Through parts I and II of this Bringing the Band Back Together series, we’ve looked at the meat and potatoes of what we hope will be the core of the 2011 Boston Celtics, but make no mistake that running the same crew out one year later won’t produce better results than 2010. No, the 2011 Celtics will need significant reinforcements from the ranks of free agency, a trade or two, and dare I say it…. the draft.
The 19th pick in the NBA Draft isn’t known to be one that usually breeds dynamic, game changing talents that franchises build around for a decade. Rather, NBA teams should feel fortunate if they can produce a starter or even a solid role player outside of the lottery picks, and it has been several years since the Celtics made a pick this soon in the draft. For this, we can thank an uneven regular season, but making lemonade out of those lemons is precisely what Danny Ainge must do. Yet before jumping into the mix and sounding like an authority on players who I may have only watched once or twice, but read their Draft Express profiles 20 times, a chance must come in how the Celtics handle young talent.
Celtics Stuff Live was pleased to have Bill Walker join us on several occasions in the 2009 season as he bounced from Boston to Utah and back again, and while we developed something of a relationship there, Justin and I were completely in the tank for Walker well before that point. An aggressive wing who could hit the boards and get out on the break was a need for the 2009 (and 2010… and 2011) Celtics, but despite a ridiculous number of injuries prior to the 2009 Playoffs, Walker couldn’t get on the court. Doc blamed it on defense, “not knowing the stuff,” and a handful of other lines that rang hollow once Walker showed was he could do on a very bad New York Knicks squad after being dealt in the Nate Robinson deal. I still believe Walker could be a help for the Celtics in 2011 for very little money, but even I can’t expect that given the past treatment that Walker received that the results would be any different, and they need to be. It was only through other factors forcing the issue that Doc was forced to play players like Ryan Gomes, Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen, Glen Davis, Rajon Rondo, Leon Powe, and on and on. It always seemed to be pulling teeth for the good doctor to actually use the young guys under his charge, but more often than not, those players became PLAYERS.
For the 2011 Celtics to succeed with a core of many of the same veterans we’ve become fond of, the coach of this crew needs play the younger players of this roster, sometimes whether they “know the stuff” or not. This might be an easier task for a different coach, but whether it is Doc Rivers or Kevin McHale or whomever, developing a bench from within is the best way to get production at minimal cost. Using the last three years as a guide, this has proven true time after time.
Damion James: More players than ever seem to fall into the tweener mold between the small forward and power forward position and the Celtics need to have their own answer to this match up challenge. James is a 4 year Texas player who has used a strong worth ethic to improve each season, and pairs that with speed and agility that is on par with many of the quicker guards in the 2010 draft class. James is the all time Big 12 leader in rebounding which fills a huge hole the 2010 Celtics had, but more importantly fills a lane for Rajon Rondo on the break. James is not a strong one on one player, and will need to improve his ball handling if he spends a great deal of time as small forward.
Dominique Jones: A combo guard with off the charts athleticism, surprising strength, and a smooth shooting stroke that has steadily rose up the draft charts in recent days as a bit of a draft sleeper never seems like a bad pick to me. Every year one of these guys creep up, though usually they don’t play in the Big East, and Jones fills the bill in 2011. Jones’ ability to score in bunches, create his own shot, and fill the lane on the break makes him a very valuable commodity for a Celtics in need of offense, with or without, Ray Allen. Draft Express used a number of situational statistics in their analysis of the shooting guard crop and found Jones to be among the most efficient guards available. There may be some question if Jones is tall enough to guard shooting guards, but Jones is no shorter than Tony Allen and TA did a fairly decent job on some guy named Bryant in the Finals.
Solomon Alabi: Big men this late in the draft are even more of a crap shoot, but Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury makes the need at this spot even more noticeable in light of Rasheed Wallace’s pending retirement. Alabi is unlike any other player on the Celtics in the recent past not named Kevin Garnett; he’s lean, long, athletic, and has some touch around the bucket. Alabi has a world of potential, but he is far from a finished product and a team that is attempting to remain in contention can little afford to take a gamble on drafting a stiff like Saer Sene, a player NBADraft.net compares the Florida State product with. Perhaps, Alabi declining the Celtics’ offer to work out in Boston could turn out to be a blessing, potential be damned.
Eric Bledsoe: A lot of players operated in John Wall’s shadow in college basketball this season, but few operated in that direct shadow like Bledsoe. A true pass first point guard, Bledsoe was relegated to the off guard role given the presence of the college player of the year next to him in the UK backcourt, but Bledsoe’s efforts in Wall’s shadow impressed scouts enough for Bledsoe to be a legitimate first round talent. With Rajon Rondo at the controls, there is little need for a young point guard, but when Danny Ainge told Mike Gorman (as Gorman relayed to us on Sunday night’s show) that he was going for the best player available, the first name to pop in my head was Bledsoe’s. Bledsoe is athletic as anyone, shot 40% from 3 pt range, and is solidly built. Perhaps Bledsoe’s efforts this past year working off the ball will serve to help him when he’s asked to serve in yet another back court with a Kentucky point guard… this time in a Celtics uniform.
Hassan Whiteside: Yet another long, lean, and athletic big who has potential popping out of his ears. Like Alabi, Whiteside has shown good touch offensively, but whatever impact Whiteside would have in 2011 will be on the defensive end as a devastating shot blocker. Whiteside is a 21 year old freshman, a feat that hasn’t been seen since my tour of duty at UMaine, but it certainly causes one to wonder what path makes one a freshman of legal drinking age.
Jordan Crawford: If you like instant offense and shooting guards who can make jump shots, you’ll like Jordan Crawford. I’ve heard the Jordan Crawford/Jamal Crawford comparison and though Jordan Crawford does not have the size of Jamal, Jordan Crawford is much more aggressive at attacking the basket. Unfortunately, Jordan Crawford also possesses Jamal’s inability to defend, and like Dominique Jones, is only 6-4, but a good 15 pounds lighter.
James Anderson: If you could combine the games of Tony Allen and James Anderson into one super duper Oklahoma State player, you might have the best shooting guard in the game. You can’t do that of course, but Anderson’s scoring, using situational statistics, has him ranked as the second most efficient scorer in the draft. When a player coming off the bench has limited opportunities, efficiency is incredibly important and that importance grows when the coach involved has as short of a leash as Doc has shown over the past few years. Anderson’s athleticism does not rank as highly as that of Bledsoe or Jones, but his 6-6 frame allows him to play small forward as well as shooting guard. Versatility that becomes more important if Tony Allen returns to the fold.