play guards on him to minimize his quickness advantage) are tantalizing and would fit with Brad Stevens' pace and space attack perfectly; however, it may take two or three years for Ingram's body to catch up, and luring marquee free agents on the prospect of development is a hard sell.

Brown could play defense in the NBA right now. He is tenacious, physical , and quick, and those same attributes combine with some high level ball handling and vision to create a potent offensive force as well. His jumper needs a ton of work, as he fails to repeat the same motion and thus simply does not have the muscle memory to be a consistent shooter. However, as we've seen with Avery Bradley (and, in an earlier age, Rajon Rondo, who at one point was one of the best mid-range shooters in the league by percentage), the Celtics seem to have a handle on improving shooting mechanics so long as the player is willing to put in the work.

Bender is a mystery to most scouts stateside, and how he performs in pre-draft workouts will go a long way in deciding where he will land, while Labissiere won't re-enter the conversation unless he really starts to turn thing around. Dunn is a little older (though he is technically a junior, he redshirted a year due to injury and is in his fourth year of at Providence) and less consistent offensively than the other two domestic prospects, but he shows flashes of brilliance that leave scouts drooling.

From this angle, if the Celtics miss out on Simmons, they should pray the Lakers pass on Ingram. The kid just has too much skill already to not be able to not only score but score efficiently in the league, and with some hard work he could actually fill out into a player with a strength advantage on his opponents down the line. The Celtics have never been a free agent destination, so their next superstar, just as all their others have been, will probably need to be homegrown, and Ingram is the best shot for that to happen.

We're still well away from staring at a televised ping-pong ball machine like your uncle who brags every Christmas he's gunna win the big one one of these days, but it's never too early to appreciate what you have. So this holiday season, Celtics fans give thanks -- for the gift of Billy King. May he never be unemployed.

Photos courtesy of powcast.net and wwltv.com
Video courtesy of Reborn HD Classic via Youtube
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