Published November 18, 2020


If you’re considering reading draft reports of the projected first round picks in tonight’s NBA Draft to find a player who could help the Celtics beat the Heat in the playoffs, let me save you some time: don’t.

This is not as simple as looking at the series against Miami and picking a guy who can help Boston in that exact matchup next year. Not because I don’t think the Heat will be there – they will be. Picking guys to help against a specific team is an age-old NBA tactic and a good one. It’s just unrealistic to think you can get a rookie to be the difference especially when rotations shrink to seven or eight in the conference finals. (Friendly reminder that Tyler Herro is not typical).

Even if the C’s trade up, there isn’t anybody there who wins them that series.

Luckily, Danny Ainge has three 1st rounders to play with tonight. That’s why the reported trade up sounds good, and since there absolutely needs to be a push to win now and there’s no roster space, keeping all three is impossible. If only teams weren’t scared of trading with Danny (for good reason – if I were a GM, I’d block his number too).

The next thought in the daydreaming world of a Celtic superfan/amateur 2K GM is: wouldn’t it be nice to to get an established piece to put them over the top? However, even with the recent news of Gordon Hayward pushing back his signing deadline to tomorrow, Boston would be fullcourt-pressed to get back a quality rotational player. The Hawks are rumored to be interested, but the question is: what are the Celtics willing to accept in a Hayward sign-and-trade?

The C’s obviously don’t want to pick up Hayward’s $34 million and the feeling might be mutual which means they have about as much leverage as Billy Madison trying to trade a banana for a Snack Pack. The Celtics might have to settle for a Capri Sun. Getting back a much-needed big like Clint Capela or especially John Collins from Atlanta is very unlikely. The Hawks’ 6th pick tonight is also off the table. Even still, pushing back the deadline has made it clear: Hayward has probably played his last game in green.

Celtic trade rumors will continue to swirl uncontrollably today. Anyone has a one in 30 chance of predicting Hayward’s landing spot.

Instead, lets look at what the Celtics could do by moving up in the draft. Moving into the top five is basically impossible unless the C’s included a good piece like Marcus Smart which isn’t happening. 

So, likely looking in the 8-12 range, the question becomes is it worth moving from 14 to that spot if it means giving up all three first rounders? For the Celtics right now, it’s yes. Flipping one or two for an already established big might be an even better idea. (Just not the rumored Larry Nance of the Cavs, please).

In any event, here are some guys that could be in that range. Buckle up for a fun night. Ainge could see how the top five shakes out in an unpredictable draft then do some old-fashioned on-the-clock deals if there is somebody they really like and need to move up to get.

Some guys I like?

Tyrese Haliburton from Iowa State but he likely won’t be there and I’m not sure he’s a fit.

Onyeka Okongwu, 6’9 big from USC is linked to a lot of teams. I’ve seen him as high as number three but would be shocked to see him go in the top five. Okongwu draws some Bam Adebayo comparisons. If he’s there when the Knicks pick at eight or Wizards at nine, the Celtics will absolutely ring the doorbell. The only problem is all of his strengths match up with a young big the Celtics already have in Robert Williams. I wish I knew what the Boston brass believes of “Big Bob.” It would be nice to see him get a real chance, especially against guys like Bam.

I’ve seen some Auburn freshman Isaac Okoro links to Boston but would prefer a better shooter if the plan is to take a wing.

Which brings me to FSU’s 6’6 Devin Vassell. He’s a menace on defense, the type of defender Brad Stevens and Danny dream about. He’s considered one of the best shooters in the draft and he can hold his own against bigger players in the post too. I’m not worried about saying he’s too similar to Jaylen Brown. Adebayo crushed the Celtics but when the game was on the line, it was Jimmy Butler who sent them home. When it comes down to it, the C’s should want as many versatile guys as possible to throw at Miami’s guard/wing scorers.

Look, anytime you count on Semi Ojeleye to give you minutes, you have a problem.

And that’s not even a knock on Semi. I love the guy because he plays hard and he’s a good teammate. That’s it. That’s all I care about. It’s just that he’s not a rotation player on a championship team.

Today’s 3-and-D guys aren’t evolving as much as they’re just getting better at the definition of the role. Bench 3-and-D guys playing for championship contenders need to be feared from beyond the arc and they need to open the floor. Ojeleye isn’t, and can’t do that.

You want Ojeleye in street clothes in the playoffs? Take Vassell, the plug and play 3 and D.

Have you ever heard the popular NBA mantra, “you can never have too many wings?” Rumor has it Ainge believes in that but repeats a slightly different phrase to calm down whenever he finds himself stressed out over Smart’s shot selection: “You can never have too many shooters.” Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith is the best shooter in the draft. 

Names like Vassell, Nesmith and Villanova’s Saddiq Bey are going to be all lumped together in the 10-20 range. I think Vassell is a little more dynamic and way ahead defensively than the other two. All three are great shooters with Nesmith probably the best while some say Bey is the most equipped to help right away. My order goes like this: Vassell, Bey and Nesmith. I’d be excited about any of them. If they hold at 14, I’ve seen Bey as the projected Celtics pick by the most “experts.”

Another Seminole flying up the draft boards is Patrick Williams, a 6’11 do-it-all big. He can stretch the floor and of course, being from FSU, defends well but there are rumors of a Pistons promise at seven.

If the Celtics would rather address their need of a scoring guard off the bench, Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey would fit the bill and could be around at 14. He’s a good defender as well.

This one doesn’t make as much sense considering his projected range anywhere from pick 12 to 20 but for the record, I like Maryland’s Jalen Smith. Just like to put that out there. If the C’s stay put at 14, keep an eye on him. Remember, Theis and Kanter are off the books after next season and while I fully expect Boston to go after a talented big in the summer of ‘21 (Hello, Rudy Gobert?), I’d be fine holding serve at 14 and flying on a big like “Sticks” Smith or a European sleeper like Aleksej Pokusevski who is gaining traction in draft circles. 

The same line of thinking should go towards the impending replacement of Hayward perhaps sooner than later. That player won’t be found in a sign-and-trade involving Hayward, the same way he won’t be found in this draft, at least not immediately. 

All I can say to Celtic fans is be ready for anything. The Celtics are closer to banner 18 than you might believe. There’s no time to think about future seasons or player development. It might be time to see what every asset is worth, not just three humdrum first round picks and Gordon Hayward’s contract.